Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson has had a lot of free time on his hands since suffering a season-ending wrist injury in Week One.
Although doctors have not given him a return schedule, he hopes to make it back onto the field this season. The team, in recent weeks, has sounded less optimistic.
“I just got the cast off Monday and starting rehab soon,” Johnson said. “I’m still a little stiff so hopefully I’ll be back to football soon.”
The free time has given Johnson the ability to commit more time to other passions, including giving back to the community and playing ping pong.
With his wrist recently freed from a cast, Johnson hosted a 32-person single elimination ping pong tournament at the Bob & Renee Parson Boys and Girls Club branch of the Metro Phoenix Area. Following the completion of the event, Johnson and partners from Rockin’ Refuel made a $5,000 donation to the club.
“You only have to use one hand to play ping pong so I’ve been getting ready for this event,” he said. “I was excited to come out here and have fun with the kids.”
Jill Johnson, the cause marketing manager for the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Metro Phoenix area, said after a successful dodgeball event with the Cardinals running back last year she knew she wanted to do something new for the kids.
“Here at the Parson’s branch … they love ping pong,” she said. “When we talked about him being injured and wanting him to come, I thought, ‘Why don’t we do a ping pong tournament?’ Little did I know, he has a huge set up at home. He’s a die-hard player and so it all just kind of started from there.”
Johnson said he has been miserable being away from the football field but said seeing the kids enjoying this experience has lifted his spirits.
“It makes me happy again to be down here and put some smiles on their faces,” he said. “It makes me appreciate the platform that I have, being able to come out here and just make kids excited and just have fun with them.”
The tournament, which lasted five rounds, was highlighted by a grand finale match between Johnson and the champion of the Boys and Girls Club bracket, Precious Lujan.
The opportunity to play with and listen to Johnson was a great opportunity, Lujan said. However, she didn’t think he was a difficult opponent.
“It was awesome playing against David Johnson,” the teenager said. “He’s a professional at football but he can never beat me at ping pong.”
After losing his match to Lujan, members and staff of the Boys and Girls Club gathered around the superstar to hear him speak about the importance of doing well in school and making smart choices.
Jill Johnson said listening to the running back was an experience the kids will remember for the rest of their lives.
“There’s something really special about those athletes when they come out and they’re really genuine,” she said. “They know where they came from, they want to give back to their community. They’re professional athletes but they don’t all turn out like some. He’s one that maintains character.”
Johnson believes it’s important for the kids to have role models of David Johnson’s stature.
“With someone like David, it’s tremendously impactful,” Johnson said. “They need mentors, but it’s not just the staff or their parents.”