Sidelines Talks And Essays

Chicago Sports by the Numbers
Statistics are a big part of sports -- both on and off the athletic playing field. Sports is big business, and we take you inside the numbers on some of Chicago's pro sports teams.

Graphics: Chicago Sports by the Numbers

Photo: Jonathan Toews has played a key role in the Blackhawks' three Stanley Cups. (Photo/Wikimedia Commons)




Building a Better Wrigley Field
In the second of installment of the Chicago 3.0 series, we look at how the Cubs' $575 million renovation of Wrigley Field is impacting the neighborhood. Some complain of noise and construction, others say it's worth it.

Photo: Demolition begins on the Wrigley Field bleachers. (Photo/Mike Reilley)


Kenyans, U of I Athletes Sweep Chicago Marathon 
Kenya's Eliud Kichoge and Rita Jeptoo won the men's and women's races, respectively. University of Illinois wheelchair athletes Josh George and Tatyana McFadden won their divisions.

Full coverage: Marathon guide
History: Timeline | Past winners | Slideshow

Photo: Runners pass through Lakeview, near the eight-mile mark. (Photo by Brianna Kelly)


Blackhawks: Six Countries, One Goal
Meet the 2014-15 Chicago Blackhawks in this interactive StoryMap that shows the hometowns of all the players.

Infographic: The Toews and Kane factor
Timelines: Hawks 2013-14 season in review | Growth of the NHL

Photo: Patrick Kane came up big during "showtime" last season. (Photo/Wikimedia Commons via Creative Commons)


Multimedia Guide to World Cup 2014
An in-depth look at the world's greatest soccer tournament. Related:

Players:Fantasy 11 to watch
Teams: Five to watch | Map/team profiles
History:Timeline | Attendance
Brazil:Infographic | Tour stadiums | Protests
Watch:Results | Chicago pubs

Photo: Lionel Messi and Argentina lost to Germany, 1-0, in the final. (Photo/Wikimedia Commons)


Chicago a Sweet Home to NBA Talent
From Simeon to Proviso East, Chicago high schools have produced 246 players to the NBA and ABA. We take a multimedia look at why Chicago is a cradle to pro basketball talent. Related:

StoryMap:Chicagoans on current NBA rosters
Video:Simeon Coach Robert Smith

Photo: Former Simeon star Jabari Parker went second overall to Milwaukee in the NBA Draft. (Photo/Brian Horowitz/Flickr)


Google Glass: A Goalkeeper's Perspective
What's it like to be a soccer goalkeeper? Bob Bailey and some DePaul soccer players show us, #throughglass. Related:

Google Glass:Ride on Lincoln Avenue bike lane | Reporter's perspective

Photo: Here's what it looks like to be in goal. (Photo/Bob Bailey)



Ready, Set ... Dodgeball!
They go by nicknames like "The Riddler" and "Freight Train." And those serious about dodgeball continue to see the sport grow and find a game wherever they can.

Students from DePaul and other schools at the start of a game. (Photo/Mike Bragg)




Timeline: Wrigley Field at 100
Relive a century of the good, the bad and the ugly with the Cubs and others at The Friendly Confines: Lee Elia, Steve Bartman, Kerry Wood's 20 strikeouts, the Bears and so much more.

Photo: The iconic Wrigley sign. (Photo/Mike Reilley)




DePaul Basketball Arena Coverage
Ongoing coverage of DePaul's controversial basketball arena and how it impacts the university and the South Loop neighborhood.

Home page:Full arena coverage
Architects chosen, design selected
Multimedia: Video | Infographic | Map | Social media

Photo: Artist's rendering of the arena. (Courtesy Pelli Clarke Pelli architects)


What Makes Marc Trestman Tick?
The new Chicago Bears coach is an introvert who had to put in extra work to build relationships with players and colleagues. How will he make the transition from the CFL to his first NFL head coaching gig? We talk to some experts ...

