Over the NCAA offseason, rumors swirled that Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel took illicit money in return for signing autographs. But the NCAA couldn’t prove it. The best they could do was suspend him for a half-game against the weakling Rice University because he should have known that the memorabilia would have been sold.
Manziel beat the NCAA, the organization that seemed impervious to defeat. He ended up with almost no penalty when the court of public opinion had already convicted him. And when he was on the sidelines for the first half of the game against Rice, the other team let him hear it. So, when he got in the game in the second half, he jawed back. He mimicked signing an autograph in the air. He rubbed his fingers over some imaginary money. And he pointed at the scoreboard.
According to Mark Schlabach of ESPN.com, Johnny Manziel needs to mature. He writes: “Maybe one day Johnny Football will figure out it isn’t all about him.” It isn’t? What about the SportsCenter updates? Why does my phone light up with even the most minor updates in his day-today life? Why is Texas A&M, with its influx of Johnny money, building a massive new football atrium to display his Heisman Trophy? Why did the sports world implode with curiosity and passion when the broadcast of last year’s NBA finals showed Manziel courtside? Is that why the school’s booster program — the 12th Man Foundation — auctioned off a dinner with him for $20,000? Or is that why his Heisman run created $37 million in media exposure for the university? It must be why the oncampus bookstore sold out of his No. 2 jersey.
With the way the world has treated Johnny, it is all about him. Manziel is a 20- year-old Big Man On Campus, living a life of excess and fun, because why not? If the naysayers are right, that he’s too small for the NFL game, then why shouldn’t he live it up while he can?
If you want to tell me that former University of Miami quarterback Gino Torretta didn’t drink and party when he was in Manziel’s position, then you’re wrong. If you want to tell me that Doug Flutie didn’t do the same for Boston College, you’re also wrong. It’s because they were college kids. Not only college kids, they were the college kids that everyone knew, that everyone adored, that everyone paid attention to. I’m sure they loved their college experience. As ESPN’s Wright Thompson puts it, invoking a name of another college football great: “The difference between Joe Montana and Johnny Manziel is us.” The media didn’t cover Torretta and Flutie and Montana they way the cover Manziel. It was a different time. So the idealized versions of those greats remain.
Sure, Manziel could act more responsibly. He could stay in at night and act well beyond his age on the field. But do we want that? I for one wouldn’t want an antiseptic star, one who is intentionally boring to offset any kind of drama. At least Manziel is living the life he wants to live.
And then there’s the irony that ESPN and the other news agencies keep on continuing. While condemning Manziel for a lack of maturity and for an attention-seeking personality, they give him attention. While chastising him for not realizing that it “isn’t all about him,” they write articles and tape segments all about him.
The worst things that Manziel could be convicted of would be partying with the rapper Drake, probably signing some autographs for money and tweeting that he “can’t wait to leave College Station.”
I can name some college football stars who have committed some worse crimes and who were punished far less by the public. But because they’re not the Heisman winner, they don’t have to be squeaky clean. The sports world should be treated like the playground it is, not the cathedral that it is perceived. It is a game, after all.
Maybe it’s not so necessary to moralize the actions of a 20-year-old football star that is just looking to enjoy life while he can.
Preston Michelson is a freshman at the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism and is a graduate of Palmer Trinity School. He is a frequent contributor to this newspaper and the opinions he expresses are his own and not necessarily those of the editors and publishers. Contact him on Twitter at @PrestonMich or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org