EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. Woody Johnson is one of the least publicized owners in the NFL. He doesn't hold weekly news conferences during the season the way Jerry Jones has done. He doesn't challenge the league in court, like Al Davis.
Since taking over the New York Jets in 2000, Johnson generally has avoided headlines.
Yet, June 22, he'll welcome all the attention he can get as he participates in the Lupus Awareness Walkathon at Giants Stadium.
Johnson will sponsor his own team and participate in the walkathon he hopes will raise more than $500,000 for research into treating the immune system disease. Already, through the Alliance for Lupus Research he founded in 1999, more than $24 million has been raised.
"We focus 100 percent of the money on treatment, a cure or prevention of lupus," said Johnson, who became involved in fund-raising because a family member was diagnosed with the disease six years ago. "I was then the chairman of the Juvenile Diabetes research foundation, and I knew what kind of organization it takes to make a difference in supporting research.
"When I looked around, what was going on with lupus, a major disease, there was virtually no money being raised for lupus."
So much so that scientists who previously were fortunate to receive $50,000 in research grants now get an average of $500,000 in two years. If they show substantial progress in their work, they can get a boost to $1 million.
Johnson has taken such a hands-on approach that he has spoken with the Food and Drug Administration about encouraging biotech companies to look into lupus research. He's also encouraged several Jets players to participate in the walkathon, with thousands of people expected to gather at the 50-yard line in Giants Stadium -- what Johnson calls "a perfect venue."
"We're hoping to raise more than $500,000 on this," he said. "It is raised in small amounts."