Photo: Bears coach Marc Trestman at training camp. (Photo/Mike Reilley)



Blackhawks Take Party to the Park
Jonathan Toews kissed the Stanley Cup, Corey Crawford dropped f-bombs and Patrick Kane was, well, Kaner at a huge Blackhawks celebration at Grant Park. Related:

Stories:Notebook | Homemade Stanley Cups
Multimedia:Slideshow | Toews video | Parade video
Audio:Kane, Crawford, Toews | Coach Q | Anthem
Social media:Instagram | Storify
infographic: Stanley Cup win by the numbers

Photo: Patrick Kane does an interview during the parade. (Photo/Jakub Rudnik)


DePaul Hopes New Basketball Arena Will Keep Chicago Recruits Close to Home
For years, the DePaul men's basketball program recruited high school talent in the city and won with it. Now, the Blue Demons hope the new arena will help them keep star recruits from leaving town.

Sports essay:The arena and DePaul's hoops culture

Photo: Coach Oliver Purnell answers questions about the arena
. (Photo/Josclynn Brandon)


DePaul Arena Part of South Loop Neighborhood's Economic Expansion
Mayor Emanuel introduced DePaul's new $300 million, 10,000-seat basketball arena and McCormick Place hotel complex at a Thursday press conference. He also said another area college team has expressed interest in playing in the arena.

Multimedia: Video | Infographic | Map | Social media

Photo: Mayor Emanuel announces the new arena
. (Photo/Will Wilson)


Blackhawks-Red Wings Rivalry Victim of Changing NHL Landscape
With the Red Wings moving to the Eastern Conference next year, their longtime division and conference playoff rivalry with the Blackhawks will be reduced to a couple of regular-season games and, possibly, a Stanley Cup Final. 

Photo: The Blackhawks' Daniel Carcillo. (Photo/Wikimedia Commons via Creative Commons)



Ultimate Frisbee Finds Home in Chicago
The Windy City Wildfire, a professional ultimate frisbee team and a 2013 expansion member of the American Ultimate Disc League has a growing fan base in the city.

Photo: The Wildfire play home games at Lane Tech Stadium. (Photo/Allison Horne)



Windy City Rollers Carry on Derby Tradition
Roller derby got its start in Chicago. Now, nearly 80 years later, the sport still thrives on the southwest side. Related:

Even Derby Lite full of bumps, bruises

Photo: Monica Carter (aka "Magna Carter) puts on her derby scowl. (Photo/Mike Reilley)


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David Johnson went from table to table, high-fiving or fist-bumping every kid who wanted to, wearing that giant smile of his as the students talked and laugh with music pulsating in the background.

Tuesday was a beautiful day to be outside at Sunnyslope Elementary School in north Phoenix, where the Cardinals running back showed up to cap off his “Running Through Bullying” campaign by honoring the two girls who wrote the best essay on the subject out of hundreds submitted. Johnson couldn’t have been happier with the result.

He would have been here regardless. His anti-bullying cause is long-standing, and Johnson made that his focus (and his game footwear) last year when the NFL began their “My Cause, My Cleats” initiative. He started the essay contest with a talk at training camp with students back in August, when he still dreamed of another 2,000-yards-from-scrimmage season.

That dream is long gone, broken once his wrist did the same on the turf in Detroit during the regular-season opener. The chance Johnson plays again this season is virtually zero, as the games fly by and with the running back still not practicing. Coach Bruce Arians has said as much, although the usual caveats provide the slightest crease of hope.

Johnson doesn’t talk about returning this season anymore as much as he just talks about his eventual return. It’s been difficult for him to sit out, but Johnson – one of the more optimistic people you will meet – also sees it as an opportunity.

“It means more time to be out there in the community,” Johnson said, “which is a blessing and a curse.”

These are the things that shape him, Johnson figures. This injury, the first long-term injury he’s ever had. Family issues, like wondering where he would live when he was growing up. And yes, he was bullied.

Johnson has had the surprised looks and arched eyebrows from the kids he has talked to, kids who see the chiseled 6-foot-1, 224-pounder and wonder how he ever could have been bullied.

