Hockey plays a prominent role in CBS news anchor Rob Johnson’s life. Rob, who has worked at CBS for nine years—most of them behind the desk during weekday evening broadcasts—is a big hockey fan.
He covered the Blackhawks’ three recent championship runs, and he plays hockey two to three times a week. But the majority of his hockey time isn’t as a player or a fan. It’s as a hockey dad. Rob and wife Stacy join me for lunch on a Wednesday in late January at Wild Ginger in Hinsdale, the town where they’ve lived for 12 years. They come here often because they like the variety of food, but also because their 10-year-old son, Jaden, likes it, too.
It doesn’t take long to realize that for these parents, their son is their top priority. Jaden plays on a competitive traveling hockey team, which means weekend trips to Michigan and Wisconsin, for example. His season lasts close to 10 months a year.
Jaden loves it, and Rob and Stacy will continue to support him as long as he still loves to play the game—or as long as he can. When Jaden was only 6, he suffered a concussion after a defenseless hit that left him motionless on the ice for close to a minute. “I felt so vulnerable as a parent, and it broke our hearts to see him unable to do even basic cognitive functions,” Rob says. Recovery meant Jaden couldn’t read, take tests at school, or play video games—nothing that would put stress on his brain. “Now the clock is ticking,” Stacy says, referring to the fact that you can only have so many concussions in a lifetime before it’s unsafe to play the sport anymore.
Rob has now written a book about the dangers of concussions. It’s called Timothy Trainor: Head in the Game, and though it’s not autobiographical, it certainly draws on personal experience. Concussion prevention and treatment has been a hot topic in recent years. The National Football League has been changing the rules of the game in order to make that sport safer for players, and Will Smith starred in a movie released late last year about a doctor who embarks on a mission to raise awareness about the dangers of football-related head trauma.
“This is a hockey story, but this should be the healthcare issue for all parents of active children,” Rob says. “It’s not just hockey and football.”
The book, which was released late last year, is a short-chapter fiction book that totals about 60 pages. Its target audience is children ages 6 through about 12, but it’s one of those books that’s best read with a parent who can help talk about some of the issues and educational topics the book brings up. Rob wrote the book in his free time, meaning on plane rides or in the hotel room on hockey travel weekends. During the week, his work schedule keeps him plenty busy. Rob anchors the 5, 6, and 10 p.m. broadcasts for CBS 2, which means he’s at the studio at 2 p.m. every day and heads home around 11 p.m.
He’s constantly reading and checking news sources like AP and CNN, so he’s informed of the day’s events before arriving at his office. Weekends often mean charity events and speaking engagements, so the term “free time” is a bit of a misnomer. Still, he wanted to write this book because it’s a topic that’s personal and important to him (he serves on the board of the Concussion Legacy Foundation), and Stacy has been instrumental in helping to market the self-published book and get the word out.
We end our lunch with me asking Rob about what he would say to parents who might be worried about their kids playing high contact sports like hockey, football, soccer, and even cheerleading. He thinks for a second, then gives an answer you can tell guides his own decision-making on the subject. “Find the right organization, and make sure they’re teaching the game the right way, and take child safety seriously,” he says. “We’re not trying to do away with football. We’re just teaching the way it’s supposed to be played.”
Timothy Trainor: Head in the Game by Rob Johnson is available now at amazon.com and Anderson’s Bookshops in Naperville, Downers Grove, and La Grange.