MIAMI -- Say you're an NFL player and you've gotten yourself into a bit of legal trouble. Criminal trouble. Say you're coming to the Super Bowl, where thousands of media members will want to know how you got into this trouble.
Super Bowl media day arrives. You've got to figure out how to eloquently state that you're not a criminal, just misunderstood. So, what can you do?
He didn't have a podium Tuesday, but the media had no trouble finding Tank Johnson.
Not literally, but figuratively. Fresh off a murder trial, Ray Lewis gave an epic media day performance at the 2001 Super Bowl in Tampa. He was combative and ridiculous, comparing himself to Jesus at one point.
Chicago Bears defensive tackle Tank Johnson wasn't that bad Tuesday in Miami, but clearly he had learned a lot from the "Ray Lewis Survival Guide to Media Day When You've Been Accused of a Crime."
Johnson admonished the media for labeling him a thug, even though he wore dark sunglasses, a wave cap and a diamond earring to media day.
He gave Los Angeles Times columnist and "Around the Horn" regular Bill Plaschke the silent treatment when Plaschke asked if he was sorry for being arrested three times in 18 months, including as recently as Dec. 14, when police raided his home and discovered six guns and ammunition.
Johnson turned into a deacon on us -- just like Lewis. He played the martyr card -- just like Lewis. He criticized the media -- just like Lewis. He played the race card -- just like Lewis.
Lewis in 2001: "Jesus couldn't please everybody. He was spit on, slashed at, talked about. Everything there was. But guess what? He hung his head and never said a mumbly word. That's my attitude."
When the media questions got combative, Johnson launched into a sermon.
Lewis in Tampa: "Yeah, I'm black. And yeah, I'm blessed. But at the same time, let's find out the real truth. The real truth is this was never about those two kids who were dead in the street. It's about Ray Lewis."
Johnson in Miami: "It's easy to clump somebody. When you see me walking down the street, I don't look like you. I don't talk like you and I don't walk like you. It's easy to say, well, he's just like the other people, who we see all the time. I've given you guys the opportunity to stereotype me like that. It's unfortunate. It's just the way I am. I'm young. I'm black. I've got tattoos. I've got dreds. It is what it is."
Lewis before Super Bowl XXXV vs. the Giants: "I'm the figure that everybody says, 'They're out of control.' Are we really? No. We're just like everybody else. I'm a man. I bleed. I cry. I moan. I do all of that. So you move on in life."
Johnson before Super Bowl XLI vs. the Colts: "A lot of people are demons. You got to really look at it like that. A lot of people are really out to get people, just to hurt people. In my whole life, I never thought about racism in my whole life. I've never had a person come to me and say anything racist in my whole entire life. Now I look at it, I'm like, wow. Is this because I'm certain things? I realize people buy into stereotypes."
During Johnson's media session, I couldn't help but think of one of my favorite Dave Chappelle jokes. Chappelle warned us not to judge women who wear provocative clothing. "She's not a whore," Chappelle said. "But she is wearing a whore's uniform."
Johnson isn't a thug. But whether it's right or wrong, he is operating like one.
Future Super Bowl trivia question: Name the player who was on house arrest and needed a judge's approval to attend the Super Bowl. Answer: Tank Johnson.
Johnson faces 10 counts of possession of firearms because the guns the police seized weren't registered in the state of Illinois. The gun charges come after he was arrested for a fight with a police officer (charges were subsequently dropped) and another misdemeanor weapons charge to which Johnson pleaded guilty. So no wonder there were more than a few raised eyebrows at media day when Johnson boldly proclaimed: "I don't like violence. I can't stand it. That's something that's glorified on TV so much. I'm not a violent person. Never been a violent person."
In the span of a couple days, Johnson's house was raided and his best friend and bodyguard, Willie Posey, was shot and killed in a nightclub altercation. Johnson was at that same club with Posey.
Sadly, far too many black athletes have had to resort to the Ray Lewis media kit to explain their actions and their friends. And the reason they're usually defensive is that tragedy forces them to realize what they should have learned long ago. They have to divorce themselves from their past and the people whose interests run contrary to their own. That doesn't make you a sellout. That makes you smart.
Money is supposed to change things. It shouldn't change the person you are, but it certainly should change where you are. If you're a million-dollar man still frequenting clubs that need metal detectors, something is wrong. Even if you are a professional athlete from a rough background, close friends within your inner circle should not be murder victims.
Otherwise, you will be continually caught in a merciless media horde like Johnson was Tuesday.
Johnson's parenting was questioned because he had guns in the same home as his young daughters. Johnson was asked if he was attracted to gang life, if he liked guns and why the police had been called to his home before (answer: His neighbors complained about his pit bulls).
No survival guide prepares you for that.
Jemele Hill, a Page 2 columnist and writer for ESPN the Magazine, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.