July 31, 2013
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Johnny Manziel is Tim Tebow, except for his much different lifestyle. He's Dwight Howard, except we're much more focused with what he's doing off the field, not which team he'll play for on it.
The point is, Manziel is the new center of the sports world's obsession, his every move, tweet and drink dissected and critiqued before it's sent into the 24-hour spin cycle, rinsed and repeated ad nauseam.
But thankfully, through all of the opining and dissertations on tweets—or even better, on deleted tweets—a few thoughtful, insightful portrayals of Manziel have been written, including a truly excellent piece from Wright Thompson of ESPN.
Wright was granted a lot of access by Manziel and his family, and it showed. He paints the picture of a young man struggling with the loss of his private identity as his public persona slowly engulfs him, one who wants the benefits of anonymity while still living it up and hitting the town.
Most interesting, he shows how even when he's with his family or friends, his new-found celebrity permeates his life. His parents have him sign memorabilia for coworkers and acquaintances. A former teacher actually requests an autograph.
But what was really intriguing was to see how his father was reacting to his son, and how his son was changing. One moment came after Manziel's father reacted to Johnny Football losing his cool during a golf outing (per Wright):
"I don't enjoy playing golf with him because I don't want to see that temper," he'll say later. "I honestly do not. I cringe when he wants to play golf. I don't want to do it, but I know I have to do it. Because he still needs love. He still needs guidance. He still needs to see he's wrong—and how to control his temper. And if I give up on him, who's gonna take over? The school sure the hell isn't gonna do it."
Where is that anger coming from? Likely the stress he's under, which Paul Manziel believes is the source of Johnny's drinking, he tells Wright:
They're concerned. Paul thinks Johnny drinks to deal with the stress. After his arrest, Johnny's parents and [Texas A&M head coach Keith] Sumlin mandated he visit an alcohol counselor; Johnny saw him six or seven weeks during the season. About the only place they still see the real him is on the football field. Mostly what they see is the emotional byproduct of whatever is chewing him up inside.
"I don't know where the anger comes from," Paul says. "I don't think he knows. If it comes from his drinking, or if he's mad at himself for not being a better person when he fails, when he fails God and his mom and me. If it makes him angry that he's got demons in him. You can only speculate because you can't go in there."
And it's gotten to the point that Paul is just waiting for his son to finally lose his cool:
"Yeah," Paul says one evening, driving in his car, "it could come unraveled. And when it does, it's gonna be bad. Real bad."
He imagines a late-night call, and the cable news ticker, and the next morning's headlines.
"It's one night away from the phone ringing," he says, "and he's in jail. And you know what he's gonna say? 'It's better than all the pressure I've been under. This is better than that.'"
At this point, every theory and opinion on Manziel has been entered into the public sphere. He's just a kid, I was an idiot when I was 20, too! one side argues.
He's not just a kid, he's a Heisman Trophy winner and a future NFL player, he should conduct himself accordingly! the other side retorts.
Some folks think all of this will be an afterthought if Manziel plays well next season and leads Texas A&M to another win over Alabama. Others think he's a ticking time bomb that will explode at some point.
Maybe his parents need to step in more. Maybe the school needs to step in more. Maybe we're all worried about him. Maybe he just needs some space. Maybe he's getting this out of his system now and eventually he'll become so exhausted by all of this that he just learns to live away from the spotlight.
Maybe, maybe, maybe.
Here's one—maybe we all need to back the hell off. Maybe we need to stop obsessing over this kid. Maybe we need to stop taking his picture like lunatics when we see him in public. Maybe we don't need to debate his lifestyle 20 hours a day on cable television. Maybe we should find something better to do.
Maybe what Manziel has become is as much a reflection on us as it is on what type of kid he is. Well, of course it is, but hey, let's put the burden of being an angel, a winner and a regular ol' guy that we all probably enjoying hanging out with solely on his shoulders anyway, because that's what we do.
"Just win, baby," Al Davis once said. Not anymore. Now, you get away with a lot more if you win, but make sure you're the type of person we approve of, too.
Just be our type of winner, baby.
Manziel has made some mistakes along the way. He's going to have to learn that his life is now a public circus, at least for the time being. He's brought some of this on himself, and he'll have to adjust and make changes. Make a few audibles, Johnny Football.
Or don't. Be yourself, learn to deal with all the hype and ignore the haters. Your call, Johnny Football.
Just remember, there's a lot we don't know about Manziel. There's a lot Manziel doesn't know about himself, because let's be honest, who the hell really does know themselves in their early 20s?
That's what college is about, after all—figuring out who you are, and who you want to be, and what you want to do and, oh yeah, where are we going out tonight?
Thompson does an excellent job in his piece of showing how Johnathan Manziel, the unknown football player, son and friend, became Johnny Manziel the excellent football player, became Johnny Football the Heisman winner and celebrity.
His father can see the change. Wright documented the change. Manziel is living the change, and is currently being crushed under its weight.
And you would be too.
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