Boise State Couple Deserves Respect, Not Hate

By Brian Murphy
Updated: July 27, 2007

SAN JOSE, Ca.. – His father and mother grew up in some of America’s toughest neighborhoods. Inner-city Los Angeles and a Chicago project, respectively.

Through education and hard work they moved their family to the suburbs so their children could pursue a better future far from the trappings of that former life.

Ian Johnson became a football star, even when few colleges offered him a scholarship. But he became so much more. He learned to crochet from his mother. He developed an engaging personality and genuine kindness toward others.

He met a girl in the island paradise of Hawaii and eventually proposed to her on national television. They rocketed to national fame, briefly, and became local celebrities.

His jersey sold thousands. He signed even more autographs, each time smiling, sharing a word, a handshake, a hug.

It’s the stuff of movies, really. The American Dream personified, a testament to hard work and good fortune.

Unfortunately, there is more to the story. Unfortunately, not everyone loved the story of America’s Sweethearts. Unfortunately, even in 2007, some cannot see past race.

To some, it doesn’t matter that Johnson is Boise State’s star running back, a Heisman Trophy candidate and a great ambassador for the program. It doesn’t matter that he’s on pace to earn his college degree. It doesn’t matter that he works a full-time job in the summer or that he’s the type of person that would make any mother or father proud.

To some, it doesn’t matter that his greatest ambition in life is not to be an NFL running back but instead:

“My goal for the rest of my life is to be a great husband and if football was to get in the way of that, then football would have to go,” he said Monday at the Western Athletic Conference football media preview.

To some, all that matters is Johnson is black. And Chrissy Popadics, his fiancee and former Boise State cheerleader, is white.

Johnson and Popadics have received threatening letters, enough that they have taken them to the authorities.

More than 30 letters. And phone calls, some to the couple, some to the venues they planned to use for their wedding and reception. Not to mention comments when the couple is out in public.

And so, with their wedding scheduled for Saturday in Boise, they must worry not just about guest lists, dresses fitting and cake, but they must also concern themselves with safety precautions.

“We’re taking care of security and what-not. We’re going to make sure we’re safe at all times,” Johnson said. “It’s an amazing day for us, and we’d hate to have it ruined by someone.”

Johnson and Popadics have tried to carry on as normally as possible.But it’s not normal to not open mail from those you don’t know, to watch behind and make sure you’re not being followed, to be suspicious of every random car on your block.

“You take it for what it is — the less educated, the less willing to change. It’s unfortunate that it involves a certain protocol being followed to ensure that nothing happens. And that’s, to me, all it is. I don’t get worked up about it,” Johnson said. “But we’re not acting like we’re naive to all the stuff that’s going on. We know what’s been said.”

Those around Johnson are aware of the situation, too. And lending support in any way they can.

“It bothers me tremendously. There’s some weird people out there,” Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. “We’ve gotten advice from people who know what they’re talking about. … You don’t want to wish your life away, but at this point it will be good to have those guys married and bring some normalcy to life.”

Normal has never been Johnson’s way. And there are some concessions they are not willing to make. Johnson and Popadics are still planning on a huge wedding ceremony with as many as 700 people in attendance.

“When you pay for the church, you pay for the whole church, so you might as well let people show up,” Johnson said.

The reception will be a much more intimate gathering with about 150 close friends and family members.

The publicity surrounding Johnson, the proposal and the build-up to the wedding has put the couple squarely in the public eye. Johnson is aware of that.

“We’ve put ourselves out there. We’re put on the doorstep of those who like us and those who hate us. The people who like us have made enough noise for us. The people that hate us will probably do it, too,” he said.

“It’s really sad because a lot of people that are probably doing it are the same people who were cheering me on. I can cheer for you, but only to a certain point. Yeah, you can make me some money while I bet on you, but don’t taint our race.”

What’s really sad is that everyone should be cheering for Johnson. He’s living a life that should make everyone proud.