Johnny Manziel Is Not Rosa Parks, He's Andrew Goodman Or Michael Schwerner


Fox Sports’ Jen Engel wrote a column comparing Johnny Manziel to Rosa Parks, asserting that Johnny Manziel was the tipping point for “student-athletes” being unfairly treated by the NCAA. As some noted loudly, this was a problematic analogy.

"Once upon a time in this country, there were ugly, racist, tyrannical rules dictating where a black person could sit on a bus. There were all kinds of these laws, actually, created and defended by the racists who benefited from them. What kick-started change was an average, everyday woman named Rosa Parks, who had grown tired of being tired. Hers was not the first protest, nor was it particularly the best. It was merely the tipping point for many Americans long since tired of these immoral laws."

Obviously, there’s no equivalence between the Civil Rights movement and major college athletics. If we can move past that sticking point and stay in the same vein, Rosa Parks is not the right analog. Parks’ protest was courageous, inspirational and important. But, if we must tie up history into neat little Malcolm Gladwell prose narratives, her act was not the “tipping point.”

It took two years to get cursory Civil Rights legislation to the Congressional Floor. It took nearly 10 to get meaningful legislation to combat southern segregation passed. The “tipping point,” if there even is a specific one, would have come later.

Consensus opinion is broadly white and middle class. That’s where most media members come from. That’s where most academics come from. That’s where most politicians and policy-makers come form. That bias is not always active, conscious or malicious, but it shapes opinions. This consensus reacts and supports change when injustice touches that “ingroup.”

As Jason Whitlock notes, punishment for marijuana, a drug white people use, became much more lenient than, say, crack cocaine. The consensus turned on the Vietnam War, with a national draft targeting white and middle class people. It has shown indifference to recent wars fought mostly by America’s underclass. The nation is now in crisis, as the effects of economic inequality (long prevalent in urban communities) hit middle class white people and recent college grads.

The “tipping point” for Civil Rights, would have been when that consensus community became invested. It’s gratifying to point to events such as Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech as seminal moments. In reality, the tipping point for whites came later, with violence.

James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, working for CORE during the Freedom Summer campaign, were chain-whipped, shot and killed with the complicity of local law enforcement in Mississippi in 1964. The latter two were white volunteers from New York. Coupled with incidents too grotesque to ignore, the violent underbelly of Jim Crow rattled the previously indifferent in the white community.

Not coincidentally, when the Civil Rights movement turned North and assumed a more assertive black leadership (with what many presumed to be a threat of violence), consensus support abruptly ceased.

Johnny Manziel may become the tipping point for the NCAA, because he’s the first prominent member of the ingroup to be caught in the NCAA’s ridiculous vise. Chris Webber, Terrelle Pryor, Reggie Bush, Cam Newton and others committed similar acts. They were demonized and vilified, veritable stains on the pristine fabric of college athletics. Now, sentiment has swung toward Manziel, with even reticent media members joining calls for reform.

Part of this is blatant NCAA unraveling. Part of it is the Ed O’Bannon suit. Part of it is intelligent folks such as Jay Bilas, Bomani Jones and Dan Wetzel hammering the point home. A lot of it is that the consensus can more easily relate to Johnny Manziel, who is white and from a comfortable background. For many, he’s easier to picture as a son, a wayward younger brother, a buddy from college or a less mature version of themselves.

Had it been JaMarcus Manziel allegedly accepting cash for autographs to fund a new set of rims, consensus perception may have been radically different.