SOMETIMES life -- and death -- overtakes sport.
Thursday was just such a day for Winnipeg Blue Bombers cornerback Jovon Johnson, whose first cousin was shot to death Wednesday by a police officer in Johnson's hometown of Erie, Pa., during a botched credit union robbery.
Police in Erie identified the dead man as Dionne Jordan, 30 -- Johnson's first cousin on his mother's side. Johnson said Jordan is the eighth family member to die violently in the five years since Johnson started playing for the Bombers.
Eight family members. Dead by violence. In five years. The mind boggles.
'It's not a typical environment for anyone to make it out of and be successful out of. My cousin was a product of that environment and it ultimately cost him his life...'
"Yeah man, I try to tell people -- I tell the guys on the team all the time -- that where I grew up, it's wild," said Johnson Thursday following his team's final full practice of the year at Investors Group Field in advance of their last game Saturday at home against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
"It's not a typical environment for anyone to make it out of and be successful out of. My cousin was a product of that environment and it ultimately cost him his life...
"I had just seen him. I went home after the game in Toronto (last weekend) to take some stuff home and then Saturday night I was out and saw him. We talked, had a conversation and I told him to keep his nose clean and stay out of trouble.
"He told me he was doing the best he could."
News reports out of Erie said Jordan was shot Wednesday afternoon shortly after robbing an area credit union. The reports quoted police saying they had surrounded Jordan as he tried to make his escape in a vehicle and he was shot multiple times when he drew a gun on the officers.
The four officers involved in the shooting have been placed on administrative leave while an investigation is conducted by Erie County detectives and the FBI.
Johnson -- who grew up poor, even by the standards of Erie, one of the poorest cities in America -- is no stranger to losing family members to violence.
His younger brother Daquan Crosby was murdered in 2008 at the age of 15, not long after Johnson joined the Bombers.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Johnson was asked to tally up the members of his family who have died by violent means. He had to qualify his answer, just to make the number calculable.
"Family members alone? Just since I've been in Winnipeg? At least eight," said Johnson. "People wonder how I can go out and mentally be able to cope with it.
"But I've been dealing with it my whole life so I'm kind of, you know, it became a point after my little brother where I'm just numb to it.
"It affects me, but it doesn't."
Against that kind of backdrop, the question of what's at stake in Saturday's game versus the Tiger-Cats seemed almost too trivial to ask.
But the show goes on, as it always does, and Johnson is game, as he always is. And so even amidst more family tragedy, Johnson insists there is meaning, even in this meaningless game. And for Johnson, who grew up in a four-bedroom house with 12 people in it, Saturday's meaning is this: In a family doing so much dying, he is one of the few making a living.
And he wants to -- needs to -- continue to do so on a team where nobody's job is safe right now.
"It's always good to make a last impression. As a player, you want to go out playing the best you can possibly be playing," said Johnson. "Everybody's fate is in the hands of the general manager and the CEO. We have a lot of free agents, it will be interesting to see what happens."
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