In 2012, Johnathan Franklin’s commitment to working hard was paying off, the hours in the gym, hours at practice, and the countless hours spent thinking and dreaming about football throughout his schooling and now college career. Graduating from his scholarship with UCLA with four records to his name, including one for the most rushing yards which is still held to this day, Johnathan reaped the rewards of his efforts as he was drafted into the NFL as a running back for the Green Bay Packers.
Johnathan spoke to us about the experience,
“Going to the NFL was something I dreamed of for so long. At the draft I was so nervous and when the call came, I just started crying. It wasn’t necessarily just about being drafted; I was coming from South Central LA where opportunities to reach success seemed farfetched. I was one of a few individuals in my neighborhood to go to college that I was aware of. I just wanted to inspire my community to dream, it doesn’t necessarily have to be the NFL, but dreams do exist. It wasn’t just about me, but the community and my family.”
Fast forward to only the twelfth week of his first season, it was a Green Bay Packers home game, playing against the Minnesota Vikings. Johnathan’s team, the Packers, were returning a kick when he was hit on the crown of the helmet and the next thing he knew, he was lying on the ground paralyzed from the neck down. Slowly he was able to get up and walk to the locker room, but little did he know that would be the last time he ever played football.
What ensued were testing times for Johnathan personally, announcing his retirement from the NFL on medical grounds just one month after the injury. While life almost always promises us some sort of change, there are times where we welcome this, and then there are times where change takes the driver’s seat, and all we can do is buckle up and hope to arrive at our next destination safely. But ultimately, change can land us right where we are meant to be.
Reflecting on that time, Johnathan shared,
“All you know is football, that’s all you prepare for. When I had to retire it was scary, because football was my identity. Football was my life, and I was losing that. It was the worst moment of my life at the time, but it became the biggest blessing. It created an opportunity for me to really do a deep dive into those dark places and find something in me I didn’t know existed.”
To provide some context, we asked Johnathan to share a bit about his journey through football and what it meant to him beyond playing in the NFL.
“I started playing football at 10 years old and when I first started playing, I did not like football, but I loved the power of it. There was a lot of tension and distance in my family at the time, but when I started playing football, my family would come out and support me, and I saw how this unified them. So I continued to play, and it was just something I felt like I had to get done, to just have that impact on my family.”
“Then, in my sophomore year at Dorsey High School, I received a scholarship to attend UCLA to play football. I was never the most talented, but I worked hard, and left UCLA breaking and still holding for records, one being the all-time leader rusher. When I received the scholarship for UCLA. I understood the hope this could instill in my family and the entire community, helping them believe that dreams were possible and can become a reality through hard work and commitment.
As I look back on the journey, it really helped me understand the power of football. I was able to help bring unify my family, become a first-gen and graduate in honors, achieve my dream of playing in the NFL, and there’s been a variety of transferable life skills that I have gained from playing football.”
Although injury brought Johnathan’s career as a professional athlete to a close in the same season that it had begun, less than a month later he was back at the Packers in an interning role after taking the initiative to reach out to the organization’s executives. Johnathan found himself engaging communication and relationship building skills that he felt he never consciously developed. Rather, these skills were planted and nurtured throughout his education, mentoring, and athletic career.
Johnathan shared that during a college internship with the mayor, one of his mentors tasked him to meet someone new every day and put himself in uncomfortable moments regularly, to focus on developing communication skills and to present himself as more than just an athlete. He added, “He challenged me to ‘learn all your teacher aids’ names, don’t just hang out with other football players, African Americans, or people from the inner city,’ and I’m grateful for the diversity of the people in my life, I think that has helped me in my positioning outside of sports.”
Johnathan described these experiences as setting a foundation for him, he calls them ‘seeds’ which were never watered, adding that these conversations also cultivated a forward-thinking mindset and an ability to initiate. In addition to building a diverse circle of trusted, amazing friends, Johnathan also credits these exchanges and interpersonal relationships with developing his ability to communicate and connect with people in varying roles from different backgrounds.
When Johnathan’s world changed and life presented him with a new plan, he said,
“I had to re-define who Johnathan was, I had to find my confidence, find my joy, and find my happiness.”
