Days after his son Earvin "E.J." Johnson III made headlines for being filmed walking down a Los Angeles street holding another young man's hand, Magic Johnson sat down with TMZ for an interview about learning his son was gay — a moment that came when E.J. was 12 or 13 years old.
"We've known for a long, long time that my son E.J. was gay," the Los Angeles Lakers legend said. "It's interesting, you know, when you're his parents — we finally had to sit down and talk about it, and I told him, 'Look, I'm going to love you regardless. Just let me know: Are you or aren't you?' And finally, he just said, 'Yes, I am.' [...] Because he wasn't going to to come to me with it.
"[...] It was, I think, a hard conversation only because he was so young, and what do you tell him at that age? What do you say to him?" Johnson continued. "But other than that, I told him, 'Hey, we are here to support you, and we're going to love you no matter who you are and what you do. We just want you to love yourself and just make sure that you have all the information.' And that's what I wanted to give him — just provide him with advice and guidance."
E.J., Cookie and Magic Johnson at the premiere of the play 'Magic/Bird.' (Bruce Glikas/Broadway.com)
As Johnson tells it, the early interaction helped ease E.J.'s concerns that what he was feeling would anger his father and change their relationship. As he grew older, though, E.J. — now a 20-year-old student at New York University — still struggled with how to express himself publicly as the son of an international celebrity who, even years after his playing career ended, remains very much in the public eye.
"As time went on, I think he really wanted to be out, but he just — he was torn," Johnson said. "'Should I be? Should I come out and say I'm gay? Not? Hold it?' But actually, I would have to say that TMZ really helped him. This was a good moment for us as a family and a greater moment for him. I think now he's just the bubbly kid we knew again, and he's just happy that it is out.
"[...] Young people struggle, especially when you're sitting there and you know you want to tell the world, but it's just ... he just didn't know how," Johnson added. "He just didn't know how everybody else — not his family, because we already knew — how everybody else was going to react. So I think he just said, 'You know what? This is my moment, this is my time, I'm happy to share with the world who I am.' And I said, 'Go, E.J. Go.' You know, I'm behind him a million percent. This is really wonderful for him."
After the heavy coverage of his Sunset Strip stroll, E.J. Johnson took to Twitter to express his appreciation for the support, both public and private, he'd received from his parents:
in the midst of all this media attention i would like to say that i am truly blessed to have parents that love and support me @magicjohnson
—EJ Johnson (@prince_ej) April 3, 2013
Johnson also spoke with TMZ about the backlash that he and his son have received in the aftermath of E.J.'s walk, especially from within the African American community.
"I think this is going to be good for a lot of black young people who want to come out," Johnson said. "[E.J.] is going to be that symbol — a symbol of hope that they can now come and tell their parents, tell their friends. Both men and women. E.J.'s really going to help a lot of people."
Finally, Johnson — part of the ownership group that purchased the Los Angeles Dodgers last year — said that if one of his players were ever to decide to come out of the closet, he would support that player "150 percent" and protect him "as much as I can."
"That's who I am, you know?" Johnson said. "I'm a protector. I protect my family. [...] I think as an owner, you've really got to support the person. You really do. And then, help educate the public. That's really important. 'We stand with this player. We're going to support this player.' Once the organization and the owner does that, then everybody else has to say, 'OK, we're going to support it,' or you just say, 'Hey, we're going to deal with it.'"
Johnson said he has not been approached for advice or support by any professional athlete who is gay and in the closet, but said that his "door is always open" to anyone who'd like to speak with him.
In conclusion: Magic Johnson is awesome. But you already knew that.
Hat-tip to Chris Strauss of USA TODAY Sports.