How NFL Draft Pick Inky Johnson Never Let His Career-Defining Injury Define His Life
When a freak accident hit Inky Johnson hard, he hit back harder.
Star Cornerback of Tennessee Volunteers, Inquoris “Inky” Johnson, came straight out of Atlanta dominating the defense.
Inky hustled and body-checked his way from the bottom to the top, landing himself in the 0.00057% percentile of college athletes in his competing year.
In September of ’06, the entire world was at Inky’s feet. He was a projected Top 30 Draft Pick for the NFL. Decades of day-in-day-out, no-sleep, all-work-no-play, sacrifice paid off. He was going to the NFL, no question about it. He had arrived.
So, why have you never seen Inky Johnson step onto the field in an NFL game?
After Years of Struggle, the NFL Came Knocking At His Door…
The California Golden Bears were flashing on the TV in the dressing room as 21-year-old Johnson, studied his rivals intently, taking notes of his opponent’s strategy on his day off.
The 2006 NCAA Division I FBS football season was coming to a close and Inky knew all eyes were on him. The scouts were making their final selections, the fans were counting on him, it had all come down to this.
Every second counted.
When his teammates were blowing off steam, Inky was spending those seconds off the field, watching his competitors on the field (in other words…wisely).
It was then, sitting in the dressing room when he least expected it, that a familiar voice boomed from the doorway. Is he really saying what I think he’s saying?
He wasn’t sure he heard him right…
“Son, you’re a projected Top 30 Draft Pick for the NFL.”
Stunned, Johnson looked up to Volunteers Coach, Larry Slade, leaning casually in the doorframe.
Coach concealed a smirk, playing it cool.
“All you have to do is play these next 10 football games, and you’re an automatic multi-millionaire.”
Inky Johnson, who devoted every waking minute of every waking day to the potential of this moment, knew exactly what it meant.
It meant that of the 1,093,234 American boys who play High School Football, he was part of the 71,060 [6.5%] who made a college team.
It meant that of the 71,060 boys who played College Football, he was part of the 15,625 [less than 2%] who made a Division 1 College team.
It meant that of the 15,625 boys playing Division 1 Football, as a “projected Top 30 draft pick”, he was without a doubt, 1 of the 256 men getting drafted to the 2006 NFL.
Inky Johnson was in the top 0.00057% percentile of competitive athletes his year.
So, what happened?
When Coach Slade busted through the door he delivered Inky Johnson the news he’d been waiting his whole life to hear…
He told Johnson of all the young men who dared enter America’s Colosseum…
These gladiators who shot weathered pigskins through the sky– who caught moleskins that drilled down from the heavens at 60 MPH into their cupped, calloused hands like torpedoed earth healed over…
Of the men who survived bone-shattering tackles, who heaved through lung-crushing dog piles…
Of the men who conquered brain-rattling concussions, who fought tooth-and-nail for their shot at the NFL, and the hundreds of thousands who were defeated for their spot in the NFL...
Of the 256 men left standing, Inky Johnson was a first-round draft pick.
If you’re an athlete or a sports fan you know there is no higher peak. The only greater altitude is to lift the Super Bowl itself above your shoulders.
Johnson heard the news he had been waiting his whole life to hear. It was real. It was undeniable. And now, he stood at the threshold, where his dreams transformed into opportunities.
Johnson clicked off the California Bears. He called his mom.
He told his mom 21 years of sacrifice paid off. He told her she was right to believe in him when he was thrown into the lion’s den. He told her he had sat with the lions and he was hungrier, his teeth were sharper. He told her he was going to make her proud. He told he was part of 0.00057%. He told her he was going to buy her the house she always wanted. He was going to give her the life she never got to live because she gave up hers, for him. He told her God came through. Only Inky didn’t say it in those words. He didn’t need to. All he needed to say was:
“Mom, our life’s about to change.”
And when Inky Johnson woke up on a gurney, blinded by sheets of white hospital light, and saw his mother praying over his body assuring him “it’s going to be okay”…
And then he watched the nurses pry his mother’s tightened grip off the railing of his hospital bed…
And then the doctor rushed in and shouted for an operating room because Johnson was bleeding internally…
Inky Johnson knew his life was about to change.
He was tackled to the point of no return…
In a flash, Johnson went from running at Air Force Falcon’s Wide Receiver Justin Hadley, to being flattened out on the field.
The stadium doctors poked all kinds of needles into his arms, checking his million-dollar reflexes.
“Can you feel that, son?”
Hours later, he still couldn’t feel it.
The right side of his body was paralyzed. The surgeons rushed him into an emergency operation. The doctors crowded around his bed as they wheeled him into the ER. Johnson looked up at them and tried to make out what they were saying but their voices were far away. It was like he was stranded at the bottom of a pit and they were up above, without a rope, assuring him help was on the way.
The surgeons tried to conceal their concerned faces, playing it cool. He thought of Coach standing in the dressing room doorway, playing it cool…
The doctors called him back.
