JACK JOHNSON: THE FATHER, THE SON AND THE INTERNET SPIRIT

Jack Johnson comes to us in various forms. First, there is Jack Johnson, the player. The player is the one we see on the ice who wears number 3 and we listen and read about in interviews.  Then, there is the “father”, that is Jack Johnson’s father who coincidentally is also named Jack Johnson.  The third is an internet personality who posts on message boards. He claims to be Jack Johnson’s best friend, has posted photos with Jack and discussed Jack’s opinions & adventures on websites. You can find this on-line spirit on forums such as letsgokings and hfboards, among others.  This holy hockey trinity of the father, son and internet spirit comprise of the Jack Johnson that we love, like a little, try to understand and hope to one day blossom into a defensively responsible and offensively productive fixture on the Los Angeles Kings’ blue line.

Unfortunately however, Jack Johnson’s (the player’s) career with the Kings has seen its share of melodrama, rumors and controversy.  We should not be surprised by same considering that Jack’s trade to the Kings followed his refusal to join the Carolina Hurricanes (a catalyst to the trade) because he wanted to play another season at Michigan.  Perhaps we should be even less surprised that Jack’s current drama is about his playing days at Michigan and his former coach, Red Berenson.

The full extent of the article from which I reference Dean Lombardi’s quotes can be found on the frozenroyalty.net blog here. I have skipped the editorial comments and fill by the author and focused on the quotes.  Dean told the interviewer:

    This guy has never had any coaching [at the University of Michigan]. Jack just did what he wanted.  Michigan is the worst.  For hockey people, if you’ve got a choice between a kid—all things being equal—one’s going to Michigan and one’s going to Boston University, you all want your player [going to Boston University]. Michigan’s players—[head coach] Red [Berenson] doesn’t coach. It’s ‘do what you want.’ He gets the best players in the country.”

Nothing stated above was an insult to Jack Johnson.  The reason I use the word “insult” will become clear later. To state that Jack Johnson never had any coaching is akin to stating that he had no direction. He was given free reign because he was, as Dean points out, talented and within the category of what Dean labels one of “the best players in the country.”

Dean then continues,

    “Jack was a thoroughbred out there.  But he was all over the place. He was awful as a hockey player. As an athlete, you’re going, wow! Look at the way he skates, shoots, he can pass. But he had no idea where he was going.”

One of the key statements that has lit this emotional flame are “he was awful as a hockey player.”  Notice first that Dean uses the word “was”.  “Was” is past tense, as in “used to be” and this past reference points to Jack’s playing days while at Michigan.  Further, Dean’s words were “as a hockey player.” That is not the same as stating “he was an awful hockey player.”  The words “as a” expresses a role, which I believe Dean specifically implied to be a “defenseman.” This is made clear by his later quote, below.  Let’s use a thoroughbred as an example, since Dean compares Jack to one, figuratively speaking of course. A thoroughbred can be utilized “as a” racing horse, for show jumping, polo, dressage (competitive horse training) or fox hunting.  Thoroughbreds are known for their raw and natural agility, speed and spirit.  Dean Lombardi tells us that Jack Johnson is known for his athleticism, which he exclaims with a “wow”, as well as his “skating”, “shooting” and “passing.”  A compliment? Even to the most cynical mind, yes.

Dean goes on to state that,

    “[a]t times, he was playing forward at Michigan.  You had no idea what position he was playing. But he had always been the star and he always got his numbers.”

Lombardi explains that despite his “rover” status, Jack still flourished. A rover however does not fit into the NHL model, not in any real star capacity. Players have roles and exceptional players play their roles exceptionally.

We continue:

    “Then he turns pro and for the first time, we’re telling him ‘whoa, just make the first pass and learn to play in your own end.’ How about making a read in your own end about the right guy to pick up? He was awful.”

So Jack’s status becomes that of a professional hockey player but, due to his training (or lack thereof) at Michigan, he hasn’t mastered the fundamentals of playing defense – his “role.” We saw first hand and know through personal knowledge the truth of Dean’s words. Jack Johnson, with all the skating, passing and shooting ability that defined his potential, struggled at the simple plays, nearly all of them in the defensive zone. His hockey game was checkers, not chess, built on speed and a straight line that permeated through his experience as an end to end magician with the puck. The NHL however is not made of magic. It is made of big, mean and talented veterans that plant you on your behind when you take unnecessary risks with the puck. Hockey players are built of steel and fly with force, not feathered wings.

