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It’s been almost five years since Chad Johnson last played an NFL down. His topsy-turvy private life has been so prevalently public, his social media accounts such a stream of consciousness, it can be easy to forget that in a former life, Johnson was one of the NFL’s most exciting wide receivers. He led the league in receiving yards in 2006, and was a four-time All-Pro with Cincinnati before a one-year stint in New England never took off. Johnson signed with Miami in ’12 but was released in training camp the same day he was arrested on a count of domestic battery—the release was shown on Hard Knocks, which happened to be filming Dolphins training camp that season.
Now 38, Johnson wears many hats, and one of his newer ventures is co-hosting a weekly podcast with NFL Network’s Jamie Dukes. Johnson’s voice is an original—in some parts refreshing, in some jaw-dropping. He showcases both in our candid conversation that runs a gamut of subjects from Bill Belichick’s movie doppelganger to Johnny Manziel’s future.
Melissa Jacobs: How’s it going? Nice to chat with you.
Chad Johnson: I love you.
MJ: Um, I hope you tell every person you call that you love them.
CJ: Definitely, I’ve been doing this since junior high. I like to put a smile on everyone’s face.
MJ: Good for you. Let’s talk about your new podcast, “Ochocinco and Dukes.” How’s it going?
CJ: So good. I am dying to use my resources. I have access to people that other people who do podcasts don’t have. I’m just waiting for the green light. They say it’s too early, too soon. We’re still growing.
But the podcast has been great. One of the first shows we had with Deion was so good. We touched on football, we touched on life, we touched on relationships. Dude, let me tell you it was good. The way I view dating and marriage and relationships, it’s so non-traditional, even though I’ve tried it the traditional way but for some reason in my personal experiences it never happens the way we plan it or the way the way society tells us how it’s supposed to be. Are you married?
MJ: Yes, I am married.
CJ: How do you do it? Every person I’ve talked to that’s been married for a long time says the same thing—it’s hard. Like, I’ve never had discipline. I had the discipline to play football and to want to be great at a sport, but I’ve never had the discipline to commit to one woman and haven’t had to.
MJ: But is that easy for you to say because you have been a professional athlete and presumably had options? What if you were some schlub who couldn’t attract women?
CJ: Stop right there. The janitor has options. Maybe not to the extent that some other professions have options. But with me, I’m not an ugly guy, I’m charismatic and I can hold a conversation like none other. Those three outweigh just being an athlete.
But when I think about monogamy and dealing with the same thing over and over again, it gets old after a while. It’s like cooking food. There’s only so many ways to prepare that meal and season it. At some point you get tired of that meal.
MJ: Are you trying to sour me on marriage?
CJ: No, not at all. I just want to express my views.
MJ: If you had an hour to talk relationships or football, which would you choose?
CJ: Both. But probably a little more football.
MJ: Ok, let’s go talk football. Johnny Manziel is a free agent and there’s some debate over whether or not any team will take a risk and sign him. Do you see any real landing spots?
CJ: I don’t know. I think teams are more concerned with him getting his life together and not really focusing on football, really focusing on him. He’s a great talent and he has to get back in the NFL. What he showcased at Texas A&M should carry over in the NFL if put in the right system and I can’t wait until he gets that second opportunity.
MJ: Speaking of Manziel’s former home, can your former position coach Hue Jackson do what most coaches have failed to do and win in Cleveland?
CJ: Most definitely. But this is the key for Cleveland: Management has to allow him the freedom to do what he needs to do to improve them offensively, defensively and on special teams. Management has to let go of the reins. In Cincinnati, Mike Brown allowed Marvin [Lewis] the freedom to build a team and get them to where they are now. Almost every year they get to the playoffs and at some point they’re going to crack that door, get past the first round and before you know it they’ll be playing for the chip.
MJ: Moving on, how has the NFL changed the most since you retired?
CJ: There’s just a lot of controlling. I understand it’s a controlled environment. It’s still fun but there’s so many rules. It’s still a great game but the rules take away from the ability to have fun and entertain as a player. You have to be such a robot.
MJ: How much do you miss playing?
CJ: Eh, not much. I played long enough and I did it my way. I got everything out of it I could possibly get out of it and I did it the way I thought it should be done. There’s nothing to miss unless I didn’t do it in a way that was conducive to what I like.
MJ: You sound like Frank Sinatra. Do you have any regrets?
CJ: F--- no.
MJ: What was your reaction when your friend, Terrell Owens, didn’t get in the Hall of Fame this year?
CJ: I knew they were going to do that. There’s no reaction to be had understanding the politics that goes into it, you know what they’re going to do.
MJ: Does he ever get in?
CJ: Yeah of course.
MJ: Will Megatron get in on the first ballot?
CJ: No, it doesn’t even work that way for receivers.
MJ: On to a definite Hall of Famer. What’s one thing about Bill Belichick that the average person doesn’t know?
CJ: He curses like a sailor. Just picture this, this is my comparison to Belichick: the beginning of Full Metal Jacket and the drill sergeant. He’s a great guy, a great coach, and a mastermind at what he does but everything is so reminiscent of that drill sergeant.
MJ: Is he the best coach in NFL history?
CJ: By f---ing far.
MJ: What is one NFL rule you would change right now?
CJ: The celebration rule. No question.
MJ: Makes sense, especially coming from you. So Roger Goodell is approaching his 10th anniversary as NFL commissioner. How would you assess his performance?
CJ: I think he’s done a great job. The part I don’t like is him being so strict on the rules. He’s done a masterful job protecting the NFL shield which is one of the reasons the owners voted for him to be commissioner.
MJ: Who’s the best current wide receiver in the NFL?
CJ: Antonio Brown.
MJ: Have you ever contemplated a comeback?
MJ: Where do you see yourself in five years?
CJ: I’m going to have a television show and I’m going to talk about sports and life; it’s going to be fun. Something fun, something refreshing. Nothing too p.c. Along the lines of what Jimmy Kimmel has. That would be dope. I could definitely do that in five years.
MJ: Who’s your favorite NFL follow on Twitter?
CJ: All of them are really p.c. because they’re controlled by the man so nobody’s really fun to follow.
MJ: Are you suggesting there are unwritten rules for players?
CJ: Absolutely. You can’t be yourself and tweet. You get in trouble with your team.
MJ: Last question. How many people a day do you tell you love?
CJ: At least 500, easy. I’m serious.