In the first piece of concrete evidence linking Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel to Drew Tieman, ESPN's Darren Rovell has obtained a picture that shows the Heisman-winning quarterback signing autographs for the South Florida-based broker:
ESPN has obtained a picture of Johnny Manziel signing in autograph broker Drew Tieman’s apartment http://t.co/568H1AoVi0— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) September 13, 2013
The photo shows Manziel standing over a covered pool table signing photos of his image, each with him striking a stiff-armed pose and wearing a white Aggies jersey. Two sources confirmed to ESPN that the man pictured in the photo is Tieman, the autograph broker whose apparent link to Manziel launched an NCAA investigation.
In early August, a report from Rovell and colleague Justine Gubar broke news that the NCAA was investigating whether Manziel had received payment from Tieman in exchange for hundreds of autographs.
Sources close to the situation claimed that the Aggies signal-caller was first approached by Tieman at a Florida airport in January, as he was on his way to attend the BCS National Championship Game between Alabama and Notre Dame. Manziel, accompanied by personal assistant Nathan Fitch, signed more than 1,100 items for the broker over a two-day period.
Each of the items were then authenticated by James Spence Authentication, which Rovell reported cost Tieman more than $10,000. An investigation was launched when multiple items found their way onto eBay.
In the aftermath of the initial ESPN report, multiple autograph brokers stepped forward to tell their story. A source told ESPN's Outside the Lines that Manziel, at one point, signed a total of at least 4,400 items for three autograph brokers across three states. Jeremy Fowler of CBS Sports spoke with multiple people inside the autograph business, who noticed a flood of Manziel autographs on the market.
While the evidence linking Manziel to these characters seemed damning, the NCAA was unable to link him to receiving payment for his autographs. Manziel then met with NCAA officials for six hours on the Sunday before Texas A&M's season-opening win against Rice.
He was subsequently cleared of wrongdoing, though he was suspended for the first half of the season opener against the Owls for violating NCAA bylaw 18.104.22.168, which prevents student-athletes from allowing their likeness be used for promotional purposes.
The NCAA allowed the case to be kept open pending further development. However, like previous reports linking Manziel to brokers, officials will likely have a tough time using that photo to corroborate any evidence. There is no money being exchanged in the photos, and Tieman has staunchly refused to release a statement on his involvement with Manziel.
In the meantime, Johnny Football will stay on the football field. His Aggies will attempt to defend Kyle Field on Saturday against top-ranked Alabama, where Manziel will try to lead the upset of Nick Saban's squad for a second straight season.