Andrew Dys

Football star got in trouble, learned from his mistake

The Rock Hill football star who never got in trouble became a grown-up football star. And then he got in a little bit of trouble.

In January, Johnathan Joseph was a passenger in a car in Kentucky.

Kentucky is across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, where Joseph plays defensive back for the Bengals NFL team that is known more for police blotter stories than touchdown stories.

The police stopped the car, and Joseph was charged with possession of a small amount of marijuana. His mother said he called her so she would hear it from him, instead of on the news.

"I told him, 'Hold your head high; you are still my son,'" Vanessa Joseph said.

This incident happened on a team where a bunch of players, at least nine, have been charged with small crimes and big crimes. Now, if the Bengals have a jaywalker, it will be news.

The story ran on TV across the country and in The Herald, too. Vanessa Joseph said she clipped the paper for her scrapbook like she had dozens of times when he was a star.

With those words, I remembered how I met her, her husband and their son.

Joseph is a former Northwestern High School and University of South Carolina football star. In the 2001 state high school football championship game that Northwestern lost, Joseph caught a 61-yard touchdown pass. He tackled all over the field, caused a fumble with a hit that was heard in the stands.

Joseph was so clearly that day's story that I climbed into the stands during the game and asked strangers for help to find the parents, Vanessa and John Lee Joseph. They allowed me to interview them and other family members.

And when Northwestern lost, I watched them hug their son with such love that I remember it like it happened yesterday.

Six years later, Joseph lives near Cincinnati, but the family is still here.

Vanessa Joseph still works. John Lee Joseph is retired, but not because his son got a million-dollar contract. He is retired because he is almost 70 years old and worked 24 years on his feet in a Springs textile mill, taking just one sick day in those 24 years. He worked several years in a barrel-making plant before that and 19 years trucking furniture before that.

The Joseph family has spent a lifetime at Pineville AME Zion Church on S.C. 5. The pastor there, the Rev. James Boyd, said people have small bumps in the road like this misdemeanor charge, but the question is how to handle adversity after success.

"Johnathan has always been a good person, and still is," Boyd said. "We can't be successful without knowing how to fail."

Boyd and a longtime Joseph family friend, William Cureton, known as Q-Rock, are holding a "Youth Explosion" event at the church Saturday about reaching your dreams. Former NFL player Gerald Dixon agreed to speak. Current NFL players Chris Hope and Justin Rainey also said yes. Assistant principals at Northwestern and some business leaders, too.

And Johnathan Joseph, recovering from a foot injury he suffered at a team practice, was asked to speak.

In Rock Hill, Joseph is the NFL player the neighbor kids run to see when he visits his parents. They did before his arrest and still do.

In March, Joseph bought his church a 15-seat, handicapped-accessible bus. There was no discussion about money. There was no discussion about telling the members about it, except Joseph telling Boyd he wanted no recognition.

Vanessa and John Lee Joseph don't call the bus the bus their son bought.

"It's just our church bus," John Lee Joseph said. "Ours means all of ours, the whole church."

Joseph never asked his parents, or his pastor or Cureton, to tell anybody about the bus. They told me because it is important people know the best side of Johnathan Joseph is still there.

Apart from the fame, is Joseph any different from so many who made one mistake at 23 years old? And without anybody asking him to do it, he bought his church a bus.

In March, Joseph entered a Kentucky prosecution diversion program for first-time offenders. There are similar programs here, meant to give people the second chance they deserve, and they work.

When Joseph completes the program, his record will be wiped clean.


What: Pineville AME Zion Church "Youth Explosion." Free event for children 18 and under. Food and drinks will be provided.

Where: 4200 York Highway (S.C. 5), west of Rock Hill on the right

When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday

Who: Featured speakers include former and current NFL players from Rock Hill: Gerald Dixon, Johnathan Joseph, Chris Hope and Justin Rainey. Other speakers include business and education leaders.

Bring: A canned good and/or item of clothing for the needy.

For more information: Call 327-1590.