Trouble can come from anywhere—even your friends.
Johnny Manziel is a unique talent with an incredibly bright future.
His redshirt freshman season with Texas A&M—3,706 yards passing, 1,410 yards rushing, 47 total touchdowns and the Heisman Trophy—was one for the record books. His combination of strength, athleticism and throwing ability suggest the NFL is in his very near future. Simply put, all other factors ignored, he has the talent to make millions of dollars at the next level.
As we've seen way too many times before, however, there are a slew of factors that have derailed other talented players from similar paths.
Addictions, distractions, laziness, a lack of intelligence, the list goes on. But with Manziel, it's something else that is threatening to jeopardize his NFL career.
That friend goes by the name of Nate Fitch.
I believe ESPN's Wright Thompson summed up Fitch best, calling him "a Turtle who wants to be an E," and for those who don't understand the Entourage reference, Thompson continued:
He's a college dropout, in the entrepreneurial sense of the word, more dreamer than slacker. He's Manziel's assistant, media coordinator, business manager, designated driver. He goes by Uncle Nate, which is a nickname Manziel says Fitch gave himself. Fitch, 20, allegedly works for free, betting on the come, looking into the future when Manziel is an NFL star.
Fitch has been friends with Manziel since high school, and according to Thompson, a half-dozen sources believe he helped Manziel run a lucrative autograph business—the one that has the reigning Heisman winner in such hot water.
His Twitter and Instagram accounts are flooded with videos and pictures of him living what appears to be an oddly lavish life for a 20-year-old college dropout.
He is, by most accounts, a pretty negative seed—or at the very least, an incredibly shady seed.
Now, there are two ways you can look at this whole autograph saga, assuming the reports and sources are true.
First, you can choose to believe that Manziel didn't know Fitch was taking money for the autographs, and in that case, he would be innocent. Signing autographs for fans isn't against the rules.
Or, you can believe that Manziel knew exactly what he was doing, and in that case, he would undoubtedly be guilty. An argument can certainly be made about whether or not taking money for autographs should be wrong, but it's against the rules either way.
No matter which is true, Manziel has been put in a negative light, his character has been tarnished, and his future NFL career has been slightly jeopardized. Much of that falls on his relationship with a guy who calls himself Uncle Nate.
I understand loyalty to friends, and I think it's important not to overreact to something as harmless as signing autographs for money, but at some point, it's simply not worth it. Manziel allegedly made thousands of dollars but could miss out on millions if NFL teams deem him too much of a risk to spend an early pick on.
Manziel is still just a kid. He and Fitch are handling fame like most 20-year-old kids would. But when you're an elite athlete with a future as bright as Manziel's, you have to see the big picture in life. You have to go about things slightly more carefully, and that includes choosing your friends.
The company you keep says a lot about the type of person you are, and the company Manziel is keeping is currently speaking volumes about him—just not in a good way.