KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Motivational speaker Inky Johnson’s football career ended at the University of Tennessee in 2006 when his right arm was left paralyzed after a big hit in a game.
He went on to use his experience to help others get through tough times in their lives and careers, including former Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry.
Berry, who played for the Volunteers from 2007 to 2010, and Johnson built a relationship so strong that Berry honored him when he was drafted to the Chiefs in 2010.
“EB is like a littler brother to me. When he got drafted, I’ll never forget when he called me and he was like, ‘Big bro, I’m gonna wear 29,'” Johnson said on The Pivot podcast. “I was like, ‘You ain’t gotta do that. Your dad played, wear your dad’s number. You’re a great player, rock your own number, you ain’t gotta wear a number for me.'”
The gesture was a thank you for the role Johnson played in helping Berry earn a long list of accolades during his college career that includes being named a unanimous All-American in 2009 and 2008 and several defensive player of the year honors.
“We all know how EB plays the game and to be able to watch him every Sunday when he did play, it was special for me and my family, because we know what that number meant, but also the relationship that me and EB cultivated,” Johnson said.
Johnson said he had Berry write down his goals when he joined the Volunteers in 2007 and still has them in his office as a testament to his hard work.
When Berry was diagnosed with with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2014, the pair met for breakfast in Atlanta and Johnson made sure to let Berry know he was there and would use his own experiences to help him.
“‘Bro, we gonna treat this like camp. Every single day you show up, you gonna do your thing, you handle your business and you gonna beat it,'” Johnson told Berry. “I remember seeing him. We was at church and this is when his hair was coming out. I saw him and I saw his spirit, his spirit was still strong, but his hair was coming out at the time. I was like how you doin 2-9, you good? He’s like Ink, I’m good. I’m getting through it.”
Johnson credits Berry’s family for giving him the foundation and infrastructure to get through the adversity. He was in attendance at Arrowhead Stadium for his grand return to football.
“I got a lot of love for that cat,” Johnson said. “That’s like a brother to me, a little brother.”
Berry went on to become a Pro Bowler after his return and played three more seasons with the Chiefs.