That brings us again to the word “awful,” the second time Dean used it within a sentence and twice preceded with “was” but also preceded with the context in which Jack was awful – the fundamentals of playing defense at a professional level in the NHL. Nowhere does Lombardi state that Jack was a bad hockey player. Rather, he limits the word to his play in limited capacities – certain aspects of playing defense such as “making the first pass.”

    “It was a big risk for us to trade for him.   There was all that hype and stuff because he’s just like a thoroughbred. It’s like looking at a horse and saying wow! But then he gets on the track and he has no clue how to run the race. He might even run in the wrong direction. That was Jack. [He was] really raw.”

Everything stated in this quote is a confirmation of Dean’s previous statement – Jack was skilled, Jack had innate talent, watch Jack skate, watch Jack shoot, but what he lacked was proper training to apply that talent to his role and learn how to be a professional hockey defenseman.

    Here again, you’ve got a kid who’s got to change his game and he can change a game, going end-to-end, getting you out of your own end.  It was like, ‘you’re not good enough at that not to do these other things that you’ve never done.’”

So Jack had to adapt and grow as a player to fit the NHL style.  Jack was not fundamentally sound enough yet to play fast and loose.  This is highlighted by Dean’s reference to “other things that you’ve never done.”

    Now try and convince him of that after [he has] been told how great [he is throughout his] life, [he has] played in the US Development Program, [he was] at Michigan, everything [was] great, great, great. Now [he is] in the pros and it’s ‘what do you mean? I’m Jack Johnson.’”

The quotes here lose some translation due to the interviewer’s overly liberal use of the bracket.  Assuming the brackets do not take away from context and content, this quote implies that an ego was at play.  Say it isn’t so – was anyone at anytime under the misunderstanding that professional athletes don’t have enormous egos?  In Jack’s case, his was large enough to tell the general manage (Jim Rutherford) who drafted him third overall in the 2005 NHL entry draft that he wasn’t going to play for the Hurricanes. Jack came into the NHL with colossal confidence that shined in his eyes and swelled from every smirk and which, not so coincidentally, was one very specific reason Dean traded for him – a tiger that needed to be taught (not tamed) with all the potential in the world.

    He struggled with it.  ‘What do you mean, you’re criticizing me?’ Yeah, [I am]. When these kids come up now, this might seem totally abnormal to you, because anyone else growing up probably got slapped around [figuratively speaking] as you were learning your career or anything you’re learning. But these kids are all told how great they are.”

So the younger generation of hockey players are more cocky, less humble and have a larger sense of self and entitlement than the veterans did when the latter entered the league. In other words, they are a reflection of society and each generation’s evolution.

    He didn’t start believing that [he] might have to start doing this until the middle of last season.”

A direct compliment to Jack – Dean tells us that the message sunk in.  What he didn’t understand in the beginning, he now understood.

    [Kings head coach Terry Murray, also known as Murph] is a great teacher. Thank God for Murph. He was really a smart player, nowhere near as talented. [He told Jack to] slow down and take it a step at a time. Slowly, he’s gotten better. He’s certainly had his ups and downs. But that’s why he made the Olympic team, because this guy is hard to play against.”

More compliments showered upon Jack Johnson. He listened to his coach.  He progressed. It wasn’t always easy but he has already reaped the rewards through his Olympic selection.

    What’s good about it was that [Johnson] was eleventh on the depth chart at the beginning of the year.  By November, he had risen to the top eight, and in Jack’s case, he went from ten to eight, to seven.”

He has only gotten better, not just in the eyes of the Olympics but in Dean’s as well. Jack Johnson is more important to the Kings today than he was when he first joined the team.

    “Two weeks ago, at the [NHL] Board of Governors meeting, [we met] and I couldn’t promote my own guy, so the other guys would come in—it was out of my hands.  [Johnson] was in the top six on everybody’s ballot. I was really proud of him.”

The words “I was really proud of him” are critical to understanding Dean’s mindset and the context within which his words are spoken. He did not say, “good for him.” He linked Jack’s accomplishments to a sense of Dean’s own pride, akin to what a person would do when he cares for the other.

    Jack Johnson, three years ago, was all highlight film stuff.  But the trouble is, the highlight film stuff was only once every three games. In between, it was all fire drills. [He just had to] simplify [his game]. No highlights. The highlights will come back once you start to simplify.”

Dean expands on his earlier statements.  Walk before you run, run before you race.

