One famous sports broadcaster had it all: fame, famous friends, wife and kids, cancer, and faith in Jesus. Here is one great story.
We don’t usually wish people a Happy Birthday, but I’m going to make an exception in this case. On August 7, one of the most inspiring and just downright likable people in American sports turn 60, Ernie Johnson of TNT.
If you are unfamiliar with Johnson’s work and his story, let me fill you in.
Most people who have heard of Johnson know him through his work both as an announcer and as a studio host.
Between 1993 and 1996, Johnson, alongside his father, Ernie Johnson, Sr., was the TV announcer for the Atlanta Braves. In addition to his play-by-play work for the Braves, Johnson has also announced Major League playoff games, college and professional football, and PGA golf events, among many other things.
But he’s best known for his work in covering the NBA. He’s the host of TNT’s “Inside the NBA,” which has won nine Emmy awards. Johnson and the show’s regulars—Shaquille O’Neal, Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley—trade good-natured insults and basketball insights.
But what makes the show really work is Johnson. His gentle management of hugely outsized personalities keeps the show from descending into chaos while keeping the fun quotient high. But it’s more than astute people skills that makes Johnson so special. As Charles Barkley said in a 2015 ESPN profile of Johnson, he has “uncommon courage and a pure heart.”
This is true of Johnson both at home and in the studio.
Johnson and his wife, Cheryl, have four adopted children: Michael, who was born in Romania; Carmen, who was born in Paraguay; and Ashley and Allison, whom they adopted out of foster care.
This commitment to adoption sets the Johnsons apart all by itself, but the story doesn’t end there. Michael, who is 25, was born with a “progressive form of muscular dystrophy” and has been dependent on a ventilator for the past five years.
As the producer of the ESPN documentary put it, Johnson is a “special person.” He added that Johnson “doesn’t do the things he does for accolades or attention. He and his family simply have good hearts.”
How good? Well, the Johnsons insisted that the ESPN crew stay for dinner. When Cheryl Johnson learned that the cameraman had celiac disease, she made him his own gluten-free lasagna.
How special? In 2006, he told “Inside the NBA” viewers that he had cancer, specifically non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, an announcement made necessary because the swelling had become noticeable.
What he then said still brings tears to a colleague’s eyes. After thanking his doctors and expressing his gratitude for the audience’s concern he said: “And [my family continues], as we always have, in both good times and bad, to place our faith in Jesus Christ, and to trust God . . . period.”
The way he said made it clear that his goal was to reassure the audience of God’s goodness and provision and not himself.
Nine years later, when he won the Emmy for “Best Studio Host” he gave the award to the daughters of the late Stuart Scott of ESPN. He told them “this belongs to Stuart Scott. This is your Emmy.”
The witness to the kind of restoration and transformation that God is calling all of us to embody is why I’m taking this opportunity to wish Ernie Johnson a very happy birthday.
Call it a long-overdue “thank you” for showing us where placing our faith in Jesus Christ in both good times and bad can lead.
— by Eric Metaxas
Metaxas is the voice of Breakpoint, a radio commentary (www.breakpoint.org). Copyright© 2016 Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with permission. BreakPoint is a ministry of Prison Fellowship Ministries.