Summer 2024

How broadcaster Ernie Johnson began to see adoption through a lens of faith

Anyone who watches sports on TNT or TBS has seen Ernie Johnson. He’s the bow-tie wearing, self-proclaimed dad of “Inside the NBA,” the consummate professional who voices Turner Sports’ baseball games, and during March he and his NBA crew shift to covering March Madness.

That he’s still in front of the camera is a blessing. Johnson did not contribute to Turner’s MLB postseason coverage last year, as he stayed home in Atlanta (where Turner’s studios are located) on doctor’s orders. Blood clots were revealed in both legs during a check-up, and Johnson was advised not to fly. That health battle came after he fought cancer (non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma) from 2003-06.

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Also a husband and father of six children, four of which are adopted, Johnson has taken on the motto “Trust God, period.” The phrase stems from finding strength in his personal battles as well as those of his son, Michael, who was born with a progressive form of muscular dystrophy and lives on a ventilator in his parents’ home.

Yet, it took years for Johnson to grow to a place where he knew God.

Johnson’s broadcasting career has been, by any measure, a success. But more than 20 years ago, Johnson realized that the accolades he was receiving weren’t filling the emptiness inside him. Something was missing.

“I was enjoying a degree of success early in my career,” Johnson told the Sports Spectrum Podcast in May 2017. “I had graduated, gotten a job, gotten a bigger job, gotten married, and if I’m totally honest was thinking, ‘God has nothing to do with this. I haven’t paid attention to Him and I’m doing well, so let’s just keep this going.’”

At this point, Johnson and his wife, Cheryl, had two biological and two adopted children, and realized they wanted their kids to have some sort of religious upbringing. They started attending Crossroads Community Church outside Atlanta, and during his first service there Johnson was leveled by the preaching of Pastor Kevin Myers.

“The first week [Myers] was asking ‘Who is provider in your life?’ and I thought ‘I’m the provider!’” Johnson remembers. “I was wrong. As I learned more about faith I started taking a broader look at life. I was in the middle of an identity crisis. I would have said my identity was as a husband and a father but that didn’t match reality. In reality, I was defining myself by my career. I was a sportscaster. I was driven by my job. I was achieving all these things and wondering, ‘Is this all there is? Is my plan all there is?’ If so, that’s not very satisfying.”

On Dec. 10, 1997, Johnson accepted Christ while having lunch with Myers at an O’Charley’s chain restaurant, a day Johnson calls “the greatest day of my life.” Johnson and Cheryl, who had already adopted two children, began to see adoption through a lens of faith, ultimately adopting two more.

“Adoption means giving someone second chance,” Johnson said. “We adopted our first child from Romania. Cheryl went over there and when our adopted son Michael was brought out from the orphanage and handed to Cheryl, the worker said, ‘Don’t take this boy, he’s no good.’ He couldn’t walk because of a foot that was turned in. He couldn’t speak. Cheryl called me later that day and said, ‘I met this little boy and he is so much more than we can handle but I don’t know if I can go the rest of life wondering what happened to him.’ So I said, ‘Well, bring him home.’ And you know, that’s what God said to me when I was a 41-year-old man just starting to consider faith. ‘Bring him home.’ We’re all adopted.”

Johnson’s faith took the national spotlight following the 2016 election, when an obviously distressed Johnson described how he felt like he had no good option, specifically as a Christian finding Trump’s behavior unacceptable. He then said “You know, I never know from one election to the next who will be in the Oval Office, but I always know who is on the throne. I’m on earth because God created me. That’s who I answer to. I’m a Christian, and I follow a guy named Jesus — you might have heard of Him. The greatest commandment He gave me is to love others. Scripture tells me to pray for our leaders. So I’m going to pray for Trump and for people on the outside of our culture looking in who are afraid. In short, I’m praying for America.”

TBS’s coverage of the NCAA Tournament continues Thursday and Friday with the Sweet 16.

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