    For him to transition from highlight film to doing all this other stuff, you’re not getting that high-end stuff right now while he’s learning.  But you’re hoping the [solid defensive play] becomes second nature. He still has to think about it. But when that becomes second nature, now recognize when you can put on your show.”

It’s a constant learning process.  Anyone disagree?  Hockey mirrors life.

    It’s still a work in progress.  I’ve had a lot of young defensemen. They’re always hard to break in anyway. He’s been unique because, like I said, he was a thoroughbred who just ran.”

Lombardi only compared Jack to his other younger defensemen in one respect – defensemen generally take longer to develop. He then immediately distinguished Jack from the others with an enormous acclaim – Jack was a “unique” talent.

    I think his learning curve is going to continue to go up.  It hasn’t spiked. I think every area of his game has improved, but it has to continue.”

Do these words need an explanation?  He presents Jack with approval and the utmost confidence.

So that leaves us with Jack’s response.  For that, we go to the latimes.com article here.  Take note of the title and the use of the word “irate” when describing Jack Johnson’s response.  Helene Elliott’s use of that word is designed to condition her reader to interpret Jack’s statements with a sense of anger.  Had the title read “Jack Johnson responds to GM Lombardi’s statements about him and Michigan,” would the article have had the same impact?  But I digress.  Let us go to the thoroughbred’s (read: horse’s) mouth.

    I’m a Michigan man. I’m very proud of it. I wouldn’t want to have it any other way.”

On the surface, one reads this as a defense of Michigan. It is so much more however. The use of the words “I am a Michigan man” is a bold and self labeling statement akin to “I am an American” when confronted with an attack to national pride.  What Jack misses is the past tense some of us wish he had used – that elusive word “was.” You see, Jack Johnson “was” a Michigan man. Since the trade to Los Angeles, he has been and “is a Los Angeles King.” If Jack defines his heart and mind, character and soul as that of the university he attended for two years and from which he did not graduate, rather than the team for which he has played and by which he will have been paid for three years in March of this year, then should Kings fans, management, coaches and players have concern?  “Who do you play for?” Herb Brooks asked his players that ultimately won the gold metal at Lake Placid when he wanted to pursue their sense of identity. Remember the answers before they found it. Remember them thereafter.  Who do you play for Jack?

    Michigan has produced more NHL players than any other school. Even the U.S. development program, people rip that and they just don’t know anything about it and don’t know what they’re talking about.”

The first statement is one of fact. The second is one of pride and in defense of Michigan with an acknowledgment that Dean Lombardi is not alone in his criticism (as evident by the word “people”).

Referring to Red Berenson, Jack Johnson said that he “is one of the finest coaches and men that I’ve met.”

A sense of loyalty – to his former coach.  Understandable.

    For my general manager to rip me as a person and criticize me as a person and as a player and call me an awful hockey player is irresponsible and unprofessional.”

Dean Lombardi at no point directly or indirectly criticized Jack Johnson as a “person.” Not once was there a personal attack. Dean focused each and every word on the player that Jack used to be at Michigan, at the one he was when he first came here, at the confidence and ego he showed in himself upon his arrival, at the progress Jack has made, at his accomplishments and the “pride” that has given Dean to watch Jack’s growth and development.  Dean pointed clearly to Jack’s former “awful” status (in limited aspects of his game) as what he used to be – not is. I wonder if Jack was asked how he would describe himself for the first full season and up to a couple of months ago as a hockey player, what would he say?  Would he look at his team worst plus/minus rating? Would he consider his turnovers, giveaways and defensive breakdowns? Would he look at his improvement? Would he describe himself as anything other than “trying to get better every game.”

So, what do we make of all this?  By “this” I refer to the words spoken, written and reaction that has stormed through the internet.  Perhaps we should first ask why Gann Matsuda (Lombardi’s interviewer) did not ask the following questions:

“Have you spoken with Jack about his development at Michigan and how you believe that has slowed his progress?”

“Has that issue been raised by coaching staff to help him internalize the habits he needs to break and the new ones he has to learn?” and, as follow up, “What has been done in that regard?”

“Do you believe Jack may take offense to your statements about Michigan and Red Berenson? He seems to carry a lot of pride in his days there.”

I will bite my tongue as to the rest. It unnecessarily distracts from my point.  It is simply unfortunate that Matsuda’s editorial comments between quotations (similar to Elliott’s tag of “irate” in her title, though Elliott’s was on a lesser scale) attempted to lead the reader to only one reasonable conclusion as to the intent of Dean Lombardi’s spoken words.

