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Ravens’ Chris Johnson Turns Hardship Into Advocacy

Baltimore Ravens cornerback Chris Johnson lived through jail time and the murder of his sister. Now, he shares his story in hopes of inspiring others to choose a better path.

It’s a good week to be a member of the Baltimore Ravens football team.

On Wednesday, the team traveled to the White House to meet President  Obama. On Friday night, the team received its Super Bowl rings.

But for some, life off the field can be more challenging than an advancing offensive line.

For cornerback Chris Johnson, the Super Bowl win was the silver lining in an otherwise difficult few years. His sister, Jennifer Johnson, was murdered in December 2011.

“I didn’t know who I was at that point,” Johnson, who lives in Owings Mills during the football season, said in a phone interview. He left the Oakland Raiders shortly after the incident.

“I didn’t want anything else to happen to my family and to accomplish that I needed to be in their presence 24 hours a day,” he said. 

Jennifer and Johnson’s mother were both shot by Jennifer’s ex-boyfriend, Eugene Esters, on Dec. 5, 2011. His mother survived.

After taking the rest of that season off and returning to the NFL as a member of the 2012-2013 Baltimore Ravens, Johnson started speaking at youth summits and in prisons.

“A lot of people don’t realize once they get in trouble and they have a case behind their name, they think their life is over and they’re just done with,” he said.

Johnson speaks off the cuff about his experience in losing his sister as well as selling drugs in high school and doing jail time for forgery. Having his first child, Krissy, who is now 14, during his senior year of college is what saved him, he says.

“I just knew the day my child was born I couldn’t have my mom or my child ever see me behind bars, and I kept a promise to myself that wouldn’t be an option,” he said.

He also brought his story to the Baltimore Ravens’ locker room, inspired to share it after Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend and himself on Dec. 1, 2012, almost a year after Johnson's sister’s death.

“You never know who on your team is going through something in their lives,” he said. "My basic message was just to be able to tell them to understand ... they have a teammate they could come to.”

His locker room talk has forged new friendships and gained him some new respect from his fellow teammates. Johnson just signed a one-year contract with the Ravens, and said he hopes to retire in Baltimore, according to a Baltimore Sun report.

As far as closure goes, Johnson said his family members got the outcome they were hoping for. Eugene Esters was sentenced to life in prison last month, according to a CBS Dallas/Fort Worth report.

“We’re glad it’s behind us now. We can move forward in our lives,” he said. “That was just hanging in the balance. It’s done now.”

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