Cleveland Browns backup quarterback Johnny Manziel likes to party. He likes to party on an inflatable swan with a bottle of champagne. He likes to party while holding money. He likes to party with Drake. His penchant for having a good time has been well documented. TMZ seemingly follows his every move.
Yet the only people who consider Manziel's hobbies a distraction or a problem aren't connected with the Browns organization. Why? Because it doesn't matter what Manziel does—because he hasn't done anything wrong.
Manziel is a quarterback, yes. But for better or for worse, he's more than that—he's a celebrity quarterback. And the "celebrity" part has people unnecessarily up in arms. Former Browns quarterback Brady Quinn said earlier this week on SiriusXM NFL Radio (via CBSSports.com), "I don't think that's the way you want to conduct yourself," in reference to Manziel's Memorial Day weekend spent in Las Vegas.
The News-Herald's Jeff Schudel was even harsher, saying, "I think we can all agree the champagne-spraying, inflatable swan-riding, wad of cash as a cell phone-holding first-round pick of the Cleveland Browns isn't living up to the vow he made in February," referring to Manziel's pledge at the scouting combine to focus on football.
Schudel continued, "He made it clear that was just talk, like a door-to-door salesman trying to convince the lady of the house his product will clean every stain on her carpet and clothing." He went on to cite the widely circulated, leaked scouting report of Manziel allegedly made by the New England Patriots that questions his dedication and leadership. That scouting report has never been verified as real, mind you, and comes from a website called BroBible.com.
No matter how much hand-wringing people want to do about Manziel's off-field antics, no one's opinion of how he spends his time off matters except that of his head coach, Mike Pettine. And Pettine has been nothing but supportive of Manziel, defending him against questions of whether he is a distraction or is distracted from the game of football himself.
"I'm not concerned," said Pettine after a minicamp practice earlier in June, via Pat McManamon of ESPN.com. "I would become concerned if it was something criminal, and I would be concerned if it affected his job. I think a lot of our guys, when they leave here if they were followed around, you'd get some very similar pictures. I don't know about an inflatable swan, but I think you'd get some pictures."
He also made it clear that he would not be "micromanaging" what his players do in their free time (via NFL.com). It's the right approach.
Manziel isn't running wild when he should be working. He's been present, on time and hardworking at every OTA practice and in minicamp. He's taken his playbook on his mini-vacations and studied the Browns offense.
He hasn't gotten arrested. He's simply been caught in photographs doing things many NFL players do just as regularly as he does. It's just that celebrity has been following him for so long, anything Manziel does that is not football-related feels scandalous. "Feels" being the operative word.
Because of his celebrity status, Manziel is a brand, one that has been cultivated to project the "Johnny Football" persona. It's managed, no matter how off-the-rails it appears, and it's that management, that careful handling, that makes Manziel nothing anyone should worry about.
After all, it's not going to change him. Manziel has made it very clear that he knows how to work and how to have a good time, and he's not planning on sacrificing either for the time being. When asked about his Vegas trip by the media, per The Associated Press, he responded:
I don't live my life according to you guys or according to what other people think of me. I'm going to live my life to the fullest and continue to be committed to this game and committed to what I need to be doing here, and trying to earn my place in this locker room and with these coaches and this organization. If I want to go out and have some fun and it doesn't hinder what my main goals in life are, then I really don't care what anyone has to say.
It's defiance appropriate for a 21-year-old first-round draft pick quarterback who has had his leadership and dedication questioned all the way back to his collegiate career at Texas A&M. Never mind that he was often cheering vigorously for his team on the sidelines and giving his all when on the field, traits that got him to the NFL and drafted in the first round.
Manziel is under a microscope, but it's a very narrow one. Everyone wants to see, and comment on, the times he goes out and has a few drinks. But where are they when he gives back to the community, as he did this week with other Browns rookies with the Youth Challenge program?
Quinn noted he'd prefer NFL quarterbacks to be more like Seattle's Russell Wilson: "When he's out there on camera, or out there on Twitter, whatever it is, he's at a hospital with sick kids giving them gifts, trying to brighten up their day. That's the kind of role model I'd want for my franchise. And I don't understand why [Manziel] can't interject more of that into his life."
The thing is, Manziel does give back. It's just that it does not fit the narrative that's been pounded out about him as the party quarterback, and it goes ignored. If his every move off the football field is going to be tracked, then there needs to be a fuller picture of Manziel beyond swans, booze and cash.
He didn't con the Browns into drafting him—they knew what he was about long before his pledge to be committed to football in the NFL. They knew his on-field dedication would be matched by a media circus scrutinizing the partying he was doubtless going to do in his free time. As long as his free time doesn't result in injury or arrest, then a few slightly unflattering photos are a fair trade-off for a 21-year-old kid having fun when not at work.
Ultimately, it doesn't matter what Manziel does on the weekend, where he does it or who he does it with. It's an engineered problem drummed up by certain sectors of the media who want to pretend Manziel should be held to a higher standard than thousands of other football players who do the same things, albeit with fewer cameras around.
Manziel doesn't care anyway, and neither do the Browns, who signed the quarterback to a four-year, $8.25 million deal that includes $6.7 million in guaranteed money and a fifth-year option just days removed from the "moneyphone" video.
So keep complaining if you must, but Manziel can't hear you—there's too much bleeping cash in his hand anyway, and the Browns aren't afraid to give it to him.