Some folks see Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel as an agent of change who can finally end a far-too-long era of NCAA hypocrisy.
It's just too bad the cottage industry of Johnny Football will prevent that movement from getting off the ground.
Provided a working television or Internet connection—or even a friend who possesses one or the other—you've by now heard the NCAA is looking into Manziel's involvement with an autograph broker named Drew Tieman.
ESPN's Darren Rovell and Justine Gubar broke the story this week, in which sources claim the Heisman Trophy winner took a "five-figure" sum to sign hundreds of items during the week of this year's BCS National Championship Game. Manziel was in town as a spectator to the game, was contacted at an airport and supposedly agreed to the flat fee in exchange for two different sessions at Tieman's home.
A subsequent ESPN report cited a second broker claiming Nate Fitch—a close friend and assistant to Manziel—informed him that Manziel would no longer be signing autographs for free.
If true, Manziel profiting from these exchanges violates the NCAA's bylaws on amateurism. NCAA bylaw states that the organization owns Manziel's likeness while in college (and beyond), and that he cannot profit from using his name—such as for autographs, personal appearances, etc.
The particulars of NCAA bylaw pave the way for controversy en masse. An innumerable amount of former and current college players have spoken out on those laws, ones that allow the school, coaches and executives to profit billions of dollars annually on the backs of unpaid semipros.
In the wake of Manziel's impending investigation, that chorus has again leapt to the forefront. The Texas A&M signal-caller is undoubtedly the most famous player in college football by leaps and bounds, a guy who makes Jadeveon Clowney—the best player in the game—look as anonymous as a grocery store clerk.
If Manziel, the NCAA's golden goose, becomes the new face of this hypocrisy, something has to change, right? ESPN's Jalen Rose is one of the many who thinks the Manziel situation could be the NCAA's worst nightmare:
Manziel has become the NCAA's worst nightmare. White, paid, outspoken, rebellious, heisman winner and loves to champagne & campaign.— JALEN ROSE (@JalenRose) August 6, 2013
In theory, Rose is correct. The Manziel family has a whole heaping pile of cash, brought forth by a generational oil fortune, as pointed out in ESPN's Wright Thompson feature of Manziel. The family, particularly Johnny's father, Paul, also has enough disdain for the NCAA bylaws to make you think they'd be willing to fight in court.
If the Manziels did fight, they'd have plenty of supporters. ESPN analyst and former Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard told Yahoo! Sports' Dan Wetzel that he is "seriously contemplating" joining a lawsuit against the NCAA filed by Ed O'Bannon, a former UCLA basketball player who claims players are due compensation for use of their likeness.
"A picture," Howard said. "A picture of himself."
Manziel's situation is a microcosm of the NCAA's hypocrisy. An entire university benefits from the backs of these star players, who are expected to sit, shut up and take a scholarship as their payment. While I'm not dismissing that scholarships are some form of payment and give players opportunities to go to college who never would otherwise, that's not the argument here.
This isn't the standard pay-the-players argument. We're not talking about the schools divvying funds out to football and basketball players, and doing so at the expense of possibly cutting other sports that don't profit. Manziel is accused of selling his autograph—literally his own, given name—for a profit, one that he wouldn't have earned without being Johnny Manziel, awesome football player.
To put it another way: Miley Cyrus is about two weeks older than Manziel. She's obviously been in our national lexicon for longer, and she's used that time to become a pretty damn famous singer and actress. She's now worth $120 million. She's made that net worth despite her last album tanking in sales and her last two movies, LOL and So Undercover, getting scathing reviews and barely making a dent in the box office.
Miley Cyrus, at this point in her career, is more famous for being Miley Cyrus than anything involving her acting or singing career.
Now, what makes Miley Cyrus any different from Johnny Manziel? I say this not to be an apologist for Manziel, but to posit it as a serious question. Exactly what is stopping Manziel from being different from any other child star?
The NCAA's bylaws. That's it.
One could try to say that football and the entertainment business are somehow different. I'm just not sure how anyone could do that with a straight face. Football is a for-profit endeavor that draws eyeballs to the television and the stands (box office) because people want to see it.
