KANSAS CITY, Mo. —His voice comes through soft but pointed. He remembers his childhood in the Jim Crow South and understands the daggers of inequality and the tarnish of discrimination.
"I went through that," he said. "My generation."
Larry Johnson Sr. said that he vowed so many years ago that he would teach his children to treat everyone with compassion. He said he raised them to consider everyone equal, regardless of race, gender, beliefs or sexual preference. He said it hurts that his son, Chiefs running back Larry Johnson, used gay slurs in public two times in 24 hours.
"That's just not who we are and not what we believe," said the elder Johnson, 56. "It's not how he was raised.
"It's tough for me as a father."
He said young Larry learned that hateful or inappropriate words are "just not tolerated."
On Tuesday, Johnson learned that lesson again. After he issued an apology, the Chiefs instructed him to stay away from their headquarters and barred him from all team activities. Johnson remains on the roster, and he will continue to be paid. He was similarly benched for three weeks last season before being suspended by the NFL because of his alleged involvement in separate skirmishes with two women at Kansas City nightspots.
The Chiefs did not say how long Johnson would be out or whether he might face further punishment from the team or the league. An NFL spokesman said this week that the league is investigating the matter. But Johnson wasn't at the team's complex Tuesday, and his locker was undisturbed.
It was at that locker where Johnson muttered a gay slur to reporters on Monday morning, hours after he posted disparaging remarks on his Twitter profile about Chiefs coach Todd Haley's lack of football playing experience.
On Tuesday, Johnson apologized in a statement released by his agent, Peter Schaffer. Neither incident was addressed specifically, and the apology was directed toward Haley, the Chiefs' fans, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Johnson's teammates.
"I regret my actions," the statement read. "The words were used by me in frustration, and they were not appropriate. I did not intend to offend anyone, but that is no excuse for what I said."
Rashad Robinson, senior programs director for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, said Johnson's apology was a good start. Robinson said it was a sign that Johnson takes seriously the inflammatory nature of the slurs, and Robinson said he hopes Johnson learned the hard way that words can be damaging.
Johnson's father was his role model, and the old coach said his son's words didn't match what he was taught. Johnson Sr., the defensive line coach at Penn State, was raised in Williamston, N.C., and he remembers the segregated water fountains and the split schools.
He said that his son is not homophobic and that he was raised with an emphasis on equality.
"Both sides of the world," Johnson Sr. called it, and he said his son grew up knowing the difference between right and wrong.
Johnson Sr. said he spoke with his son about the tweets and that, while he was flattered that his son was trying to compliment his father's coaching abilities, he could have found a more diplomatic way of doing it.
"Could he have done it a little differently?" the elder Johnson said. "Sure."
Larry Johnson later posted two derogatory references to gays.
Through a spokesman, Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt referred The Kansas City Star to the team's statement on Johnson's benching, which said the Chiefs are "continuing to investigate the alleged comments made by Larry Johnson. Until that review is complete, the Chiefs have instructed Larry to refrain from practicing with the Chiefs or participating in other team activities."
Haley said he hoped that the Chiefs' latest obstacle would somehow make the team tougher, similar to a practice last week in a cold and steady rain.
"I want, first and foremost, a mentally tough team," Haley said, "and this will be part of that hardening.
"I truly believe that this will all be part of making us a team that is competitive and has a chance to win Super Bowls."
"He does not hate gays. That's not Larry, and that's not our family," he said. "He's my son. You can't disown him. We just talk to him, listen to him, and help him move forward."