Chad Johnson is a complicated man. The NFL's most infamous loudmouth is actually an introvert. He has 4 million Twitter followers, but mostly hangs out alone. He's a ladies' man, but now claims to be celibate. He listens to Andrea Bocelli and is addicted to ChapStick. He is an enigma, wrapped in Urban Outfitters, and doused in David's Café.
But if there is one thing that confuses people most about Johnson, it's his fascination with killer whales.
After hanging out for a day with Ochocinco at Miami Seaquarium, we can finally explain his orca obsession.
Johnson has either tweeted or been tweeted about orcas more than 1,400 times in the past month. It is safe to say that nobody has been this fascinated by killer whales since Free Willy.
Sometimes, his Twitter followers complain of orca overload. But Johnson keeps bombarding them with tweets about the animals, like the fact that there three types of orcas, all of which have different diets. Or that they've never killed a human in the wild.
— Chad Johnson (@ochocinco) August 14, 2013
So why is Johnson so obsessed with orcas? We went to the Seaquarium with him to find out.
Sitting in the bleachers before the show, Johnson said that he sometimes comes here three times a week. Orcas are his escape, he said. His grandmother, Bessie Mae Flowers, first took him to the Seaquarium when he was 7 or 8 years old. He was a kid from the concrete streets of Liberty City who had never seen wildlife. "She was the first thing I ever saw that was outside the norm of what I was used to," he says of Lolita.
He also feels an affinity with the animals. As the show begins, the similarity between the man and his orca become apparent. Lolita explodes from the water 20 feet into the air on command, not unlike Johnson catching a pass after a huddle.
Fast and powerful, both have spent their lives performing athletic tricks for strangers. Both are too smart for their own good. And both can be dangerous. (Johnson pleaded no contest to domestic battery last year. In 2010, an orca killed its trainer at SeaWorld.)
It was only after the show, however, that we really saw Johnson's deep connection to orcas. He initially tried proposing to Lolita's trainer, Heather Kennan. When he found out that she was married, he settled for a kiss from the killer whale herself.
After planting his lips on the 7,000-pound whale's tongue, Johnson jumped up as if celebrating a touchdown.
"I don't need a woman when I'm tonguing a killer whale," he said. "My life is made. If I could have gotten into the water with her, I would have died and gone to heaven."
"The whale's tongue tasted like oysters," he added. We headed straight towards the Seaquarium gift shop.
"Mr. Johnson, can I get a photo?" asked a gangly kid behind the counter. Johnson didn't skip a beat.
"Sure, if you show me all the killer whale stuff you've got," he said.
Johnson grabbed a giant, plush Lolita doll and two glass orca sculptures. The total damage: $284.87. I asked him if they were gifts for his four kids.
"Hell no, these are for me," he answered. (Sure enough, the doll now adorns his bed and the sculptures are on his coffee table, near his NFL helmets.)
Later, Johnson explained why he doesn't care what people think of his orca obsession -- or anything else about him, for that matter.
"I've been a weirdo since high school," he said. "When I was at Santa Monica Junior college in 1996, 1997, I took classical class, jazz class, opera class, all those are part of my credits. Those are the classes I actually went to."
"Most athletes feel they have to be politically correct," he continued. "It's all about eyeball. They want to be perceived in a certain way. And there is a certain acceptance from their peers, from those who employ them, to say: 'Look, I'm doing it your way. I'm doing what you want.'
— Chad Johnson (@ochocinco) August 7, 2013
"Nah. This is me. I want you to like me for me being who I am, not because I am pretending to be someone else to appease you," he said.
His comfort with being weird comes from "trying to please people and them never being happy... knowing that no matter what you do, it's never enough. I don't know at what point I got over it and said, 'Fuck it, I'm just going to be me.'
"There are three types of people in the world: people who are going to love you no matter what you do wrong; people who are going to hate you no matter what you do right; and those people in the middle who just don't give two shits no matter what the fuck."
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When he's not working out in the hopes that an NFL will give him one more shot, Johnson spends his afternoons sitting at either The Pelican Hotel or David's Café in South Beach. The spots are perfect -- well, nearly. He can think of one way to improve them.
"Dude, I want to own a restaurant where you can sit amongst killer whales," he says. "You know what I'm saying? I'm talking about a huge tank. Do you know how peaceful that would be?
"Five star restaurant, dim lights, surrounded by fucking orcas," he says softly. "That would be fucking fascinating."