ESPN airs moving piece on former Penn State TE Theo Johnson, mother escaping abuse

ESPN aired a 10-minute video segment on Mother’s Day about former Penn State tight end Theo Johnson, in what proved to be a moving piece about his family’s escape from domestic violence — and the courage and resolve of his mother.

The video was part of SC Featured, SportsCenter’s award-winning storytelling brand. It was posted online Sunday morning.

The story isn’t an easy one to watch, and viewers are cautioned at the beginning that it contains depictions of domestic abuse that some might find troubling.

“I was married for 11 years, six children in that period of time, and I would say the vast majority of the time it was unpleasant and difficult dealing with their dad,” Johnson’s mother, Amy, said early on. “He was unpredictable and rather terrifying.”

Theo remembered going to sleep scared and waking up without knowing whether he’d see bruises or cuts on his mother. Amy knew she had to leave when, one night during a snowstorm, she was late returning from continuing her education — and her husband lined up all six boys, beating four of them with a mini-hockey stick while the two youngest watched.

Theo said his father knew abusing him and his brothers would “hurt her more.”

So she left. Eventually, a family in the church community opened their house to Amy and her sons. They received their food from food banks. And Amy continued going to school, setting her sights on a law degree — all the while continuing to support her children, making dinner every night, attending practices and making sure her children had every opportunity.

“My mom showed me super early on that, if you wake up and decide you want to do something, there’s nothing stopping you but yourself,” Theo said.

Theo found football, which gave him an outlet for his emotions. And he enrolled in Penn State in January 2020 — five years after his mom earned that law degree.

“I saw her walk across the stage, and I saw the life that we once had and the life that she made for us,” Theo said. “And it was a really special moment.”

Theo finished his Penn State career with 77 catches for 938 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was drafted last month in the fourth round of the 2024 NFL Draft by the New York Giants.

When Amy hugged him after his name was called during his draft selection, she told him she needed a few moments.

“She’s been the best example that anybody could’ve asked for when it comes to showing you can accomplish anything,” Theo said.

If you are experiencing domestic violence and need someone to talk to, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline for support at 1-800-799-7233 or text “START” to 88788.