Tank Johnson understands, but does anyone understand Johnson?

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MIAMI (AP) – The gates had barely opened, and the crowd surrounding Tank Johnson was already eight sweaty journalists deep.

We may not understand Johnson, something he was quick to point out several times over the next long hour.

But he sure understands us.

“You guys write the hot story,” Johnson said. “I gave you guys ammunition to write about.”

Uh, Tank, maybe that was a poor choice of words. It was ammunition, after all, that helped get you into this mess.

The feds say they found some 500 rounds of it when they raided your suburban Chicago home while you were at practice last month, along with a couple of assault rifles and a handful of other guns.

That picture of them carrying off your young daughters had to hurt. So did watching your best friend get shot to death hours later when the two of you decided to celebrate your release from jail by dancing at a local club.

“Man, that’s tough,” Johnson said Tuesday, pausing between words as he remembered Willie Posey. “Tough. Tough. That dude was Uncle Po. He was a brother, a nanny. He was everything to me.”

He understood you, too.

But we don’t.

We weren’t around, as you point out, when your family bounced around several cities when you were growing up, forcing you to go to new schools eight years in a row. We weren’t there when you were out roaming the mean streets before football gave you a chance at fame and fortune.

We haven’t walked in your ample shoes.

“Where I grew up you’ll never understand,” Johnson said. “White America or however you want to put it. I grew up different.”

Turns out there’s more things we don’t understand about Johnson than we thought. A lot more, and none of them has anything to do with his ability to sack Peyton Manning on Sunday when it really counts.

For starters, he’s a good person. He must be, because he kept telling us that when what we really wanted to know was left unanswered.

For another, he’s basically a pacifist, despite the fact he was on probation on gun charges at the time authorities, acting on a tip, raided his house and claimed to have found a half dozen unregistered weapons.

“I’ve never hurt anyone in my life except quarterbacks and running backs,” Johnson said. “I’ve never been a violent person.”

Did I mention he loves dogs and his children, too?

“People don’t understand what kind of man I am, how much I love my kids,” Johnson said. “First and foremost, I want to be a good father and raise my kids.”

By the time Johnson walked from the sidelines at Dolphin Stadium, his hour of torture by repeated media questions over, there shouldn’t have been much left that needed to be understood.

He had, after all, answered nearly every question thrown his way, some of them coming two or three at a time. He stood his ground, hat covering his dreadlocks and shielded by dark glasses, when his best instincts must have told him to run.

Luckily, his lawyers were shielding him from revealing all. So he didn’t have to talk about why he allegedly had more weapons in his house than some South American armies have in their arsenals.

And he didn’t have to talk about news reports that his friend and part-time bodyguard was shot after he told a man to stop bumping into Johnson on the dance floor.

Those are matters, of course, that will eventually come out in a courtroom. Johnson himself returns to one a few days after the Super Bowl to try to get released from a house arrest that nearly cost him a chance to go to Miami.

Despite Johnson’s best efforts to educate the media, we’re still left with a lot of things we don’t understand.

Some of us trying to elbow our way inside couldn’t understand why, with daughters ages 1 and 3 at home, he would not only allegedly leave a weapons cache lying around but also three pit bulls, who the neighbors feared so much they kept calling the police.

Others wondered why, after he and his friend bailed out of jail, they decided to party instead of heading home and laying low.

And there were those who couldn’t understand why the Bears suspended Johnson for only one game and why both the team and the league decided it was in their best interests to allow Johnson to play in the Super Bowl when civilians in similar situations would still be sitting in jail.

And there’s no way of understanding why Bears’ fans surrounded Johnson for his autograph when the team arrived in Miami.

“I understand what the questions are going to be. I wish from the bottom of my heart that someone would ask me about Peyton Manning,” Johnson said. “But I realize I put myself in a situation that it is not going to be an option.”

The words didn’t sound rehearsed, so let’s assume they came from the heart. If they did, the 25-year-old might finally be doing some growing up.

He says he finally understands.

Now if only we could understand a little more about Tank Johnson.


Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg@ap.org