Johnny Manziel had his photo taken in a bathroom. He had a $20 bill in his hand. It was being rolled. Now the world is coming to an end.
This is the life of any NFL celebrity. For Manziel, it seems even bigger than that.
Manziel has been a celebrity since he was a tween. The kid was a star athlete from a rich family in the heart of a country that makes celebrities out of far less. At Texas A&M, as the legend of Johnny Football grew and grew, from the trophy ceremonies to the "money" gestures to the repeated reports of impropriety, Manziel seemed to act like it was all part of a big elaborate game for him.
In life, the one who ends up with the most toys wins, and dammit if Manziel doesn't have a huge head start over everyone else.
How that sits with the NFL, and specifically the Cleveland Browns—who took him with the 22nd overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft—has come into question time and time again this offseason.
Nobody could question that the media and observers all over the Internet are full of opinions about all this, with two outlets—Pro Football Talk and The Big Lead—getting into dangerous territory with their postings after this last news item.
Let's back up. A week ago, Manziel was all over the news—his nights out now transcend just the tabloid media—after hanging out at a party with Justin Bieber and Floyd "Money" Mayweather. His travels to and from Las Vegas have become stuff of legend already, so it's no surprise that the Browns have told him to take it a little slower the rest of the summer. That's according to Chris Mortensen of ESPN, as Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com reported on June 27. Cabot also had this quote from Manziel:
I don't think I'm doing anything wrong. I'm going out. Everybody goes out on the weekends and enjoys their life and lives their life and just for them, they don't have people that when they walk into a place pull out their phones and all they want to do is follow me around and record everything, so my situation is unique and different and now more than ever I've seen that it's an every weekend thing wherever I'm at, whether it's here in Cleveland on a weekend, or in Dallas or anywhere on a weekend people want to record what I'm doing because they think it's a story.
The rest of the quote is what makes some people think Manziel doesn't get it—doesn't get what life is like for an NFL quarterback taken in the first round. Others, though, think this next part shows just how much he does get it.
Everybody goes out and has fun. I'm not doing anything that's putting myself in a harmful situation. I'm not doing anything that's putting my team or jeopardizing what I do here throughout the week, or what I'm looking forward to doing this season.
All the videos and photos that Manziel has posted or have been posted of him show the kid goofing around and smiling, having fun (while admittedly looking rather intoxicated in a lot of them).
Are we to assume a 21-year-old athlete—who, by the way, ordered a beer while underage at a restaurant with a national magazine writer who was doing a feature story on him—isn't going to drink in the offseason? Are we to assume because he's more famous than most kids his age, Manziel—Johnny F'ing Football—is going to play by the rules?
So for all the NFL fans and writers and pundits and won't-somebody-think-of-the-children-knee-jerkers who are now hopping on this "hey, look at the famous guy out in bars all drunk and stuff" routine (just search "Manziel" on Twitter to see what we're talking about), they aren't seeing anyone different than who Manziel has always been.
This is the same entitled kid, the same star quarterback, the same rule-breaker. It's just that the stacks of money in his hand are a little bigger. (Note: only a little bigger, let's be honest.)
Manziel won the Heisman Trophy, and a year later he was taken in the first round of the NFL draft. That means he's fair game. This is the world we live in, and society eats those who taste the most delicious alive.
Right now, in the NFL mess hall, nothing is more delectable than a big serving of Johnny Football.
That said, Manziel's nights out and questionable associates—I mean, Bieber, really?—do not give anyone in the media the right to make assumptions about his activities when those assumptions could get the rookie suspended from the NFL before he even takes a snap.
That's a screen capture from a story posted by Mike Florio at Pro Football Talk—taken in case the story is amended or pulled—whereby Florio, who also works network-TV games for NBC, all but accuses Manziel of using that rolled 20 to snort cocaine, while carefully not accusing him of anything.
Now, Florio is a lawyer as well as a noted Internet troll, so there's an absolute certainty he worded that post in such a manner that Manziel or his people couldn't threaten legal action. And come to think of it, a lawsuit could be what Florio wants, given that Manziel's recent history would be open to further interpretation and investigation during discovery should "legal" action be taken by either party.
If Manziel demands the post be taken down, the story lives. If he ignores it, it has to be true. The system (and by "system," I mean the Internet) works!
Busted Coverage gets credit for finding the photo and did its best to speculate without speculating as to why the money was being rolled. Florio took it to another level, and this story has now become something of a cautionary tale for today's media, as much as it's a cautionary tale for Manziel or any famous athlete.
Nobody in our industry should be wondering if an athlete might be using cocaine after seeing one photo of him where cocaine isn't even present.
If you have a source that says they witnessed an NFL player doing drugs, verify the source and run with it. That's journalism…or whatever passes for journalism in the Instagram and Twitter era. If you have a photo you grabbed from a popular cheesecake sports-adjacent website of a guy in a bathroom holding money, maybe wait on the intimations and innuendos.
That said, Cleveland should probably make another phone call to Johnny to beg him to avoid camera phones for a while. Maybe Browns owner Jimmy Haslam should get on the horn with Manziel and tell him it's a good idea to schedule a summer's worth of house parties where the phones and recording devices stay outside in the mailbox.
Don't even invite anyone with an Instagram or Twitter or Vine or Facebook or Snapchat or whatever social-media app 21-year-olds are using these days. (Oh, I forgot about Tinder. Johnny, stay away from Tinder.)
Stay away from everything, because people won't stop. The media won't stop. If we aren't the ones taking the photos in the bathrooms, we damn sure are the ones buying them or posting them or speculating about what illicit activities are taking place before, during or after them.
We will not stop, because we no longer have the ability to do so. The world is a 24/7/365 media circus, and people like Johnny Football are the biggest attraction in town.
You would think a kid who has been in the spotlight for as long as he has would know that by now. And maybe he does. Maybe he just doesn't care.