Leonard Johnson is more than a NFL cornerback he is a community-back

BY YOLANDA COWART, Springtime Club Founder

CLEAWATER — Leonard Johnson is quickly becoming a positive role model for the local youth in his community. He left Clearwater to play college football at Iowa State University and returned home as an undrafted free agent in 2012. Talented and tenacious, he tried out for the home team and was signed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where he plays the position of cornerback, and is an integral part of the Buccaneers defensive.

But Johnson is more than a cornerback – he is a community-back. Since joining the Bucs, he has been very visible in Clearwater and is quickly becoming a positive role model for local youth as he makes himself readily available and accessible to support local community projects and back worthy local causes.

Last Sun., July 19, Johnson hosted a football camp for the community’s youth. The “I Am 29 Football and I Cheer 29 Cheerleading” camps drew over 100 boys and girls from the local little league and high school levels that showed up to strengthen tackling, offense and defense skills, and to learn new cheer drills, stunts and dance routines. But the camp was about much more than sports, it was about sportsmanship; and the activities were not just about camp, they were about community.

Johnson cleverly incorporated a serious social issue plaguing our youth and our community into his program, violence. “Violence among young people is one of the most visible forms of violence in this neighborhood, in our community,” said Johnson. “I wanted my camp to inspire our youth to admire the power of sportsmanship and to teach them the importance of values, fairness, morals, respect, and a sense of fellowship not only with their competitors, but in our community,” he added.

Youth crime has soared in Clearwater and its surrounding cities in the last five years as pop culture and gangs takes grip. Youth are disproportionately affected by violence. Between the ages of 12 and 17, they are twice as likely as adults to be victims of serious violent crimes and three times as likely to be victims of simple assault.

This local statistics is consistent with the national average, which reflects that the number of youth under the age of 18 getting in trouble with the police has soared by a fifth in five years as youngsters are lured into the gang culture, official figures showed today.

Likewise, statistics show that juvenile crime is continuously on the rise and official U.S. reports showed that about one fifth of all persons arrested for crimes are under 18 years of age.

“I want our youth to understand that violence is a serious problem that can have lasting harmful effects on victims and their family, friends, and communities,” said Johnson. “I know that this is a complex issue, but my goal for youth violence prevention is simple – to stop youth violence from happening in the first place.”

In the past, most youth were influenced by their parents or a close relative. While this still holds true for many children, youth are increasingly looking to the media and their favorite celebrities as role models. It is not uncommon to find youth mimicking a basketball shot style, a touchdown dance or a clothing style, so I believe that it is safe to say that if a fifth of the youth that participated in Johnson’s camp began to emulate him, than he is making a huge contribution in our community.

Twenty years ago NBA All American and Star Charles Barkley told America, “Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.” Since that time there has been several debates about the role of athletes in our society, the power of their celebrity, and the huge influence that they have on our youth.

But for Johnson serving as a role model is not a debate, it is a responsibility and an obligation. He is making it clear that he wants to be seen as more than just a football player in our community. He is becoming the ultimate football role model in his own community.

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