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Jaylon Johnson's most important message on contract signing had nothing to do with Bears

Jaylon Johnson's most important message on contract signing had nothing to do with Bears originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

LAKE FOREST -- Jaylon Johnson was the man of the hour Monday at Halas Hall. The Bears star cornerback arrived to sign his four-year, $76 million contract extension surrounded by family and friends.

Contract extension press conferences usually are as cut-and-paste as they get in the NFL. Players gush about how excited they are to stay with the franchise that has given them life-changing money and outline big goals they want to reach to cash the next big check.

Johnson did that Monday. He talked about his unquenchable desire to be a Hall of Famer, riffed on his need to evolve as a leader with safety Eddie Jackson gone, and, of course, talked about winning in Chicago.

But Johnson's biggest message -- his most important -- had nothing to do with football.

When Johnson took the podium Monday, he opened a vein by revealing that he spent last season going through therapy for sexual addiction.

It was a window into the man behind the player—not one that Johnson had to open, especially not on Monday. This was his day. It was the culmination of years of hard work and the product of a bet he made on himself last offseason—a bet Johnson said he won "pretty big."

But Johnson elected to divulge his trials and tribulations because he knows it's important that he, a man now making $19 million a year, uses his platform for more than football. He wanted to show that he, an All-Pro corner, has the same issues as everyday people. It was an authentic moment that fits a player who always tries to tell you what he's feeling, which isn't commonplace in the NFL.

"I think for me, though, it's bigger than me," Johnson said when asked why he revealed his therapy for sex addiction. "I want to say, for one it's because I know I'm not the only one going through it for one. Two, it's OK to go through stuff. It's OK to not be perfect, and I feel like people put us literally on this pedestal to get up here and talk and oh well, guys are this, guys are that. Like man, we are human too. We go through things. Everybody goes through things, but I feel like people feel like you got to put a mask on, you got to cover it up. Like naw, it's OK to go through things, it's OK to seek help, it's OK to be vulnerable."

Johnson saw his therapist on the Bears' off day during the season and said that was the most challenging part of his week. Playing football comes naturally to him, and he relishes the challenge of facing and shutting down the NFL's top receivers.

But going through sex addiction therapy was a different kind of challenge. It was a harder mountain to climb, but it was a journey that improved Jaylon Johnson, the person who takes precedence over the football star.

"It was good. Honestly, that was harder than anything," Johnson said. "Everybody was talking about playing football. That's easy. So I mean just going out and seeing my therapist on an off day, 'It's like damn. That's where I'm most uncomfortable.' But I mean, just throughout the week, just preparing myself mentally, I feel like it's, I mean, people are talking about contracts, talking about all these different, I mean, I wasn't worried about that. I was worried about trying to get myself right because, for me, it's bigger than contacts. I mean me being who I need to be as a man, who I need to be as a father, as a partner, as a future husband, that's more important. That's something that lasts way longer than this podium, lasts way longer than this platform.

"So just for me looking myself in the mirror and knowing who I want to be, I think that was more important than contracts, contracts, contracts, football, football, football. Like man, football is the easiest thing for me to do."

When asked if what he was going through could have harmed his personal or professional life, Johnson smiled and offered the trademark honesty he has become known for in Halas Hall.

"If I wouldn’t have told you that you wouldn’t have ever known," Johnson said. "It didn’t affect me, really, at all. If anything it boosted me up into being who I needed to be. Like I said, in that place of vulnerability, I had a breakthrough. I had a breakthrough with myself and I had a breakthrough on the football field. I wouldn’t say it affected me. If anything it boosted me to be who I know I am."

Johnson's 20-minute press conference touched on a lot of things. The 24-year-old said he still feels he has to prove himself and knows he has to be consistently great to live up to a deal that sees him have the third-most guaranteed money among cornerbacks.

But he also expressed his excitement about remaining a Bear and being able to see this rebuild through to the end. Johnson wants to win in Chicago, but he knows the time for talk is over as the Bears' rebuild hits its next stage.

"At the end of the day, I feel like you have to stand for something," Johnson said. "I feel like we’ve been losing way too much."

Johnson stood for a lot more than the need to win more games on Monday. He sent a loud message from the pedestal his football ability provides him, one that will hopefully resonate far outside the NFL bubble. It's important in a society still grappling with how to adequately address mental health issues.

It's OK not to be OK.

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