Johnny Manziel is Not Undergoing "Social Implosion," He's Just a 20-Year-Old


Johnny Football had an online moment. Late on a Saturday night and responding to an unstated incident, Manziel tweeted that he “can’t wait to leave College Station.” Responding to backlash from that tweeted, he deleted it. He then reaffirmed his love for Texas A&M and urged folks to “walk a day in his shoes.” This only inflamed matters further.

Critics lunged for Manziel before exhaling. Sporting News columnist Matt Hayes dubbed the incident a sign of “social implosion” and compared the star quarterback to Maurice Clarett.

"What we are witnessing, people, is the social implosion of a man who has played one season of college football – and already can’t get out of his own way. We’ve seen this before (hello, Maurice Clarett, Mike Williams) and it doesn’t end well. There’s no way to sugarcoat this: Johnny Look At Me is acting like a spoiled baby."

Seriously? There’s no way to sugarcoat this: It’s time for media members to settle the fuck down. Yes, Manziel’s tweets were ill-considered, self-indulgent and displayed an acute lack of perspective. That’s normal. He’s a 20-year-old college student.

Johnny Manziel is not Tim Tebow. It is Tebow — prepping for a preaching career? Congress? becoming the antichrist? — who is the weird one. I don’t know Manziel. I’ve never interacted with him. But, piecing together his personality from social media snippets, he comes off like a normal kid reacting to circumstances that are anything but (certainly not an aggravated robber).

His parents are wealthy. Manziel can attend events and take vacations most kids his age cannot. The problem, for most, seems to be that he breaks the mold of the humble, amateur athlete. He cavorts himself as though he is getting paid. There’s nothing inherently disrespectful or unsavory about that. Outside of NCAA athletics, there is nothing disrespectful or unsavory about actually getting paid for your talent.

Manziel is a star. He’s the most exciting player in the second most popular sport, in a country that worships sports. Maybe Manziel has not been hiding himself under a bushel basket, but his stardom is as much (if not more) driven by media coverage than by his purported “look at Me” actions.

Manziel receives the scrutiny of a professional athlete. He can’t just say something dumb online and then go back to playing xBox. Every minor misstep results in remote psychoanalysis and click-baiting columns. Doing normal “college student” things such as grabbing a burrito or attending a full slate of classes on campus during a crowded semester becomes more burdensome.

I could sprint down the slippery slope as Hayes did, listing all sorts of people enduring more strife than Johnny Manziel. That doesn’t mitigate or diminish the pressure he is under and how it feels for him. The downside of fame wearing on you is not unreasonable, especially when it’s not balanced out by payment.

Johnny Manziel is not the wooden hero of Matt Cristopher novel. He breathes. He errs. With other sports personalities flouting standards of legality and common decency on a quite frequent basis, perhaps we can learn to treat minor human failings reasonably, even when they come from a Heisman winner.