Johnny “Football” Manziel was a legend. The “was” in that statement is shocking, given the fact that the former Heisman Trophy winner is only 23 years old. Granted, the word “legend” gets thrown around too easily these days, but when it comes to Texas football, Johnny truly was legendary and heroic, a human highlight reel whose adventures on the field (and sometimes off it) captured the attention of the entire nation. This isn’t a toast to Johnny’s former greatness; this is a cautionary tale.
It would be naïve to think that Manziel is the first NFL bachelor to enjoy the company of beautiful women and a stiff drink, but the difference between someone like “Broadway” Joe Namath and Johnny “Football” Manziel is that “Broadway” showed up to every practice/game ready to go – sort of. Namath and Manziel’s similarity lies in their fierce competitive spirit on the field, but off it, Joe was a lover more than he was a fighter and the same can’t be said about Johnny, whose struggles with anger issues are well documented by his father Paul Manziel.
On July 30, 2013, Wright Thomson, senior editor at ESPN The Magazine, got up close and personal with the Manziels at their old family home adjacent to the 16th hole of the Hollytree Country Club in Texas. Johnny’s temper made an appearance and Thompson captured a telling moment,
“On the fifth hole, he [Johnny] snaps. He flings a wedge through the air. The club helicopters, spinning so fast it hums, bouncing off the nearby cart path. ‘F***,’ he says under his breath.
“Paul sees the club toss but doesn’t say anything. Not yet, not until he calms his own anger and frustration. Johnny needs to grow up or risk losing his future, and every thrown club, or ill-advised tweet, reminds his father how far they have to go. Paul is scared.”
Johnny Manziel’s anger isn’t rooted in poverty. Football wasn’t “a way out” as it was/is for many of the game’s players. Johnny is actually the great grandson of Texas oil fortune. He was born privileged and was gifted with athletic ability. From an outside perspective he had it all, yet Johnny Manziel the man was never able to catch up to Johnny “Football” the legend. To quote the most popular book in Texas,
“Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.”
Manziel was able to achieve the first half of that quote: he was given much, and he understood that on the field he will be required to do many things, but when he was entrusted to be responsible; practice hard; be strong emotionally, mentally, and physically; and then be demanded to do more – perhaps Johnny the man had not matured enough to appreciate the honor bestowed upon him.
Thompson’s story was published less than three years ago. At that time, Johnny still hadn’t played a down of NFL football. He was still the raw talent mixed with baggage and temper flare-ups that made many NFL GM’s unsure he could thrive in the pros. Former Browns GM Ray Farmer took a chance on Manziel. Since then, Johnny’s gone from the most exciting prospect coming out of college to flirting with a lifetime ban in the NFL. With every day that goes by, with every poolside drink that gets drunk under the sunny skies of Sin City, Johnny Manziel walks one step further away from the NFL.
It would be easy to tear Manziel apart for all the trouble he’s gotten into and the pain he’s cast onto those around him, including his family, teammates, and girlfriends. The truth is, this is sport, not showbiz. Comeback stories are still very much alive in the sports world. The NFL even celebrates it with the Comeback Player Of The Year award given to an NFL player who shows perseverance in overcoming adversity. If Michael Vick can win it, why not Johnny Manziel?
Manziel’s road back into the good graces of the league and the hearts of its fans isn’t paved with gold, but it’s still available if he’s willing to put in the work. The steps towards redemption seem obvious (once again, this coming from an outside perspective):
Step one: Leave Las Vegas
Step Two: Apologize.
Step Three: Cut out the people and places that could get you into trouble.
Step Four: Get healthy emotionally, mentally, and physically.
Step Five: Work (train, practice, etc.) like you’ve never worked before in your life — like you always should have to begin with.
Step Six: Keep working until you truly feel like you will never make the same mistakes you made in the past, because then and only then will you be able to take on new challenges and be able to achieve them if lucky enough to be given the opportunity to do so.
Step Seven: Be humble and lead by example.
Step Eight: Achieve redemption.
Johnny Manziel will never be a role model for all the right reasons, but he still has a chance to be one for not entirely the wrong ones. He needs to discover a new kind of confidence, one that allows him to believe in himself while letting others believe in him as well (integral for an NFL QB). If Johnny Manziel becomes a man and redeems himself, he has a chance to be a better NFL quarterback than the legend of Johnny “Football” ever was.
[Photo by Andrew Weber/Getty Images]