What's more, it's even arguable that college athletes or football players should be more entitled to their earnings than celebrities. The NFL's salary structure is now set to where players are given manageable, team-friendly contracts out of college. And if Manziel is terrible in the NFL—not as farfetched as it sounds, by the way—he'll be cast out far quicker than the Mileys of the entertainment world.
No one is going to pay five figures for a washed-out former Heisman winner. But all have heard this argument before. Anyone with a half-working brain—or at least a cognizant understanding of how this pyramid scheme works—has been calling for a fairer system for years.
The problem here is that Manziel will not be an agent of change—no matter how much money his family has. There is already a lawsuit going against the NCAA. Manziel money isn't going to somehow expedite the legal system, nor will it present an argument much different from the one O'Bannon's people are making.
For an entity to be a major agent of change, it must gain the overwhelming majority. The vocal minority can scream and holler all it wants. The silence of your average college football fan speaks volumes. There may be a player someday who can garner enough support to change NCAA bylaw, but that player is not Johnny Manziel.
Why? Because a lot of people actively dislike Johnny Manziel.
For evidence, Thompson gave an excellent glimpse into the life of the Texas A&M quarterback before this whole scandal broke. It was easily the closest we've gotten to being behind the curtain, a look (mostly through the parents' eyes) as their son deals with the pitfalls and joys of his fame. It was a piece of beautiful writing done by one of the sports world's best.
The opinion on that piece, however, varied wildly—almost solely depending upon the prism with which you view Johnny Football.
Manziel detractors saw the incident as the latest look into his increasingly troubled behavior. Johnny throws his clubs and curses himself on the golf course. Johnny has a drinking problem. Johnny tells his aunt to "shut the hell up." This is Manziel being a petulant child spread out over thousands of words. Being a spoiled brat who has had great-granddaddy's oil fortune to fall back on, never hearing the word "no" unless it was followed by the phrase, "well, all right, go ahead."
Manziel supporters were more touched by the piece, which gave a sympathetic look into the responsibilities hoisted on this young man. Why is a 20-year-old kid telling his parents to stop with the autographs? Why are people he's known from his real life suddenly interested in the cottage industry of Johnny Football? When everyone is trying to make a dime, who can you trust?
This black and white reaction is just as dumb as it sounds.
Isn't he allowed to be both? Are petulance and immaturity suddenly mutually exclusive from feelings of helplessness and being taken advantage of? People aren't one-dimensional.
They're allowed to contain character multitudes—even if they're ones most "normal" people don't necessarily like. Although, again, I'd argue that most who are aghast at Manziel for being petulant and drinking before the legal age don't have much experience with someone in my general age range. (I'm 23.)
If Manziel is found to have taken money from brokers for his autograph, it is petulant. It is immature. It puts his teammates at Texas A&M in an untenable situation, and it could put a burgeoning football program in jeopardy if anyone involved with the school knew about the autograph arrangement. If you want to call out Manziel for brazenly violating NCAA bylaw for the fallout internally and what it could mean for other students, go right ahead.
But don't shed a tear for anyone else. Manziel's potential suspension comes as the result of the corrupt, asinine laws we allow the NCAA to levy against student-athletes. Not for any of the personality flaws he undoubtedly has.
An issue here is where folks cannot separate Manziel's personality from his situation. People are using their powers of cognitive dissonance to separate what they know is right versus this particular situation. Make no mistake: Schadenfreude will be high if Manziel is suspended for the entirety of the 2013 season.
So Manziel isn't an agent of change. Not because he can't be, or because what he'd be arguing would be necessarily wrong. Two entities—the silent majority and the people who run the NCAA—don't want change. They're satisfied with status quo, so long as they get their football on Saturdays and their back pockets padded with that sweet, sweet cash.
As for Manziel? He finally "got what was coming to him." Plus, he has all that money to fall back on. If found guilty of these transgressions, Manziel will be suspended and his story will be the latest in a long line of stories coaches tell players. No star is too big to avoid the NCAA's ban-hammer.
Johnny Manziel isn't the NCAA's worst nightmare. He's its perfect storm.
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