Tom Johnson Recounts Night He Was Maced/Tased and the Difference in Spielman’s Reaction vs Zimmer

Photo: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

This morning, Sports Illustrated released an article titled, “I Could Have Been Just Like George”. They compiled stories from “more than a dozen Black athletes who work in, have ties to, or have had poor experiences with, law enforcement“. Their first personal story happened in Minneapolis, and involved former Vikings Defensive Tackle, Tom Johnson.

What Happened in October, 2014:

Minnesota Vikings Defensive Tackle, Tom Johnson was maced, tased and arrested by off-duty police officers, after a night out at a club…. or “steakhouse” (depending on who you ask) in Minneapolis. He quickly fought back against the charges and account from the officers involved. He put out a statement just days later, with his own version of the incident and how it unfolded.

Johnson refused to take a plea deal and took the case to court. A jury QUICKLY (just 15 minutes of deliberation) ruled in favor of the Vikings DT. He won. Tom sued the City of Minneapolis, in 2016, and was awarded $475,000 in a settlement. The SI piece this morning, which details the events unfolding from Johnson’s point of view, is jaw-dropping to say the least.

Johnson valeted his car and walked inside. He bought drinks for himself and two teammates, downed a whiskey ginger and eventually went back out to hand his ticket to the valet. Facing what he was told would be a 20-minute wait, in 35-degree weather, he stepped back into the club’s entryway. Video surveillance would show that 11 patrons remained inside the bar, but only Johnson was asked to leave. He says a bouncer told him his Timberland boots violated the club’s unwritten dress code.

Johnson’s attorneys later argued in a U.S. District Court memorandum that what happened next can be explained by one simple fact: Johnson is African American.

Two off-duty Minneapolis police officers, Patrick McCarver and John LaLuzerne, approached. They were already violating numerous department policies, including working off-duty inside of the club. They shouted at Johnson to leave. McCarver pushed Johnson toward the door, then sprayed MPD-issued pepper spray into his face. Johnson couldn’t see, his eyes stung, his nose ran and he was “spitting up.”

He found a planter outside and sat down. An employee rushed over, offering a glass of water and a face towel. Johnson, realizing he could no longer drive, called a car service that the Vikings offer players whenever they need a safe ride home. While he waited for his ride, he took photos and video of the officers, at which point McCarver swatted Johnson’s phone to the ground, shattering the screen. As Johnson tried to pick up the device, McCarver aimed his department-issued Taser at Johnson’s head. Then both officers discharged their weapons into Johnson’s back and tased him for at least 14 seconds, while the officers laughed and cracked jokes.

Sports Illustrated – ‘I Could Have Been Just Like George’

Telling Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman

That is a difficult account to read and the truth to it played out in a courtroom. Johnson was wrongfully assaulted and arrested by off-duty police officers, in a situation that never should have escalated to that point.

That’s not where the Sports Illustrated article ends, though. After being arrested that night, Tom Johnson had to sit down and have a conversation with Minnesota Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer and General Manager, Rick Spielman. He had to answer for why he was arrested the night of October 5, 2014.

However, the approaches taken from the Minnesota Vikings Head Coach vs General Manager, were different to one-another. Why? Rick Spielman is a white man… but he has raised (and is still raising) black children. I thought this part of the article was absolutely fascinating.

In the aftermath, the Vikings’ white, no-nonsense coach, Mike Zimmer, asked Johnson what he had done wrong. But white general manager Rick Spielman, who has six Black children, understood immediately that Johnson might not have done anything at all. Spielman says that his kids have been profiled by police before—once while driving his wife’s expensive car, and another time at a restaurant with friends. He has watched security guards follow his children around stores. One son described to Rick being pulled over by police, and how his heart dropped because he didn’t know what might happen next. Spielman says he has “seen the world through [his kids’] eyes, which is a totally different lens.”

The difference between Zimmer’s and Spielman’s reactions was not lost on Johnson, and he understands it. “I got mad respect for Zim,” Johnson says, “but if you’re not a Black person, or you haven’t experienced this, you just assume the person in authority is doing the right thing.”

Sports Illustrated – ‘I Could Have Been Just Like George’

Life Experience Shapes Outlook

The last part of this story is a perfect reflection of where our society is sitting at, currently. It seems like we are at a crossroads between good and evil… but the divide may not be that deep.

Mike Zimmer didn’t have any life experiences that taught him, ‘police officers can do bad things’. He was raised with the belief that, cops drive around the community to serve and protect. Dealing with them will be peaceful as long as you listen and act respectfully.

‘Cops only beat up and arrest bad guys’, is what I was always taught, too. For the most part, that still holds true. However, he hadn’t seen the side of reality that Tom Johnson saw that night when he was out in Minneapolis. One moment, you’re calling for a valet, and the next, you’re being maced, tazed and thrown in jail. That’s scary.

Rick Spielman’s Unique Perspective is Nice to Have

Rick Spielman, though, has a very unique perspective. He’s seen his own kids get pulled over in HIS luxurious vehicles.. when he wouldn’t have been. He’s seen them followed around stores by security guards.. when in reality, they could afford to buy everything in the store. That’s a reality Mike Zimmer had never lived.

If there is a bright spot to this story, it’s the clear family-relationship that the Vikings have in their locker room. We don’t hear much unrest coming from players here, directed at the organization, like we are seeing elsewhere around the NFL and other leagues.

I’ve never thought about how much Rick Spielman’s unique perspective on racial issues, comes into play, when unrest around the state, country or world, presents itself. We know it played a big role, in Tom Johnson’s post-arrest meeting, though… so it makes you wonder….

…we should probably keep this guy around?

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan

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