Calvin Johnson retired from the NFL during the 2016 offseason after playing nine years in the league. The move was considered a surprise at the time, as Johnson, then 30, was coming off a season in which he totaled 88 receptions, 1,214 yards and nine touchdowns.
But as Johnson explained during his dedication speech to the Professional Football Hall of Fame Sunday night, he retired due to persistent injury problems dating back to his first season as a professional.
“In my first year in the NFL, I suffered a serious back injury,” Johnson said. “It was so bad at this time [that] I couldn’t feel my legs. And I thought my career would end. “
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Johnson was obviously able to continue playing, but the injury took its toll during his rise to stardom.
“What most don’t know is the road to recovery from that back injury that year and the physical and mental pain I played for my entire career,” Johnson said. “But going into that second year, despite dealing with the pain and back injury, I decided I was going to be the best and most dominant catcher in the NFL every time I walked onto the football field.”
Johnson was able to do that. He did six straight Pro Bowls from 2010-15 and earned three straight All-Pro winks from the 2011-13 first team. He led the NFL in receiving yards twice, including the 2012 season when he set an NFL record with 1,964 receiving yards.
Despite his success, the pain finally caught up with him.
“But no matter how much I dominated, as the legends here know, the pain never went away,” Johnson said. “The pain was so severe that I was taking everything I could to control the pain and be able to play. The pain began to affect my body and my quality of life, and it was not improving.”
Johnson added: “And there came a time when [knew] my time in this league, those days were numbered. But I was fine with this because I left everything on the field and enjoyed every moment. “
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So Johnson decided to walk away. After retiring, he helped found a cannabis business, Primitive, with his former teammate Rob Sims. The company is studying the effects of cannabis on chronic pain. Johnson and Sims partnered with Harvard in 2019 on research to study medical marijuana as a possible treatment for CTE.
“Our vision is that we are trying to change the stigma around cannabis,” Sims told ESPN. “We don’t call it sprout. We call it medicine.”
Johnson also took aim at the stigma during his Hall of Fame speech.
“There are so many people living in our world in pain right now and I want to talk to you for a moment,” he said. “I want you to know that I see you, that you are important, that you fight and do everything you can to get ahead and never give in to pain.”