A warm smile and a round figure greeted the student journalists the moment they stepped out of their car in the small town of Beaver Dam. One would have never guessed this was the man who just two days ago resigned as the voice of UW-Milwaukee’s Men’s basketball program after 16 seasons. Radio announcer Bill Johnson, 50, recently gained national attention after slamming the UWM Athletic Department’s leadership on various social media platforms.
Now, he was sitting down with campus student media in order to further explain what led him to write comments on Instagram such as: “Never have so many competent, talented people been run off by such a talentless group of entitled beaurocrats (sic). No matter how much the coaches, players, and support staff care, they can’t overcome incompetent administrators.”
For its part, the UWM Athletic Department released a statement Friday night regarding Johnson’s resignation that read: “In the social media posting announcing his decision not to pursue his position next season, Bill Johnson – the longtime voice of the Milwaukee men’s basketball team – was highly critical of the UWM administration and Athletic Department. We believe his comments are unwarranted and unfair and are likely motivated by his own suspension from his position in February for making racially insensitive remarks during the broadcast of a Panther game. Johnson was allowed to return to his duties after apologizing to a player and the coach of an opposing team.” Media Milwaukee had sought comment from Braun, the assistant Athletic Director, and UWM PR (ed. note: Media Milwaukee also interviewed Braun in person last week, although before the Johnson matter, a story which will be published shortly).
But what were those remarks leading to the suspension? And how did tensions fray to the point that Johnson left this way?
At his home later Friday, Johnson’s eyes revealed a look of disappointment as he glanced over his wife’s shoulder at the computer showing UWM’s statement. The statement was released shortly before the sit-down interview. When it came across his wife Michelle’s desk, she instantly began to cry.
“It’s just horrible,” she said, stressing her husband’s years of dedication, passion and support to the UWM program. Johnson comforted and consoled his wife as she read the accusations of his character.
They moved to his office, a quaint yellow-painted room, to start the interview. He began by responding to UWM’s statement, explaining the night of Tuesday, Feb. 26 – the home game between UWM and Valparaiso that led to his suspension.
Two hours after the end of the game, following the Rob Jeter radio show, Johnson was suspended by Assistant Athletic Director Bill Behrns from the following game for alleged racial remarks made.
“I’m not mad I was suspended. [Athletic Director Amanda Braun] has every right in the world. She’s my employer, I’m the employee… But there has to be a process,” Johnson said.
He said that he had made a comment about an opposing player who had a long beard saying, “I bet he has a hard time making it through airport security,” alluding to his own personal struggles with facial hair through TSA.
“I was never asked if I had a racially motivated comment,” he maintained. “The athletic director, without any type of hearing or even asking my side of the story, assumed it was a racially motivated comment and suspended me.”
In his post, Johnson referred to Braun as “a deplorable human being” who is “horribly underqualified” and bad at her job. Why does he feel so strongly?
“When I said she was a deplorable human being, I think it’s deplorable when you kick someone when they’re down.” He referenced several Amanda Braun interviews that occurred after former head basketball coach Rob Jeter’s firing questioning the purpose of what he saw as Braun, the Athletic Director, mentioning and discrediting Jeter’s name.
“Job 1 for her the day she stepped on campus was to fire Rob Jeter,” he alleged. “She couldn’t in three seasons, so she tried to make his life miserable and make him quit.”
He explained what he believed was an often difficult relationship between Braun and Jeter, including alleged lack of support from the Athletic Director’s office and a lack of trust from the coaching staff.
In all his years with UWM, 16, Johnson said he believes the UW System has hired the wrong person as Athletic Director four times in a row. He doesn’t believe Braun should have ever been hired and is hopeful that by this time next year there will be a new athletic director.
“The old adage in sports is, ‘Don’t hustle to fire the person that’s in there because you could always get someone worse.’ I don’t know if that’s possible here.”
A recently surfaced 2005 PantherVision video found Johnson declaring his love of the game and announcing. In the clip, he jokes that someone would have to take the microphone from his hands.
He said he wished it didn’t have to come to this but expressed frustration over what he described as seeing his friends and former co-workers mistreated.
“This was something I had to do.”
He said he wished the best for men’s basketball, reminiscing on the memories and the traveling him and the team experienced together. He expressed how so much of his heart and soul are planted in the university. He called the lack of support he believed players got from the Athletic Department as “criminal.” stressing the importance of the future of the current players and hoped for their continued successes.
“I’m going to miss watching the kids grow up. There are going to be so many memories.”