In the minds of many, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel will eventually fail.
Not on the field, of course, where he’s a giant, despite measuring in at just 6'1" (and I’m being generous). But rather off the field, where his fame arrived like one of his signature breakaway runs—hypersonic, impromptu, unpredicted and unforeseen.
Twenty-year-olds are not supposed to carry this kind of burden—a burden that comes with plenty of perks, of course, like hanging with LeBron James or Megan Fox, just to name a few—but Manziel seems to be headed toward the crossroads of just being a kid (which he still very much is) versus accepting his role of being something more.
And while the masses are eagerly anticipating the next potential slip-up or perhaps just something worth discussing beyond his astounding stat lines, Johnny Football needs to embrace his role. Not as star quarterback and Heisman winner with a catchy nickname, but Johnny Manziel, college athlete enjoying the ride, mindful of what’s at stake.
In the past eight weeks, Manziel has been spotted sitting courtside at an NBA game, flashing winnings at an Oklahoma casino shortly after dismantling the Sooners in the Cotton Bowl and enjoying New Year’s at a Dallas bar with his parents in attendance.
Questions surfaced surrounding these situations, all of which went viral rather quickly. And, I might add, they were accompanied by rather straightforward answers.
The courtside tickets were nothing more than a “birthday present,” and as many have noted, the Manziels aren’t exactly strapped for cash. The casino visit was harmless and completely legal, since being 18 is all that’s required to get in and have some fun in the benevolent state of Oklahoma. The New Year’s picture is where it gets complicated, but according to TMZ, Manziel was with his mother, which makes it legal for him to drink in Texas—although no one actually even saw him drinking.
There’s nothing really all that complicated about a 20-year-old drinking champagne on New Year’s—I’m thankful my early 20s weren’t continuously photographed or filmed; oh, am I thankful—but the events have prompted a response from Texas A&M athletic director Eric Hyman.
According to Brent Zwerneman of the San Antonio Express-News, Hyman has met with Johnny Manziel’s parents to discuss his “new title” and fame. Some of the highlights came in the following quotations from the AD:
I told them he's no longer a freshman, and he's no longer a sophomore, junior or senior. He is a "Heisman."
It's (about) education, and we've got to help the family and Johnny with the transition into being a Heisman award winner. There are things you have to learn, and we have to help him with that.
That's a special fraternity, but you also have to understand (Manziel) is 20 years old. It's a tremendous responsibility — but it is a responsibility.
From Hyman’s standpoint, this makes sense. He’s attempting to protect the school’s most important asset, and there are enough signs (in his mind) to at least discuss how to handle this with those who wield the most influence.
These signs are very much out in the open, and beyond the recent situations and fame, Manziel was arrested in the summer of 2012 and charged with three misdemeanors following a fight. He also had a fake ID. While I’m not here to defend Manziel and a situation that could have turned very serious, any person who logged hours on a college campus enjoying the nightlife knows how easily situations can escalate.
There’s no justifying this, but many of us can relate. I was from Florida, and my name was Sam. I was way shorter than I was supposed to be.
What we can’t relate to, however, is that giant hunk of bronze Manziel now owns and his status of being a "Heisman" as a freshman. In fact, no one can relate to this. He’s the only one to ever do it.
After winning college football’s most prestigious award, Manziel then smashed the Heisman jinx by destroying Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl. Recently, Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops got himself in a bit of hot water (and added more fuel to this fire) when he said the following on the WWLS airwaves in Oklahoma City:
Stoops, of course, apologized almost instantly and told the Tulsa World that he had the “utmost respect for Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel.” In Stoops’ defense, he was also very complimentary of Manziel and his fabulous play in the initial interview despite the boneheaded remark.
And perhaps that’s where it all comes front and center. For the rest of his college career and beyond, Manziel will have a bullseye on his back. On the field, this will be amplified beyond any player not named Jadeveon Clowney. Off the field, many are waiting to see what’s next.
The arrest from 2012 is a concern, but that’s something from which he will (hopefully) learn. By now, he’s obviously gained some perspective and will avoid these kinds of situations. Also, how different things look one-half year later: Saying this is a potential trend is foolish, reckless and unfair to the athlete and the person.
In the case of Manziel, and with a nickname with such traction, it seems sometimes we confuse the two.
The rest, to me, is harmless fun from someone simply trying to be a kid in college. He’s not breaking any laws, and he’s not committing any crimes. He’s enjoying himself and giving us a peek in through his Twitter page.
We want players to be fun, different and open and hope that they provide us with sound bites beyond the familiar and robotic responses. Manziel is doing that, and we’re unfairly assuming that this is the sign of something negative to come, that this is all building to some unknown, worse outcome.
Despite this, Manziel needs to be careful. He doesn’t need to tone it down or stop having fun, but instead be wary of his surroundings. Given his sudden celebrity status, there will be many that will try to exploit him simply because of who he is.
This can be at a bar, at an apartment, at a grocery store—who knows. Manziel won’t necessarily have to find trouble; trouble can find him. Unfortunately, it works both ways.
Manziel, of course, is very aware of all of this as well as the critics and those anticipating his failure. He followed up his casino tweet by flashing some cash once again, this time at a hospital in Connecticut:
Great visit to the hospital today in Connecticut made a ton of new friends. Hopefully this picture passes compliance.. twitter.com/JManziel2/stat…— Johnny Manziel (@JManziel2) January 11, 2013
There are no guarantees that Manziel will stay out of trouble, or that he’ll continue to entertain the Internet through his harmless but headline-grabbing escapades.
It’s impossible to know how a 20-year-old will respond to extreme stardom, and despite the wonderful perks of being a Heisman winner with everything working in his favor, it’s not a position I envy. He’s not just a “Heisman,” however, no matter how his AD tries to spin it.
He indeed carries a great bit of responsibility, more than I can ever imagine. And while he keeps a close eye on his surroundings, I hope that doesn’t stop him from trying to experience the closest thing to normalcy that he can, while he can.