Having done just that, the 2022 Johnathan says,
“One of the pathways to success is understanding who you are, it allows you to create your own pathway.”
Given the journey Johnathan’s own life took through football, it only makes sense that his role today, as Director of Social Justice and Football Development for the Los Angeles Rams, sees him bringing access to communities just like his own, providing supportive youth pathways into the same opportunities he was afforded.
When asked to provide a quick insight into some of the work he does with students in these communities Johnathan said,
“I share about the power of choice, one of my favorite quotes is “Life is a matter of choices, and every choice you make, makes you. Each choice we make, will bring us closer to our dream, peace, happiness, and success. I emphasize the power of the choice you make in every moment of your life.”
In his role with the Rams, Johnathan is part of the team that builds programs in response to community needs, operating under the philosophy of listen, learn, and respond. Athlete Assessments was introduced to Johnathan and the team through The Pathways to Success Program, which is designed to create access and insights into potential careers in sports for inner city high school students, and has anchored the Rams’ community outreach in its inaugural year in 2021. Echoing the benefits of Johnathan’s own learning pathway, the program incorporates components that focus on creating an identity independent of what you do, the personal development skills needed to get through all kinds of situations and advance your career, while also creating opportunities for students to learn about themselves.
Essential to the effectiveness of the Pathways to Success programs are workshops targeting financial literacy, self-awareness, and goal setting. Athlete Assessments were brought in to deliver the self-awareness workshops, with Founder, Director, and 4x Olympian, Bo Hanson, guiding students through the process of exploring their strengths, the way they communicate, and how they like to build relationships. Prior to the workshop session with Bo, the participants and their mentors each completed an online survey which generated their individual Athlete Assessments DISC profile. These profiles gave the students valuable insights into their preferred and non-preferred behaviors to build self-awareness, while also providing the opportunity to understand others and build better interpersonal relationships. The ultimate goal of DISC is to improve performance in any environment and any individual.
There were many a-ha moments as students recognized themselves and each other, while learning how to apply their profile to develop an understanding of how they could add value to their future role and what they bring to a room and any project. When asked to describe one of the unexpected bonuses of the program Johnathan said, “The program created an authentic environment to build relationships between our students and hopefully that relatability will result in lifelong friendships. It’s something you don’t expect to happen but to see those relationships develop naturally is so fantastic.” We encourage you to read more about The Pathways to Success Program.
Going from strength to strength in all departments, particularly in light of the organization’s February 2022 Super Bowl win, the Rams have seen heightened community awareness which has created more opportunities for Johnathan and the Rams team to impact social justice issues, community-police relations, food distribution, and education inequalities in Los Angeles communities. Johnathan shared, “What I do appreciate about football is that when you go back to the Super Bowl, you see a big play and you look around the stadium and see the diversity. Age, gender, ethnicity, everyone cheering, sharing, and celebrating it. The barriers being broken. This is such a beautiful sport that unifies all walks of life, and I feel like we try to take moments like that and implement them into the community. How can we bring people together? How can we bring that hope? How can we bring down those barriers? So, I’m grateful to be a part of that and have that platform.”
Looking to the future and what’s next, Johnathan will continue to deepen his role with the Rams and the Pathways to Success Program, while finding more ways to engage the community with the organization. But he is also extending his passion for helping other people find their way like he has and is currently in Ministry School. Reflecting on his own pathway to success he shared,
“I don’t think things happened by accident or by coincidence. I believe that I wasn’t meant to play football forever and I’m so thankful and happy that I can say that and be joyful about it.”
Johnathan was so generous sharing his thoughts and personal experience with us and we could only capture a small amount in this article. If you would like to learn more about the Pathways to Success Program we encourage you to read our article on it.
Where to from here?
One certainty in our changing world is that we will all need strong interpersonal skills. Whether you work with athletes who will transition at some point or students in the classroom, we encourage you to help develop their ability to communicate, build relationships, and understand themselves and others. Athlete Assessments DISC Profiles are an effective tool which can be easily implemented to facilitate this individual growth. As always if we can help you in any way just reach out and contact us. We would love to help you be your best.
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