The allegations that Johnson’s made racist statements come as the sports world plays a major role in the Black Lives Matter movement. The NFL has previously been a flashpoint for protests against police brutality, notably when Colin Kaepernick and others began taking a knee during the National Anthem and speaking out against racism.
President Donald Trump has frequently criticized athletes who take a knee during the National Anthem and has sparred with multiple athletes who criticized his administration, including uninviting multiple championship teams from the traditional White House visit because of their activism.
Former Jets defensive end Marvin Washington, who played with the team for eight seasons, said on Twitter, “As a former player for that Organization (89-97), who lives less then 15 minutes away from the stadium, I will not support them or go to anymore games, as long as he is associated with the team.”
After becoming ambassador, Johnson turned daily operations of the Jets over to his brother and Jets chairman and CEO Christopher Johnson.
Asked about the specific allegations reported by CNN, Johnson did not deny them. He called it an “honor of a lifetime” to serve as ambassador and “to lead the talented, diverse team of the U.S. Mission to the United Kingdom.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Johnson tweeted, “I have followed the ethical rules and requirements of my office at all times. These false claims of insensitive remarks about race and gender are totally inconsistent with my longstanding record and values.”
The Jets said in a statement that the team was aware of the report and pointed to Johnson’s denial.
“Since the Johnson family became owners of the New York Jets, the organization has consistently and actively supported, engaged and encouraged the development of many different social justice, diversity, women’s, and inclusion initiatives,” the statement read. “These initiatives have been implemented internally and in our community. One of our fundamental principles is treating employees, players, coaches and fans with respect and dignity, regardless of their race, color, religion, or gender. These principles have been established by the Johnson family, which Woody implemented in our organization over the past 20 years.”
The NFL said they were aware of the CNN report and referred queries about the allegations to the State Department. A State Department spokesperson called Johnson “a valued member of the team who has led Mission UK honorably and professionally” and said they “stand by Ambassador Johnson and look forward to him continuing to ensure our special relationship with the UK is strong.”
The NFL in particular has played a large role in the societal reckoning over racism and police brutality.
“We the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people,” Goodell said. “We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest
CNN’s Michael Conte, David Close, Chloe Melas and Faith Karimi contributed to this report.