ESPN The Magazine rolled out a feature from its upcoming College Football Preview (due in print Aug. 19) on Tuesday, a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the life of Johnny Manziel.
Penned by Wright Thompson, the piece features stories, facts and anecdotes from the Manziel family—focusing mainly on Johnny and his father, Paul—and the way in which the past year has changed all of their lives.
Some of it is predictable, some of it is funny and some of it is downright sad. But all of it is interesting, and it serves as a riveting look into the life of an overnight celebrity. Thompson's piece is a must-read in every sense of the word.
Here are a few major takeaways.
There's a Growing Rift Between the Manziels and Texas A&M
Johnny's parents just want the best for their son, and they want the university he attends to protect those same interests. They want Texas A&M to treat him like "Jonathan Manziel: Student," instead of "Johnny Football: Cash cow."
From the potentially "leaked" story about Johnny's near suspension last season to cops allegedly "harassing" him at his house, the family is sick of how the school treats their son. But their biggest gripe concerns the Heisman Trophy...or at least the copy that's been made of it. Per Thompson:
This January, Johnny's family wanted his copy of the Heisman, which the school told them hadn't arrived yet from New York, Paul says. So finally Paul contacted the Heisman Trust, which told them it had shipped the trophy directly to Texas A&M. Paul suspected the school misled him, using the second Heisman to double its fundraising and recruiting possibilities.
Texas A&M, through a spokesman, appeared baffled at the accusation, and it's difficult to find the line between a lie and a simple miscommunication. (The Manziels received their Heisman in January.)
That Mr. Manziel is paranoid about the school's intentions and feels "misled" by what was potentially just a delayed shipment speaks volumes about the family's relationship with the school.
The Manziels aren't blind. They see how other people at Texas A&M have benefited from their son's success. They see Kevin Sumlin's new contract and the new facilities being built. And for Johnny, the only reciprocation they see is a stream of public criticism and enough stress to warrant therapy.
And they don't think anyone cares.
Manziel will continue to play for Texas A&M, and success this season is mutually beneficial for both parties. But at this point, it seems like Johnny (at least in his own mind) owes allegiance to his coaches and teammates—not his university.
Johnny Is Dealing with Fame-Related Trust Issues
Thompson does an expert job at humanizing Manziel, chronicling his descent into loneliness and paranoia in the wake of his fame.
No anecdote better illustrates that than the story of Johnny and his ex-girlfriend. As Thompson tells it:
Over Easter, he went home with his girlfriend, a model. Her family showed him an online ranking of quarterbacks' girlfriends, according to Michelle Manziel. Johnny's girl ranked high on the list, which made him wonder whether she was with him for the reflected glory. Eventually he ended the relationship.
Busted Coverage identified the ex-girlfriend as Sarah Savage, a model whom Manziel was dating publicly this year. They then expressed how unprecedented it was for Manziel to break up with her because of her online ranking:
Manziel eventually broke up with Sarah Savage after she ranked high on a WAG list. Love it so much.— Busted Coverage (@bustedcoverage) July 30, 2013
I've been at this game for 6 years. Johnny Manziel was 14. I've never heard of a guy breaking up with a chick over her rank on a WAG list.— Busted Coverage (@bustedcoverage) July 30, 2013
That's the nature of Johnny's new life. Just like he feels "guilty until proven innocent," everyone around him feels "two-faced until proven trustworthy." For someone condemned as "immature," Manziel appears to have a remarkable sense of self-awareness.
He knows how easy it would be for someone to use him and doesn't want to fall prey to those schemes.
Those he does trust are promoted to highly important roles. His high school friend, Nate, one of the rare people he trusts unequivocally, dropped out of school to work for Johnny.
From that Wright Thompson piece: One of Manziel's buddies dropped out of school to be his assistant/manager this year. They hire bodyguards.— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) July 30, 2013
A year ago, they were more or less equals. Now, Nate is his longtime friend's employee. It's like a real-life version of Entourage, but in this case, it seems to be borne out of necessity.
Who else is Johnny going to believe?
The Manziels Are a Wealthy Family
This might seem superfluous, but Thompson makes it a point to keep bringing it up.
And with good reason.
Some of the vitriol Manziel has faced this summer is fiscally charged. When he shows up courtside at an NBA basketball game or backstage at a Drake concert, our natural inclination is to assume the worst: impermissible benefits. That's just the environment we live in. College athletes living opulent lifestyles are always going to be under the microscope.
But, as Thompson exhausts himself explaining, Manziel's family has always been wealthy. They were beneficiaries of a "small oil fortune" in Texas—a sum Mr. Manziel calls "a lot of money" after conceding that it's "not Garth Brooks money."
According to the story, Paul was teased as a kid because of his fortunate circumstances. Local rumors linked his money to the mafia. Johnny is not the first member of his family whose means of wealth has come into question.
So don't read into it when Manziel is pictured with a bottle of Grey Goose or wearing designer shirts or driving his black Mercedes-Benz (a gift from his dad, who "didn't want his son to do something stupid to get it for himself") around College Station.
That doesn't mean he's the recipient of illegal payments.