For the next couple of weeks, I will be veering away from the NBA and will be doing a 2 part series on college football. Specifically, I will be writing about Johnny Manziel and the fallout from the pending Ed O’Bannon lawsuit. The reason for this is A) I have very strong feelings about whether or not collegiate athletes should be paid while in college and B) I feel it is very important for analyze Johnny Manziel’s situation so we can better understand his situation, because I am frankly scared for him and want to give you a different perspective than what I have heard about him.
To give you a little background on the state of Texas, I live smack in the middle of Big 12 country in Austin. The “40-acres” as it is affectionately known, is the University of Texas Longhorns. I have lived here for a little over a year and a half but have come to see what true love (and borderline addiction) to football looks like. My wife, as well as many friends, is a teacher in the Austin area. After a long, hard week of work in the fall, what do you think a good portion of these teachers do? Why, they go and root on the local high school football team. Friday Night Lights, for example, takes place in the west Texas town of Odessa. I have driven through parts of Texas and have seen high schools stadiums that hold more people than some college stadiums. In most of Texas, football is not just a Sunday thing, it’s a weekend event. Local high school games are on Friday nights, you watch your favorite Texas college team on Saturday and the NFL (mostly Cowboys) on Sunday. As a contrast, my high school football games in Minnesota had one-third of the number of people attend our varsity football games than attended our varsity hockey games in the winter. Football is more than just a sport in Texas, it is engrained in the culture.
Now, let me give you a little more back-story to better understand the university where Johnny Manziel plays. There are many D-1 football universities in Texas (Texas, Texas St., Baylor, Texas Tech, Texas Christian, Texas A&M, Houston, Southern Methodist (SMU), El Paso (UTEP), North Texas, Rice and UTSA (San Antonio). The biggest and with the most passionate fans are Texas and Texas A&M. They are geographic rivals, as they are only a couple hours away from one another. Prior to the Aggies moving to the SEC, they were nationally seen as the little brother to the Longhorns. Texas has been the better of the two teams for a long time. In their series versus one another, Texas has a large advantage (76-37-5). Especially in Austin, there is a huge intermingling of Aggies and Longhorns. From an outsider’s perspective, the best way to describe it is this: Texas does not want A&M to be better than they are. Their main rival is Oklahoma and A&M, while a big deal, is not really cared about that much. Aggie fans are some of the most passionate fans I have ever seen. The puff out their chests and are extremely proud of their university. They want to be the big dog in Texas and moved out from under the Texas controlled Big 12 to forge their own path in the SEC.
Let’s rewind to last fall. It’s their first season in the SEC, in the same division as Alabama and LSU. Every prediction I heard was “let’s hope A&M can go 6-6 or 7-5 and that will be a good first season. I sat at our men’s retreat in east Texas with 400 Aggie fans watching A&M play Alabama and it was one of the most fun sporting experiences I’ve ever had. By that time, the name on everyone’s lips was Johnny Football. We sat on bated breath with everything he did and watched him weave his magic to beat Bama in Tuscaloosa. He went on to have a tremendous season and become the first freshman to win the Heisman. A&M fans everywhere are dreaming, “Is this the man that can take us to the national championship??” We can compete in the SEC and Johnny Manziel will lead us to the title!
Fast forward several months later, all we hear is incident after incident of Manziel drinking underage, selling autographs, leaving the Manning passing camp early. What is going on? Let’s summarize his situation. He is a young man who comes from a very wealthy Texas oil family. He is the starting quarterback at a big time university in a state where football is everything. He is the youngest player to ever win the Heisman, a virtual lock to be an NFL player by this time next year. He received an ESPY and has been doing appearances all across the country.
Think back to when you were 19 years old, could you handle that?? Most young men at that age cannot handle a regular college life, much less money thrown at them, alcohol at their fingertips (even though it’s illegal), the allure of women or fame. What is happening to this young man is sad. As Americans, our culture tends to be a sink or swim culture. Do not show weakness, don’t ask for help, just go and learn on your own. If you make mistakes, so what? It’s your life and you can do whatever you want!
The harsh reality is, your decisions do matter. Let’s look at these various situations and examine possible consequences.
Leaving the Manning Passing Academy Early- This shows to potential employers (NFL teams) that you’re not trustworthy or responsible. He has never been honest about why he left, so we just assume he was hung over or tired from partying too much. Now, prospective employers are making the assumption that Johnny is unable to control himself and isn’t taking his obligations seriously.
Underage drinking and promiscuity- He could become just another statistic of a man who has children with multiple woman or worst case scenario, not make good decisions while drinking and end up in jail or at the bad end of a horrible car accident.
Signing Autographs for money- He could lose his eligibility (like Chris Carter did when he signed with an agent in the 80s). If Manziel loses his eligibility at any time, whether during the year or after, the school will vacate everything that happens this season. If they went undefeated and won the National Title, it would all be taken away when/if the NCAA rules Manziel ineligible (look up Reggie Bush). This would have devastating effects for the school and their passionate fans.
Now, I may sound like a moralist and even a pessimist. There are two things that sadden me about this entire situation and frustrate me beyond belief. The first is, where are all the adults in this man’s life?? Where is his father, his coaches, the university AD? They are just standing by while he makes mistake after mistake. I understand kids need to venture out on their own but for the school, you would think they would want to protect their investment. As for his father, you think he would want to protect his son. He is getting destroyed in the media and believe me, the SEC fans will be cruel every time he is away from College Station. Where are all the mentors in his life to help him? If he can’t or refuses to be helped, why is he playing football? There are some things more in important in life than football and Johnny’s personal safety and future is one of them.
The second ties in with the first one. I want to ask, why is Johnny not asking for help? I, like all of us, have made our fair share of mistakes. I am not going to speculate and say, “he has a drinking problem” or anything like that. However, I would not be the man I am today without asking for help. My concern is that this very talented young man is going the way of other athletes, celebrities, etc who decided that their social life is more important than honing their craft. While he may be able to get by on athleticism alone in college, that will not fly in the NFL. He will not be the most talented guy as a rookie in the NFL and talent alone is not enough to save him from becoming the next Maurice Clarett.
My plea to A&M and Johnny Manziel is please help one another. Johnny, please ask those close to you for help. Whether it’s your teammates, coaches or parents, please seek help. You have such a bright future and I do not want to see that thrown away. To those around Johnny, please help him. The leaders of this school need to sit him down, look him in the eyes and get down to the bottom of this. They need to pursue a relationship with him and be honest with him. I didn’t like when my parents/friends were honest with me but in moments of honest reflection, these people were right. Please show Johnny you love him and care about him because he needs those kinds of people in his life. Many a young athlete has lost everything due to the community they keep. The more popular you become, the more people try to use you and take from you. Johnny needs people in his life who truly have his best interests at heart. My message is simple: you are not alone Johnny Manziel. Trust in those who care and love you and ask for help if you need it. No sports fan wants to see you become the next ultra-promising player who self-destructs. We want to see you succeed and be enjoy the gifts that you’ve been blessed with to entertain others and make a living for yourself.
Thanks again for reading! I wanted to leave you with a couple of things, one serious and one of the lighter side. If you haven't read it, this article written by Wright Thompson of ESPN is outstanding. Follow me on twitter @weigel_a and keep reading all the great content we post daily! Will get even better going forward!
This video was done by a group called Dude Perfect. It's some trick shots with Johnny Manziel in January. It's pretty sweet stuff! Enjoy!