Ernie Johnson has been a staple in sports television for decades, but through it all he’s always made sure he was something else first – a family man.
The Inside the NBA anchor has been upfront about his life away from the camera throughout his career, chronicling his highs and lows and, most importantly, how important his family has been every step of the way. Now, with another NCAA Tournament ahead of him, Johnson is back in the national spotlight, determined to do his family proud every time graces TV screens.
Here’s everything you need to know:
1. Johnson & His Wife Cheryl Have Been Married Since 1982
The longtime couple have settled into what Johnson regularly refers to as a “wonderful life,” since tying the knot in 1982. Cheryl works as a licensed counselor and the two have found a way to balance the demands of both of their careers over the last three and a half decades.
Johnson is quick to credit his family for his success and longevity in the field, telling Yahoo!Sports:
It all just works. It’s truly a team effort. There’s no way we would have ever have done it without our entire family unit just pulling on the rope. If anybody had their own agenda getting in the way, it just wouldn’t work. We are blessed to have this incredible team of just caring kids and we’ve found a way.
Cheryl now serves as the founder and brand ambassador of Street Grace, a non-profit that’s fighting the sex-trafficking trade around the world. She previously worked with women’s issues, specifically women and addiction, and prior to Street Grace held several different positions at Metro Atlanta Recovery Residences, as well as positions on Drug and Alcohol Advisory boards, World Hope International and the Red Cross.
2. The Couple Have Six Children Together
The Johnson family just kept growing.
Ernie and Cheryl have two biological children together, Eric and Maggie, as well as four adopted children, Michael from Romania, Carmen from Paraguay and Ashley and Allison, both adopted domestically through foster care.
Adoption wasn’t always the plan, but the Johnson family couldn’t find a reason not to try and help children in need. “Every child has the right to a home,” Johnson told SportsDay in 2014. “Any time I can, I speak to the benefit of adoptions for both parents and children, I never hesitate. At the same time it wouldn’t be an honest portrayal if people thought I was preaching something that was all blue skies.”
There have been plenty of ups and downs, but Johnson wouldn’t change his family for anything and the opportunity to provide a better life for his children, biological or adopted, has been the greatest joy of his life.
3. Johnson’s Son, Michael, Suffered From Muscular Dystrophy
Johnson isn’t usually the story, but that changed in April 2015 when ESPN’s news magazine show E:60 profiled the family and their life with son, Michael, who suffered from muscular dystrophy.
The Johnsons adopted Michael in 1991 when, according to Ernie’s memoir, his wife Cheryl met the young boy at an orphanage outside of Bucharest, Romania. “‘Hon, I met this little boy today,’” Ernie said Cheryl told him. “‘The first child I saw. The nurse told me, ‘Do not take. Boy is no good.’ Ern, he has so many issues, he’s so much more than we said we could handle, but I don’t know if I can go the rest of my life wondering what happened to him.’”
It didn’t take long for the couple to decide they couldn’t leave Michael behind, but living with the disease was not without its challenges. Producer Dan Lindberg told ESPN Front Row he hoped the E:60 segment would help shine a light on others who suffer from the disease:
His story is something that is also special, but he doesn’t do the things he does for accolades or attention. He and his family simply have good hearts. When a person is that genuine, you need to make sure that comes across on screen and sometimes that can be a very difficult thing to do.
As far as Ernie and Cheryl were concerned, Michael was always part of their family. He wrote: “All we knew was that he needed a home, and we were going to provide it, no matter what the doctors in the States would eventually discover about his issues.”
4. He & His Family Have Been Vocal About Their Faith
Johnson has never had any qualms about discussing his life on and off the air in front of a camera. In fact, he discussed how important his faith is to his work in his memoir Unscripted and has been a vocal support of organizations such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Athletes in Action and Samaritan’s Feet.
Keeping the faith, however, hasn’t always been easy. Johnson told Yahoo!Sports in 2017 that “it came and it went and it came back,” explaining that he grew up going to Catholic school, but drifted away from religion while he was in college. Johnson said that changed in 1997, however, when he and his wife Cheryl were discussing how to best guide their children spiritually.
He told Yahoo!Sports:
…we were just having this conversation about, “We should probably be giving the kids a little spiritual foundation.” … So we decided to try this church, this non-denominational church near our home and I found within a month of going to this church, I mean, we were doing this for the kids, I found that I was being impacted profoundly by the message from this pastor Kevin Myers who was roughly my age and had a wife and three kids and was just a normal guy who just happened to have a real good handle on the bible and a way of teaching. Suddenly, I found myself really drawn to Christianity.
Johnson made headlines with his faith in November, 2016 when, just days after Donald Trump had been elected president, he and his fellow Inside the NBA anchors were discussing the election on air. Johnson announced that he wrote-in Ohio governor John Kasich in the election and followed up with a statement that quickly made the social media rounds.
“I’m gonna pray for Donald Trump, I’m gonna pray for all those people right now who feel like they’re on the outside looking in, who are afraid at this point,” Johnson said. “I’ll pray for them, too. In short, I’m praying for America, and I’m praying that one day we’re gonna look back and we’re gonna say: ‘You know what? That Donald Trump presidency? That was all right.’ But I’m praying.”
In just a few days, the clip accumulated over 95 million social media impressions and 16 million video views on TNT’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, the most of any segment the network has ever had. You can read the entire transcript of Johnson’s remarks here.
5. Johnson’s Father, Ernie Sr., Was a Major League Pitcher & Former Broadcaster
It must have been genetic.
Ernie Johnson, Sr. was also a mainstay in the sports world – first as a pitcher for the Braves, playing in Boston and Milwaukee before joining the Baltimore Orioles, and then as the longtime play-by-play and color commentator on Atlanta Braves games on WTBS.
The elder Johnson made his big-league debut on April 28, 1950 and picked up his win against the New York Giants on June 30, 1950 at the Polo Grounds. He pitched for the Braves that season and, again, from ’52 to ’58, but it was his voice that left the largest impact on the organization.
Johnson was the voice of the Braves from 1962 until 1999 and was inducted into the Braves Hall of Fame shortly after his retirement. He was on the call for nearly every major event in franchise history, including Hank Aaron’s home run pursuit and the team’s divisional dominance.
Johnson passed away in 2011, at the age of 87, and the team wore a commemorative patch on their uniforms the remainder of the season.
“Ernie was the heart and soul of the Braves for so long, first as a player and then as the voice of the team in the broadcast booth,” Braves general manager John Schuerholz said at the time. “Our hearts are heavy today and we will miss him dearly.”