The Story of Johnny & Tanner

Johnny and Tanner Musso

By Leslie Strader

Former Chicago Bears and University of Alabama running back Johnny Musso retired from a successful career in professional football 28 years ago. But he and his wife, Tanner, don’t live their lives on the sidelines. In this season of life, Johnny remains a man in motion, giving along with his family to Young Life, helping keep the mission of Young Life at the top of its game.

The Mussos first heard of Young Life in 1979 through their church in Chicago, Ill. The first time Johnny sat in on a Young Life club, he got a pie in the face. After that, Johnny became a volunteer leader and he and Tanner hosted a club for inner-city Cabrini Green in their home.

“We loved it,” Tanner recalled. “Here were these kids who came out of the ghetto, sitting around together singing about Christ. I think they were able to forget where they came from for a moment. It was almost like they had one heart for that hour and a half.”

That experience connected them to Young Life permanently. The Mussos were committee members for 20 years and Johnny is a former Young Life trustee.

“God has anointed Young Life in a special way,” Johnny said. “Their approach of earning the right to be heard and going where kids are and doing it in an offbeat and fun way really relates to kids. They’ve impacted hundreds of thousands of people through the years.”

The Mussos' five children were each involved in Young Life as teenagers. As they grew older, Johnny looked for ways to stay connected to the ministry as a family.

“We decided to create a family partnership where we invest together,” explained Johnny, who is also a former commodities and futures trader. “Out of that, I thought there must be ways to give as a family. So we established a Charitable Lead Trust through the Young Life Foundation that we named after my mother, Josie Musso.

“The trust provides a structured way to plan our giving ahead of time, and creates an instrument for our children to participate in how the monies are gifted. It not only perpetuates giving, it’s also a good estate planning tool. It’s a great place to invest in something eternal.”

The reason behind their giving is simple, Tanner said.

“We love kids and love the ministry. Young Life meets kids on their own terms and is very accepting of any kid who shows up. That has a huge impact on them.”

Johnny appreciates that Young Life is committed to its mission of reaching every kid, everywhere, for eternity.

“It’s important to me that they try to reach every kid,” he said. “Not just the suburban or popular kids. They reach the captain of the football team and the kid in band. They have a heart for disadvantaged kids and kids with disabilities. They reach out to every kid, and that’s what I think Jesus would do.”

Johnny and Tanner have seen great returns on their investments so far, and trust their giving strategy will continue to set up Young Life for success.

“The resources provided through the Young Life Foundation make it easy for me to participate in what I hope to accomplish,” Johnny said. “I hope we can always have a small part in the great ministry of Young Life.”