Perhaps that was not the interviewer’s motivation and I do believe that Dean Lombardi’s statements about Michigan and Red Berenson could have been better phrased while maintaing the substance the Kings’ general manager intended to convey.  Perhaps when one actually reads Dean Lombardi’s words with care, one sees that there was no ill will, no malicious intent and certainly no desire to lash out at one of the franchise’s prized assets.

Then again, another way to look at all this is that this whole ordeal has just been a terrible misunderstanding – you see, the player that wears number 3 for the Kings isn’t even Jack Johnson. Our defenseman was born John Joseph Louis Johnson III.  This isn’t about John.  It’s about some guy named Jack who used to play for Michigan. Who cares about that anyway.



Categories: L.A. Kings News

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16 replies

  1. Spot on assessment. This is really much ado about nothing, though it sounds like JWTFJ doesn’t feel that way.

    He’ll look great in that Pens jersey.

  2. As I said on another site, I have no problems with what DL said about Johnson. But when he smacks a coach and a program without basis, well, I call that classless.

  3. A problem with your assessment here:

    “What Jack misses is the past tense some of us wish he had used – that elusive word “was.” You see, Jack Johnson “was” a Michigan man. Since the trade to Los Angeles, he has been and “is a Los Angeles King.” If Jack defines his heart and mind, character and soul as that of the university he attended for two years and from which he did not graduate, rather than the team for which he has played and by which he will have been paid for three years in March of this year, then should Kings fans, management, coaches and players have concern?”

    You somehow believe that the idea of the Michigan Man involves playing for a team alone. Take a look at the link provided at the bottom of this comment. Being a Michigan Man extends to students and those affiliated with the University and does not simply expire when one leaves the University. Jack can be a Michigan Man and a Los Angeles King. There is no need for the two to be mutually exclusive. As an alumnus, I am a Michigan Man. That title does not expire when one leaves Ann Arbor.

    http://mvictors.com/?p=260

    • I agree with you. His pride as a Wolverine does not preclude equal or even greater pride as a King.

      I think the issue is that Jack zeroed in on that without taking notice or responding to all the positive things Dean said about him. Its the fact that a negative comment about Michigan to Johnson was like red to a bull. It gave him tunnel vision.

      This is all so goofy, unnecessary, kind of amusing and highly interesting and emotionally charged.

      I don’t begrudge Jack his ‘wolverineness’, but in general, I also never fully understood the extent to which people take pride in the alma maters. But that’s just me, I never cared about that kind of stuff.

    • But this is where your assessment of Bobby’s assessment is problematic: Jack Johnson is being paid a good deal of money by Dean Lombardi to be a loyal and enthusiastic member of the Los Angeles Kings, not to revel in his past as a Michigan Wolverine. All this stuff about school spirit is fine, but if it means you’re going to have such a thin skin when dealing with your current employer, well, you’ve got some growing up to do. Sure, it’s fine to be loyal to your old school, but there’s a point at which attachment to your past hinders you in your present and future.

      I went to a college just as high-toned and prestigious as U of M, and I loved the experience and I still have great fondness for my old school. But if my boss said something critical of Yale and I let it affect my professional relationship with him (assuming all other things about my job being satisfactory), I’d be an idiot.

      • You guys are right that someone has some growing up to do but it’s not who you think. Your affinity for the Kings blinds you to the stupidity of Lombardi’s statements. First, if Lombardi believes what he said about Michigan then he is wrong. The great weight of evidence directly contradicts his point.

        Second, there was zero need to state those mistaken beliefs in print. He could have described JJ’s development without taking those unnecessary shots at Red. To do so makes him appear petty, vindictive, immature and short-sighted. The result is either angering or alienating one of your best young prospects and players. Now who looks stupid?

        Then Lombardi attempts to criticize the journalist for Lombardi’s mistake. It seems that Lombardi should be better at acknowledging his own mistakes given his track record.

        Finally, you may not understand what it means to have a deep affiliation with your alma mater but many people have these feelings and for you to disregard them because you do not share them shows your lack of perspective. There is no reason why JJ cannot flourish and still have a sense of pride in the past.

        • I did call Lombardi’s comments unnecessary. So that much we can agree on. However, Jack handled it poorly though he did do so like an immature young player would. Would you agree that Jack could have just as easily said what I wrote in my analysis and made the same point?

