Manziel's Twitter Issues Highlight Challenges Facing Today's Student-Athletes

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Manziel's Twitter Issues Highlight Challenges Facing Today's Student-Athletes
USA TODAY Sports

By now, everyone has probably read Wright Thompson's excellent piece on Johnny Manziel over at ESPN.

If you haven't, take a few minutes and do so, because it's fascinating.

For extra credit, read the comments, which are almost as fascinating as the article itself.

Since the article hit, there has been a wide range of reaction (perfectly represented by the comments on the article, by the way) about what the article means and who Johnny Football is.

The turmoil around Manziel highlights how athletes today are faced with challenges that athletes 10 or even five years ago weren't confronted with.

Social media, especially Twitter, is a benefit and a curse.

Once upon a time, if you were a football player at Michigan and wanted to go to a party at Michigan State, you might get away with it.

Maybe someone would make a call to a local radio show and say something or perhaps the trip might end up in your student newspaper.

As long as you stayed out of trouble, though, you were probably fine.

Now, with Twitter, Facebook, Vine, YouTube, Tumblr and numerous other social media sites, you cannot burp without someone posting about it.

It doesn't help that, as we are reminded of with Manziel, the majority of college students are immature and still finding their way in the world.

They make poor decisions, say dumb things and generally make mistake after mistake—just like other college students.

However, they aren't other college students. Student-athletes are under a more intense spotlight than your average biology major.

Star athletes are under a spotlight an order of magnitude greater, and Heisman Trophy winners are under even more scrutiny.

They always have been, it's just more intense now.

Sound unfair? Well, it comes with the job. If you want the benefits of being a star athlete, with scholarships, trips around the country and a potential professional sports career, then you need to deal with it.

That's not to say there's no room for sympathy when it comes to Manziel, though the comments section of any article about him shows little enough of that.

Just that if he (and others like him) want to be stars, then they have to grow up faster.

You cannot be a Heisman Trophy winner and a regular kid. It doesn't work like that.

Growing up in the Age of Social Media requires more finesse and savvy than the average college kid has. Which is why what struck me more than anything about the Thompson article wasn't what Manziel did or had but what he didn't.

He was given a therapist, but where is the PR coach?

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

More than ever, colleges need to be thinking about training their kids to handle the spotlight. As much as the proper three-point stance or how to read the defense, how to make their way through the social media fishbowl is vital to a young player's career.

Now, to you and me, some of what not to do might seem like common sense.

To a college kid, it isn't, and if you don't believe that, go ahead and do a search for "deranged sorority girl," or check out Twitter feeds after a political election and come back.

College kids can be immensely stupid. Most of them don't do it under the glare of a national spotlight.

Top college athletes do. It means, among other things, they need to learn how to act like a grown-up before they become one.

Once upon a time, athletes could wait until they were in their last year of college before even thinking about dealing with the media spotlight, if they even did then.

Now, you almost need to start in high school.

This is something to think about in any walk of life, by the way. People who aren't athletes lose their jobs due to social media idiocy as well, via Mashable's Christina Warren.

An athlete—any athlete—lives in a different world than most people.

Now, more than ever, they are under intense and instantaneous scrutiny.

Now, more than ever, schools and parents need to teach their kids to be aware and responsible in how they act both out in public and online.

It can be done. For examples, look at guys like Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck—both of whom probably had "idiot college kid" moments but managed to do so quietly.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

It takes work and the help of both the college and the parents, but ultimately, they can only help so much. An athlete needs to listen to the advice he or she gets.

If that seems like too much effort, then perhaps it's time to consider that the job they'd like might not be the job they're cut out for no matter how much talent they have on the playing field.

 

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at Footballguys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.

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