Johnny Manziel is a human being.
That, above all else, is refreshing at the quarterback position these days.
In a league that takes itself entirely too seriously, flanked by media that takes the league and itself too seriously, further flanked by fans who follow the same pattern, Manziel was bound to be similar to a carcass surrounded by vultures in desert heat upon arrival in the NFL.
After all, Manziel was fun to watch in college on the field, and even more fun to watch off the field, as he garnered TMZ-esque coverage no matter what he decided to do. His being selected No. 22 overall by the Cleveland Browns has only made things worse.
At the quarterback position, we demand maturity. We demand studious behavior, players who lock themselves in dusty, dimly lit film rooms night and day. We demand an exemplary figure to lead the other men on the roster.
Manziel won't conform.
That's not necessarily a bad thing, and this scenario that has the sporting world alight with conversation has been perhaps best broken down by Deion Sanders, as he told Dallas 105.3 The Fan, via CBS Dallas Fort Worth:
The quarterback mold was created by Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Drew Brees, Tom Brady. When we don’t see [partying] from those guys, we kind of think it’s wrong because we don’t see it. That does not mean that Johnny Manziel has done one thing wrong. We just haven’t seen something of his kind. I like it. I love change.
Manziel is an outlier in the current age of quarterbacks, but his celebrity created by the media is more to blame than anything. He grew up rich in Texas and was stalked by the media for years; success at the collegiate level only made things worse.
Can we say for certain that any of the quarterbacks named by Sanders, or most in the league for that matter, would have impeccable track records if media followed them around as they do Manziel?
Probably not. Remember, this is an era where the goody-goody images of athletes are continually shattered, most notably of late for Tiger Woods. Throw Manziel's spotlight on any player and some mishaps are sure to arise. After all, they are merely human when it boils right down to it.
Manziel's "transgressions" are simply more public. So yes, he had his photo taken in a bathroom as he rolled a bill. Yes, he was caught goofing around on an inflatable swan. It goes on and on and won't cease.
The main issue with all of this is rather simple—the nation is all riled up over how he spends his free time, yet none of it has interfered with his play on the field. Manziel has not taken a pro snap, nor has he even reported to training camp.
As Mike Pettine said in early June, via ESPN.com's Pat McManamon, unless his actions are criminal or impact his ability to do his job well, there is nothing to see here:
I'm not concerned. 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.
There will be struggles for Manziel, as is the case for any rookie in the NFL at the majority of positions.
He's not exactly in a great situation, with running back a question mark (Terrance West is a rookie and Ben Tate has missed eight games in three seasons due to injury). Wideout is an unknown, too, with the hobbled bodies of Miles Austin and Nate Burleson as the main weapons to speak of, and his offensive line is coming off a season in which it allowed 49 hits on the quarterback and 138 hurries (both third-worst), per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Add in the typical rookie struggles and you get a combustible situation in terms of image, and the on-field woes will be unnecessarily attributed to Manziel's life.
Manziel seems to understand all of this, though, as captured by Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com:
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.
With an understanding that he's a celebrity, making him fair game, Manziel is at home with who he is and won't back down. Until these same antics are seen on his off days during the regular season after a crippling loss or poor performance, there is nigh an issue with how he spends his free time.
But that won't be an issue if Manziel's behavior continues on its current course. See, what we don't hear or pay quite enough attention to is how professional he truly is about the job, as Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman reports:
"Second, according to that person on the Browns staff, Manziel is all business when he's around the complex. I can't stress that enough. In terms of work ethic and preparation, everything I hear from officials is positive."
Just because media are all over Manziel during his off time doesn't mean he isn't putting in the proper work. Really, the time the media doesn't get with him while he works during the week probably far outweighs that of his down time.
In this 24/7/365 world, Manziel is a target. But rather than beat the drum about how he doesn't conform to how we want him to behave, let's take a moment to appreciate someone who is willing to be themselves and enjoy life off the field and while off the clock, especially in the face of more scrutiny and coverage than perhaps any other quarterback in the league, at what is arguably the most important position in sports.
After all, it's just a game.