Football coach suspended after creatine, protein powder investigation

Posted: 6:28 PM, Jul 26, 2018
Updated: 2018-07-27 00:12:21-04

The varsity football head coach at Little Wolf Junior / Senior High School will sit out as head coach for the team’s 2018 season after a school investigation “concerning [Coach Brad Johnson’s] unauthorized distribution of performance enhancing supplements specifically, creatine and protein powders, to student athletes during the period from September of 2016 through September of 2017 as well as his recommendation and encouragement to student athletes to use performance enhancing supplements during this same period,” according to a letter from the school principal to the Wisconsin Interscholatic Athletic Association, or WIAA. 

The WIAA classifies substances as either banned or discouraged; creatine and protein powders are on the discouraged list. 

“Schools and coaches may not provide or allow discouraged items in connection with” school sports, according to the WIAA. 

Johnson and the School District of Manawa administrator signed a discipline agreement in March stating that Johnson will not be varsity football or wrestling coach for the 2018-2019 school year, though he can serve as an assistant coach for the teams.  The agreement states that if the agreement’s terms are followed, school administration will recommend to the School Board that Johnson return to his role as head coach of the teams for the 2019-2020 school year.

Reached by phone, Johnson said he cannot talk about the situation.  The discipline agreement called for a five-day, unpaid suspension for Johnson from his teaching position at the district, but stated that he may otherwise keep his teaching job.


“Creatine is an energy source that is naturally produced by our [bodies],” said Dr. Walker Flannery of Bellevue’s Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Specialists.  Fish and meat are sources of creatine, as are supplements, Flannery said.

“I’d really recommend against it,” Flannery said when asked how he would respond to a young athlete who inquired about using creatine in connection with sports.  Side effects of creatine can include weight gain, dehydration, muscle cramps, and muscle injuries, Flannery said.


Most community members reached for this story reacted negatively to Johnson’s head coaching suspension and called the discipline too severe.

“Our entire family was devastated when we heard about it, I couldn’t believe it,” said Dawn Johnson, who said her recently-graduated son Zack wrestled and played football on Johnson’s teams and gave permission for Coach Johnson to give Zack protein powder.  Dawn and Brad are not related.

“I ran out [of protein powder] and I was planning on going to the store in a couple days and get more, so [Johnson] just let me get a couple scoops for two days, and that was it,” Zack Johnson said.  Zack last played football for Johnson during the 2016 season, and Johnson gave him the protein during an off-season, Zack said.  Coach Johnson did not provide him with creatine, Zack said.

“My kids can come home with candy and soda and whatever the teachers or bus drivers want to give them, without my permission,” Dawn Johnson said.

“So, I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it.”

School administration got a tip about Johnson on March 20 of this year, and sent its letter about the investigation to the WIAA one week later, according to a letter obtained by NBC 26.

“The District and Johnson acknowledge and agree that Johnson’s conduct violates Board Policy… WIAA [rules/regulations] as well as the [employee handbook],” the letter states.

Brad Johnson’s father, Russ Johnson, is a member of the School Board and declined to comment on the situation.  Russ Johnson abstained from an April 23 vote involving a coach’s discipline agreement, according to meeting minutes, which did not name the coach.

District Administrator Dr. Melanie Oppor declined an on-camera interview.

The District released this statement:

“In this particular case, the District investigated the matter and took prompt and appropriate remedial action pursuant to Board Policies and WIAA Guidelines.  All of the parties involved wish to put this matter behind them and move forward in the best interest of the District and its students/student-athletes."

Little Wolf’s football season begins in about three weeks.