‘Can’t believe I get paid to do this’: Gus Johnson brings joy to job

In February for Black History Month, USA TODAY Sports is publishing the series ’28 Black Stories in 28 Days.’ We examine the issues, challenges and opportunities Black athletes and sports officials continue to face after the nation’s reckoning on race following the murder of George Floyd in 2020. This is the third installment of the series.

Gus Johnson is asked why he seems to love his job perhaps more than any other broadcaster. His answer is instant.

‘I’m from the west side of Detroit,’ he told USA TODAY Sports. ‘My father was a janitor and a security guard. He never made more than $25,000 in his entire life. We were poor people. So when I do my job, I love it, not just because I love what I do, but because I appreciate where I came from, and what people like my father did to help me get here. I’m happy to do it. I’m happy every day, especially on the first and the 15th.’

Johnson isn’t just a happy broadcaster. He’s one of the best. To ever do it. No one makes a broadcast more watchable than Gus Johnson.

And he’s done something else that’s impressive. Let me explain…

Gus goes to Harvard

Fox Sports Films is airing a new documentary, which premiered Feb. 18, called ‘Back to School with Gus Johnson’ which shows his year-long fellowship program at Harvard University.

The documentary also looks at Johnson’s life, starting with his childhood in Detroit and studies at Howard University, one of the nation’s premier HBCUs. 

Johnson took part in Harvard’s Advanced Leadership Initiative, which is designed to help experienced leaders solve society’s most pressing challenges.  

Thus for one year, Johnson held two full-time jobs: Harvard student during the week and FOX Sports’ lead college football and basketball announcer on the weekends. 

‘Then you’ll be a star’

One of the more moving segments in the documentary is Johnson discussing how early in his broadcast career he wanted to be like Bob Costas, Jim Nantz and Al Michaels, all top white broadcasters. Then, not long ago, he got a note from an acting instructor who gave him a piece of advice.

‘She said, ‘You’re doing well now, but once you let that little Black boy from Detroit out of his cage, then you’ll be a star.”

That’s what he became. 

I asked Johnson what was next for him.

‘To really help kids,’ he said, ‘especially Black kids. Maybe I can push one to reach higher heights than what I did. Leave something, some kind of legacy, so someone can say, ‘I see what he did, maybe someone can draw from that, and improve on it.’

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