Calling it as he sees it


For college sports fans, Gus Johnson’s voice is a familiar one. But the lead play-by-play announcer for Fox Sports’ coverage of NCAA football and basketball made the most unexpected call of his life when he decided to take his talents to the Ivy League.

That was in 2022 when he attended Harvard’s year-long Advanced Leadership Initiative (ALI). Last month, the distinguished alum returned to engage students in Dunster House, sharing his story and the lessons he’s still learning while planning for his future at the University.

“I go on TV in front of 5 to 22 million people, but the real joy, the real peace that will happen comes in this — in its intimacy in being around people and ideas, thoughts and positivity,” Johnson said to the small crowd gathered in the Dunster senior common room.

Following a meal and a short preview of the Fox Sports film chronicling his time at Harvard, the 56-year-old Johnson, who previously called games for the NFL as well as championship boxing and events at the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, spoke with the same passion and empathy with which he calls sports.

“He has a kind of almost spiritual style, because he feels that when he does this work, he pulls together the people in the game, and also this 5 to 20 million people who listen to him,” said Davíd Carrasco, Neil L. Rudenstine Professor of the Study of Latin America, who holds a joint appointment in the Department of Anthropology in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and at Harvard Divinity School.

Carrasco was one of several professors who guided Johnson’s ALI studies, and is the resident scholar at Dunster House. He organized the dinner and time for students to mingle with the broadcasting legend.

“Once a semester, Dunster puts together these dinners that bring in alumni, faculty, students, just a broad array of the Harvard community, to come together for dinner, but also to listen to interesting speakers and really hear what they have to say,” said Fez Zafar ’24, who is concentrating in government.

“This one’s definitely very different and I think much more exciting for the students because Gus Johnson is obviously a giant of sports. And for all of us who have grown up listening to his commentary, to really see him in the flesh,” the Iowa native said.

Zafar works part time as an announcer for Harvard Athletics, calling volleyball, rugby, soccer and swimming,

“I’m always trying to learn from people like Gus Johnson as to how I can improve my intonation and inflection and have more of a command over the speaker,” he said.

Kaleb Moody ’24, found himself drawn to meet Johnson because of his own role as a safety on Harvard’s football team, as well as his long-term ambitions.

“To get to talk to someone who’s still in the field, whether it’s playing or not, is amazing,” said Moody, who is studying economics and hopes to continue playing football and pursue an M.B.A. “I want to stay as close to the game as I can.”

Johnson shared his personal story, telling the students about his lows and highs. “During COVID I went through some depression, some doubt,” he said. “Happiness and joy is walking across campus with my mentor and my friend, Professor Carrasco. Happiness and joy is the feeling that I have inside my heart. About how I know my mother, who stressed education, will be so proud of me today right now. She would be so proud.”

Last month Johnson accepted a position as a research associate in the Mesoamerican archives working with Carrasco.

“I want to continue to search for wisdom,” Johnson said.



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