          Also, I don’t think you appreciate the magnitude of the interviewer’s fault on this one and the agenda that screams from the first word of his article to the last. He fucked up. He knows it. Lombardi’s biggest mistake was trusting Gann’s judgment with his (Dean’s) words. Someone with the requisite experience would have handled it very differently.

    • Thank you for visiting the site and reading the article. Michigan’s credibility as an academic institution is not an issue. Those who have graduated from the school I am certain hold the same pride that UCLA, USC, Stanford, and Berkeley graduates hold. I don’t believe you mean to imply that graduating from Michigan makes one more of a man or attaches a relevance to one’s manhood more than any other distinguished university. If you do, then please clarify because that is a separate issue.

      My reference to Jack Johnson’s statement and concern is that he presently associates his allegiance in the face of comments by his general manager (read: employer) back to the school. It is akin to a United States Olympian being called out by his coach, being told that he is not in college at Michigan and that fast and loose style that they teach over there doesn’t fly here and then responding to his coach that he is a “Michigan man.” Jack’s time at Michigan is irrelevant to his loyalties to the Kings or any other NHL team for whom he plays. He isn’t being paid over a million dollars a year so he can be proud of attending Michigan for a couple of years.

      His comments, since he had time to reflect on them and had read the article before being interviewed, should have been: “Dean Lombardi has an opinion about Michigan’s development program. I disagree. Coach Berenson was a significant influence in my life and career.” To attack his general manager who went out of his went to compliment him and his progress is immature and, what’s more, shows a lack of loyalty to his team – the Kings, not the Wolverines.

      • Disagree. It was Lombardi that went out of his way to take shots at Michigan. JJ only responded to Lombardi’s unnecessary and mistaken comments. JJ didn’t make Michigan the issue, Lombardi did. And yet you give Lombardi a free pass when he clearly was the one in the wrong here.

  4. “I made a huge mistake thinking the guy would understand that” — Lombardi, referring to Matsuda. Pretty much sums it up. Matsuda is way out of his league writing stories based on 1-on-1 interviews with the likes of Dean Lombardi. I hope they’ve both learned a lesson from this.

    Being a Berkeley guy, I’m used to everybody talking trash about my school. It’s just petty jealousy ;) As I pondered somewhere else, maybe Deano just can’t get over the size of the Wolverine tattoo on JJ’s butt?

    • I gave a speech at Berkeley a little over a year ago. I hadn’t been to the campus before that. Loved it. Not UCLA (showing bias) but a different beauty. The people, city and quiet intensity about the place was intoxicating.

      • My father studied and taught at UCLA. The entire campus was my playground almost every day of my childhood. To this day, whenever I’m in LA and get a chance to visit the campus, I rediscover so many secrets about the place that only children would notice and appreciate. So, while the tattoo on my butt might be a Bear claw, I guess I have my own bias for UCLA. There are buildings, landscapes and sculptures on that campus that I will never forget.

        Having said that… Walking across the Berkeley campus at 7:30am, before classes start, with the fog rolling up from the Bay and clinging to the trees and granite columns and red clay roof tiles, there’s something really HEAVY about the hush that hangs in the air. I felt that my first day here as student, and I still feel it now. There’s not a better way to start the day.

        Too bad our hockey team is a joke.

  5. Maybe one day, when I have exhausted the rest of my memories and am too tired to experience new ones, I’ll look back on college and have fond thoughts as beautiful as yours Falmer.

    … nah.

  6. The author goes to great lenths to clarify DL’s comments. I seriously doubt, however, that DL put anywhere near as much thought into his comments when he made them. If he had, he probably would have (and should have) kept his mouth shut. Regardless, his statements about Red Berenson and Michigan’s hockey program were petty, inflamatory and basless. Furthermore, his apparent inability to take personal responsibility for his own comments speaks volumes about his character and the type of example that he is setting for his players and subordinates within the Kings organization.

    As for JJ’s response, I was encouraged to see that this so-called “selfish” and “immature” player chose to defend his college coach and Alma Matter. To say that he is a “Michigan Man” does not, by the way, impair or otherwise affect his ability to simultaneously serve as a loyal membe of the L.A. Kings. For those who don’t know, “Michigan Man” is a term that is used by UM alums to identify themselves as such to one another. Is has been used in this manner since the late 1800s (hence the somewhat un-PC gender-specific nature of the term). To imply anything else (e.g., that JJ’s loyalty to the Kings is somehow compromised by his use of this term) is at best a distortion of the truth, and at worst, an outright fabrication created for the purpose of shifting blame from those who deserve it (DL) to those who do not (JJ).

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