Inky, stay with us!
Johnson had been in the trenches enough times to know a play signal when he saw one. The surgeons were avoiding saying it but Inky saw it in their eyes, saw in their signals to one another…
The right arm that launched his career was shot to hell. The arm that saved his life, was dead and it now, it was killing him too.
Coach’s words in the locker room played back in his head: All you have to do is play these next 10 football games, and you’re an automatic multi-millionaire…
There were only 8 games left in the season when the anesthesiologist placed a silicone mask over Johnson’s mouth.
Count down from 5, Inky. I’ll count with you. 5-4-3…
Before his eyes fluttered shut, Johnson knew his life had changed.
How Do You Come Back From Death?
What happened was simple. Johnson went to hit or be hit and he got hit.
It was over the split second there was contact. Wrong nerve, wrong time.
Just like that. 15 years of playing the long game while everyone else was choosing to play the short game, gone.
Years of racing marathons in the winter cold before the kid next door even took a bite of his breakfast, gone.
Years of running the same drills over and over, gone.
Years of choosing hard, gone.
Years of being knocked down, gone.
Years of getting back up…gone?
Maybe for lesser men, but not for Inky Johnson, which is what makes him so remarkable.
Dead But Not Gone…
In an incredibly moving speech, Inky Johnson shares his experience.
He recounts his entire life being ripped away from him. In one hit he went from the top of the world to rock bottom…
And then in this same speech, Johnson tells us exactly how with one working arm, he climbed from rock bottom back to the mountaintop.
Instead of cashing out, he doubled down.
The doctors told him he’d be bedridden for 40 days.
Inky walked out in 4.
The Way You Do One Thing Is The Way You Do Everything
The 2006 NFL draft pick, did not include Inky Johnson.
While 256 men walked across that stage, Inky sat on the sidelines and taught himself how to tie his shoes again.
The doctors told him his career was over.
So Inky found a new one.
Seven days after they saved his life Johnson went back to university, again. After 4 years of studying, he became Dr. Johnson.
The former Star Athlete got his doctorate in Sports Psychology. Since graduating Inky has become a world-renowned motivational speaker, coining his inspirational speeches with the term “Ink-Spirations”.
Johnson travels the world sharing his story. His mission is to inspire. Inky Johnson is living proof of why you should never let a tragedy define your life.
One of the most powerful quotes is, “the way you do one thing, is the way you do everything”.
Inky approached his life off the field with the same “sweat equity” he approached on the field.
In fact, one doesn’t exist without the other.
The man who got hit by players twice his size, day in and day out is the same man who got up and chose life, in the face of death, day-in-and-day-out.
A quarter way into the twenty-first century and we’ve lost touch with the meaning of “day in and day out”…
We’ve lost touch with the primal part of our humanity that used to run and hunt for food and fight for shelter against the elements.
Instead, we have air-conditioned cars and the entire f*cking knowledge of the world on our palm-sized black mirrors, and guess what?
The world has never been more convenient and we’ve never been more miserable.
We build infrastructure to do for us and think for us.
Our minds deteriorate, first. Our bodies follow.
The concept of “day-in-day-out”, is like an ancient proverb relegated to pictographs on cave walls that we’ve somehow lost in translation. We must find our way back to it, if we have any chance of survival.
And it starts with you. You have to care about your life because no one will care for you, not even dare I say– your therapist.
You have to find the will to live, in the face of dystopian horrors like gas price surges and low minimum wage, and Italy not even qualifying for the 2022 FIFA WORLD CUP.
You have to find yourself beautiful in spite of feeling like you pale in comparison to all these robotically sexy people you are assaulted with every time you open your phone, or walk down the street, or go home for the holidays because I have a frankly unwarrantedly hot older sister (I can’t be the only one?!?).
And, you’ll hate me for saying it, but you have to do your f*cking homework instead of getting ChatGPT to do it for you, because it’s not about the outcome, it’s about the process.
But guess what? Don’t get down on yourself if you’re not so sure, ’cause here’s the good news:
When you change, your world changes around you
Your outer world is only an extension of your inner mind. But see, we get so bogged down by our immediate situation, we seize up, and stop moving.
We let our emotions guide us, instead of guiding our emotions.
Our mind is like a dog, we need to lead it, and we can’t let it lead us–and as any pet owner knows, if you let dogs run free, they’ll bark all night and sh*t in your bed.
You don’t train a dog overnight. You make the commitment to train a dog, day-in-day out, over time, and even when you don’t feel like it.
In less weird analogies, this is the same philosophy Inky Johnson has.
The same commitment and persistence that carried Inky Johnson to the NFL’s front door, is the same commitment and persistence that carried him out of what could have been a life of excuses. A lifetime of “it’s not fair”.
So many of us have been living in seasons or lifetimes of excuses. Inky Johnson dedicates himself to shining light, showing the way, and leading us out.
He devotes himself to inspiring us to become our greatest allies instead of our greatest adversaries.