“I get that the most when I tell my story,” Johnson said. “‘There’s no way you were bullied.’ They didn’t know I wasn’t always this big. Sometimes they don’t believe me and I have to really tell my story, that I had to go through the same thing they have to go through.”


The winter was frigid, as they tended to be in Iowa, and middle-schooler Johnson and his cousin – who is the same age – were at the YMCA playing basketball.

Johnson’s bully, the high school kid three or four years older who tormented him around the time Johnson was in sixth grade until he was in eighth, grabbed Johnson’s winter hat and let Johnson know it was his now.

Johnson protested, but “I never saw that hat again.”

Another time, the kid showed up and started beating up Johnson and his cousin. Johnson ran away, leaving his cousin to fight. “I still feel bad,” Johnson admitted.

Given the age difference, Johnson was never impacted in school. The bullying came after school, when he was hanging out or playing somewhere. It made an impact, although Johnson never did talk to anyone about it.

A top athlete even then, Johnson said the bullying never carried over to when he played sports, or even when he was in school. He was able to compartmentalize, and never once thought about doing harm to himself – something that he understands is a problem for many who are bullied.

Hurting more than his memories of being bullied are his memories of not intervening when he saw others being bullied – a big reason why this has become his cause.

“I didn’t do any (bullying) but I’d stand and watch,” Johnson said. “I want to get in front of it (now). I want to talk about it. I feel like, with kids being bullied, I feel like if they have one friend, one kid they spoke to, that would change their lives.”

The final four essays Johnson and his wife judged for Cox’s “Running Through Bullying” campaign included entries about preventing kids from committing suicide because of bullying and even one titled “Kindergarten Nightmare” recounting a very real and violent bullying experience at a young age. The winning essay – from fifth-grade students Megan Torres and Nubia Gutierrez – was about Sunnyslope’s “Bully Patrol Squad” and how the entire school has made it their goal to end bullying.

“Now that we have less room for bullying,” Torres said, “we have more room for kindness.”

The two girls received an award from Johnson in front of their peers this week, complete with a pizza-and-chicken-finger party while Johnson interacted with every kid on hand.

“It lets them know they aren’t the only ones going through it,” said Johnson’s friend and fellow running back Kerwynn Williams. “It’s someone tangible they can see and someone they look up to.”


This weekend the NFL will hold its “My Cause, My Cleats” games. The Cardinals will have plenty of players representing, whether it is Larry Fitzgerald’s homage to breast cancer and his mother or Frostee Rucker’s shoutout to the American Diabetes Association.

Johnson would be wearing cleats for his foundation “Mission 31” if he were able to play. He, of course, cannot. Johnson and fellow injured-reserve running back T.J. Logan were out on the field early Wednesday, getting in some conditioning while teammates were in meetings. No one has said it for sure, but 2018 certainly feels like the vibe when it comes to Johnson playing another game.

“At the beginning it was very tough,” said Johnson, who had never previously missed more than one game playing football on any level. “I was down on myself. I was thinking, what could I have done on that play better, to change the play, maybe my wrist wasn’t strong enough.”

Arians said Johnson, like other players on IR like quarterback Carson Palmer, are “always around.” Johnson has made his appearances in the locker room, and he travels on the road. The carrot of playing again this season dangled for a while, but mostly, Johnson stays engaged by talking with teammates and coaches as much as he can.

“It’s easy to feel yourself not being part of the team, when you don’t have to come to all this stuff every day,” Williams said. “It’s almost like your offseason is extended. You don’t have the fun part of football, playing the game, and you don’t have the time with your teammates as much in the meetings or locker room time. As teammates and friends, you want to make sure your friend is in a good place.”

That’s not always a simple process. Watching video from games is difficult “because it’s not me, it’s a different number.” But there are other things on which to focus, like his family and baby son David Jr., or trying to show kids that being positive – even if you are bullied – is a good way to get you through life.

Johnson smiles, knowing he’s the first to take that advice.

“It’s not as bad as it could be,” Johnson said.

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