Love him or hate him, this 20-year-old, 6’1" quarterback has captured the sports world’s attention.
My question, sports world: What is the big deal?
Yes, his performance is a big deal. Manziel is an athletic, elusive playmaker. On a play most would think is over, Johnny Football finds a way to make it happen. His “taunting,” his “immaturity” and his off-the-field behavior is not a big deal, however. Johnny Manziel is who he is, and he makes no apologies for it.
Johnny Manziel’s past summer catapulted him into fame and under the microscope of every sports journalist, analyst, coach and fan. His early discharge from the Manning Passing Academy along with his alleged payment for signing autographs and plenty of other random events (like him sitting courtside for an NBA game) corrupted his Heisman Trophy-winner reputation, changing him to an immature, entitled party-boy.
As Christopher L. Gasper of the Boston Globe wrote in response to the outrage of Manziel’s alleged acceptance of payment for signing autographs, “What Johnny Manziel is guilty of is playing the wrong sport on the wrong day of the week.” Amen, Gasper. And, I would add, possibly the wrong position.
In a sport where disciplinarians like Nick Saban rule with militaristic tactics, football has no room for undisciplined, immature behavior. Football, the ultimate team sport, has no tolerance for attention grabbing behavior that shines the spotlight on the individual instead of the team.
So, naturally, when Johnny Manziel makes money-making gestures and mimes signing autographs, the whole world erupts.
In a recent Yahoo! Sports Radio interview (via Fox Sports Kansas City), former NFL great Joe Theismann went on a three-minute rant about Manziel’s “classlessness” and “immaturity.” He even stated, “He would have trouble playing professional football with men.”
If Theismann is talking about Manziel’s physical ability to play with “men,” then maybe he has a point, as the star quarterback isn't all that tall and has a slimmer frame for a short quarterback. But to say Manziel will have trouble playing with “men” due to immaturity, I’m not so sure.
The NFL has had some pretty immature (to say the least) men both on and off the field. Aaron Hernandez, Michael Vick and the 31 NFL players arrested since Super Bowl XLVII may put Manziel’s off-the-field “antics” into perspective, especially as a 20-year-old college student.
As far as Johnny Football’s on-the-field immaturity, the NFL doesn’t seem that intolerant of such behavior. Ray Lewis choreographed and performed an epic dance number before every game, DeSean Jackson has fallen into the end zone like he was back-flopping into a pool and Richard Sherman taunted Tom Brady after picking him off in the third quarter, inspiring an awesome meme worldwide ("u mad bro?").
Let’s be real. NFL players are not known for their maturity. If you think otherwise, please reference this video: NFL top 10 touchdown celebrations of all time.
But the quarterback, a football team’s fearless leader, is supposed to be mature—calm, cool and collected. If Johnny Manziel was a running back celebrating a touchdown or a defensive end celebrating a sack, no one would bat an eye. But he’s supposed to be Peyton or Eli Manning—even-keeled and swag-less.
But Manziel isn’t a Manning. Manziel’s got swag. He isn’t your cookie-cutter quarterback, which makes him entertaining and fun to watch. His taunting gestures would fit right in with the NBA, where "swag" is the culture. What would NBA highlight reels be without Chris "Birdman" Andersen flapping his arms, LeBron James staring down Tiago Splitter and pounding his chest after an epic block or any number of players giving a three-point salute after hitting a big three?
Manziel’s confidence is the reason for and the result of him performing “otherworldly” acts, as described by Clay Travis of Outkick the Coverage Fox Sports blog.
But Manziel’s confidence and swag are restricted—restricted by the NCAA, which prevents Manziel and many other NFL-bound players from profiting off their own performance and their own name.
Manziel makes money for the NCAA, then is suspended by the NCAA for half a game for allegedly attempting to profit from his own name. Hard pill to swallow. Manziel’s response: He gives the NCAA the finger by throwing three touchdowns in about a quarter-and-a-half of play, making money gestures and miming signing autographs. To any sports fan who loves emotion and intensity, confidence and swag, how is this not awesome?
Coaches all over the country from any sport are begging their athletes to have confidence in themselves, but we shun Manziel for having it? For having the special ability to truly and completely believe in himself?
What is the big deal, sports world? Even Tim Tebow, the anti-Manziel, got a taunting penalty in a BCS Championship Game. Although Tebow and Manziel are just about polar opposites of each other, they have one thing in common: They play with intensity and emotion, which any true sports fan should be able to appreciate.
Stop trying to make Manziel a Manning. Let him be who he is. And if you still think Manziel is an immature “turd,” like Tom Brady suggested when he appeared on CNBC’s Squawk Box (via NFL.si.com), just watch this Texas A&M Dude Perfect Video.