"A highly touted, uber-talented, nationally celebrated athlete falls into a trap of celebrity and spirals down a dark hole of substance abuse, night life, and legal troubles."
It has become an unfortunate and all too familiar headline in this age of sports entertainment. We, as consumers, have essentially become desensitized to stories of the "mighty fallen" to the point to where we almost expect a new one to surface with each approaching season. Even more troubling is the media gauntlet that follows. The circus of pundits offering unsolicited tokens of condemnation from their self-anointed high horses swarm stories of trouble-laden superstars like gnats on month old fruit. The finger wagging parade most likely culminates somewhere around a consensus that "there's no place for that in today's game". Typically, in the end, league and team officials acquiesce, succumbing to the pressures of media and public opinion, corporate and fan boycotts, and internet frenzy.
And (*read as "but,") then there's Johnny Manziel.
Since his eruption onto the biggest stage in collegiate athletics, SEC Football, Johnny Manziel has bathed in the spotlight. His storybook freshman season at Texas A&M, marked by a combination of athletic ability, charisma, and a flair for the dramatics, earned him a permanent spot among the football gods and quite possibly the coolest nickname in sports history.That's about where the fairy tale ends for Johnny Football.
Now, his name is most synonymous with drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, and disappointment.
Its not like the writing wasn't on the wall early on. Almost immediately after stepping off the Heisman stage, Johnny stepped into the dark side. The gauntlet of Vegas pool parties, frat parties, and endless nights resulted in multiple missed off season camps to start his off season and being sent home early from the Manning Passing Academy in New Orleans because of "dehydration" (translate to "hangover"). Forget the fact that at the time, Manziel was 19 - a couple of years short of the drinking age by nearly every legal standard. Nobody wanted to declare a teenager an alcoholic despite twitter picture after twitter picture after TMZ story of him, drink in hand, at any party that would accept him (or eventually kick him out of). The question, though, is why?
Why were media outlets so ready to dismiss his discretion - unlike most that came before him - as a product of his youthful stupidity? The answer, partially and most likely, lies in his upbringing. You see, Johnny Manziel isn't (and wasn't) the typical college freshman standout student athlete. Johnny was a silver-spooned trust fund baby. He comes from a brazen family that swim in East Texas oil money. His attitude is likely a genetic reflection of his family, who has been said to have "outlaw tendencies" and multiple run-ins with law enforcement. The Manziel's are so notorious in Tyler, Texas that his family decided to move to Kerrville to avoid him falling victim the stigma of his family name. So why would the senior Manziel elect to address his son's substance abuse issues by covering them in the veil of "dehydration" rather than attacking them head on? Entitlement.
That same diagnosis of affluenza reared its head again months later as Johnny became the subject of an NCAA investigation that accused him of receiving improper benefits. Reportedly, video surfaced of him receiving thousands of dollars for autographs - an accusation that could have derailed his highly invested-in sophomore season. Historically (with black players, noted) this was a death knell to a players collegiate career. Dez Bryant lost his final season for selling a jersey, Terrelle Pryor lost his because he traded his own merchandise for tattoos, and the very same year Todd Gurley faced the same allegations - albeit with less evidence - and lost four games prior to blowing out his knee. Johnny, on the other hand, sat out a half... against the worst team on their schedule. So why the discrepancy in his sentencing? They had him dead to rights. Its likely because his millionaire father swooped in threatening legal action in a year where the NCAA had already lost the landmark Ed O'bannon case that questioned the student-athletes ownership of his image. His response? He coined the side-stabbing "show me the money" hand sign. Fitting.
The league, and the Browns, followed the trend of failing to hold Manziel accountable. His first year was marred with more partying, more drinking, and more questionable behavior. If it wasn't him missing morning meetings after late night trips to Vegas, it was getting into physical confrontations in between parties. One year ago - almost to the day - Manziel entered himself into a rehabilitation program for drug and alcohol abuse. He never failed a league mandated drug test, the league never required he submit himself to random testing. Meanwhile, his team mate - Josh Gordon - lost the entire 2016 season for having a single beer in the offseason. But whats a few drinks, right?
Aside from the addiction, Manziel had more run-ins with the police than touchdown passes. Any other player with the legal history would have been ousted long ago; however, not Johnny. Johnny was the king of second chances. No reported meetings with Godfather Goodell. A couple of slaps on the wrist from his team. Still no accountability. I mean, but he's no Ray Rice though, right?
On October 12th, Manziel was detained by police after a roadside argument with his girlfriend - yes the same girlfriend. During this spat, he reportedly assaulted her. There's no video of the incident, but that's the result of a sham of an investigation on behalf of the league and detaining police department. In the shadows of the year of domestic violence, what was the league's response? Bring down the hammer? Lifetime ban? No... Absolutely nothing. The league refused, like many other entities before them, to issue any form of substantive punishment. What about from the public? Any protest from angry battered women organizations? Nope. Any corporate sponsors threatening to remove advertisements? Not a one. Any ESPN commentators demanding publicly tarred and feathered? Nuh uh. In fact, he came off the bench the next game and started five out of the next nine games. Meanwhile, Ray Rice is labeled an untouchable.
Now... we have the Johnny Manziel we know today. He's no longer the teenager that can hide under the covers of affluence and privilege. This Johnny Manziel is the 23 year old has to face the ramifications of a life full of entitlement. The alcoholic, the drug abuser, the woman abuser. We now know just how bad it really is. He has assaulted and, reportedly, threatened to kill the same girlfriend from the October incident. He apparently threatened to kill himself. He is likely out of the league for the foreseeable future. He could have been Ray Rice, but hes worse. Rice was, and still is, a man of the community, a philanthropist, a man who made one mistake, took ownership, and has worked painstakingly to rebuild the image he was once known for. Manziel is not that. He could have been Aaron Hernandez or Rae Carruth, hopefully he won't turn into that. Even more troubling, he could have ended up the, lesser known, Jovan Belcher, but for an entirely different reason. Hopefully, life away from privilege will serve more as a motivation for change and not a spark for tragedy. It seems as if he was doomed from the start.