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The path of Johnny Manziel to "Johnny Football"

  Johnny Manziel--Photo via Getty/Andrew Weber
I want to preface this article by stating that I have no time of day for any professional athlete, or human being for that matter, who stoops to domestic violence for any sort of solution to any sort of situation. While it's not clear if there actually was any sort of domestic disturbance here, it's clear that the player involved in this article continues to put himself in situations that enter this type of arena. While I have an innate desire to see people succeed and recover and improve, the consequences of this behavior should be swift. Apparently, the charges that were alleged were dropped, and while there may be more to this story, that's where we are as I start my piece. Who knows where we will be by the time I end it.

Browns' quarterback Johnny Manziel allegedly struck his ex-girlfriend several times during a supposed altercation in a hotel in downtown Dallas early last Saturday, according to a Dallas Police report. It's important to note that the case appears to be closed by the Dallas Police Department, and that the incidents that were reported, which included death threats and physical abuse, aren't confirmed. It's equally important to note that whatever "Johnny Football" seems to involve himself in turns toxic.

Let's step back for a moment.

The world is full of real problems. There are civil wars that are killing hundreds of thousands of people. There are multitudes of homeless in every major world city. There's strife, and disease, and sadness and grief. So please understand that the world of sports, and "Johnny Football" in particular, shouldn't be a part of any legitimate conversation.

Yet here we are.

Somehow, in the midst of real problems in the world, we are hit with a constant barrage of tabloid dilemmas that really shouldn't equate to the term. Sometimes, talking about football players like "Johnny Football" and their struggles seems pretty damn stupid.

Yet here we are.

Sometimes those football players are given an equitable stage, fair or not, to stories that actually mean something in the real world. Welcome to the Wonderful World of "Johnny Football." Welcome to the Wonderful World.

Johnny Manziel has simply been a line of dominos that have, one-after-another, led to what nearly everyone following him over the years has hoped for, disaster.

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I root for people.

I want people to succeed in life, and that goes far beyond any sort of caste system or tax bracket.

Short of the types of crimes that are so severe, nothing but evil can be overlooked, I hope for redemption. As a sports' fan, there's nothing more special than a player with the deck stacked against him or her, coming out of nowhere to win the game, or make the big play.

People make mistakes in life, it's the nature of the beast. We all live with our own moral code, and often don't live up to the standards that we put forth. Life is often like a baseball average. We are measured by our victories, which are far fewer than our mistakes. So when I see professional athletes fail, even with millions at their disposal, my gut roots for them to somehow, make it.

Yes, this does include Johnny Manziel, and not necessarily "Johnny Football."

I won't lie. I didn't really pay attention to Manziel's college career all that much. I love college football, but in my rapidly growing age, my time is limited to the Ohio State Buckeyes, and the roadblocks in front of them. I no longer have the time or wherewithal to watch games all day on Saturdays, and every other night that they're on. My knowledge of Manziel was limited to the rag-like reports on ESPN and any other major news outlet, that looked for stage antics that went along with performance.

When Manziel won a Heisman Trophy, I chalked a lot of that to his combination of talent and ego, and nothing more. We live in a society that often values negative attention more than the positive, so when "Johnny Football" garnered the sorta swag attention that is usually brandished to Hollywood trainwrecks, I put on the mute button.

"He's too short. He's too weak. He's too cocky. He's too weak-armed."

When it was revealed that the NCAA was investigating Manziel for thousands of dollars he may or may not have been paid for autographs, which is a massive violation for amateur players (even though the NCAA bloats their bank accounts with the sweat of players like Manziel), I more or less shrugged my shoulders and wondered what took them so long. I rarely worry about millionaire sons trying to cheat the crooked billionaire NCAA system to make more millions, whether he did it or not.

It's life these days.

"Johnny Football" was destined to be a pro football player. He was groomed for it, responded at every level, and was just biding his time until he could declare for the draft. It's really the world we live in, and without getting into the eccentricities of how the NFL draft is set-up, and when amateur players are allowed to declare themselves for the NFL draft, "Johnny Football" didn't give two heavy bags of manure about being in college.

It was basically a place for him to cultivate his image, which he did, a lot.

The reality is that we don't know who these people are behind the scenes. Rich or poor, we just don't know. Sure, social media is like the Holiday Inn Express of bluster. Most think they know who Johnny Manziel is. Most think they understand everything about him, even though they've never walked in his shoes.

It's garbage.

I'm not letting anyone off for their mistakes, but in the same respect and regards, I'm not saying I understand them either.

The only thing that's guaranteed in life is that whatever "level" monetarily we find ourselves in, there are equitable problems that can follow without the right guidance, or the right choices. Watching rich people screw up is frustrating, because we would never screw up like that if we had that money. But somewhere deep inside, close to where our soul resides, we know that being human doesn't disregard wealth, or lack thereof. Somewhere deep inside, we know that if the spotlight shifted onto any one of us, that the path before us isn't always the correct road to travel.

While we here in the United States often idealize "the road less traveled" as building more character, that same weed-riddled path can often lose the travelers along the way, regardless of social standing. Life can spit out the weak, and shove character aside like a tidal wave.

That's what happened to Johnny Manziel on his way to "Johnny Football." While many of us can't fathom that a millionaire kid, treated like gold throughout his life, somehow got lost in the maze of life, that's exactly what happened.

I have always found myself rooting for Johnny Manziel, and much of that wasn't about football, as his career shifted from college to the pro ranks. Sure, it started that way. When the Cleveland Browns drafted Johnny Manziel, my first thought was, "well, he's an amazing athlete. If it all clicks, he could be special." I didn't care about the celebrity. I didn't care about all of the dumb, idiotic things Manziel did, or allegedly did. I was enticed by his football talent. I won't lie. I kinda liked his bravado as well. Watching a player cinch his fingers a multitude of times in my hometown was that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Unfortunately, Johnny Manziel..."Johnny Football" was far from a leprechaun. Oh, he had all the characteristics of those mischievous, mythical beasts. Oh, he had his own pot of gold. Unfortunately, "Johnny Football" used most of that gold to garner the kind of attention that made most sane people wonder what was going on in his head.

Perhaps he was a leprechaun after all.

My initial thoughts in his early days were to separate Johnny Manziel from "Johnny Football." Unfortunately, life isn't really separated by character names or roles. In the land of Hollywood, actors portray characters that aren't real. In the land of life, it doesn't matter what names people call you, your actions have real-life consequences.

I was rooting for Johnny Manziel. I wanted him to succeed. It had nothing to do with the Cleveland Browns. It had everything to do with just the plain and simple idealism that all people can reach their potential, if given the opportunity.

But my problem was always trying to figure out who this "Johnny Football" really was. Was there some sort of stage that Manziel stepped on when he became "Johnny Football?" Was there a human side to the caricature of a professional athlete that he had become, without the merit of star professional athletes?

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All the misgivings were floating around the the Browns' second first round pick two-plus years ago when they selected the gunslinger from Texas A&M. How could they not. "Johnny Football" was at the center of the NFL universe before he played a down. "Johnny Football" was at the center of ESPN's universe even when his train jumped the track, over-and-over again. When "Johnny Football" made his money-sign endzone dance, little did we know that it was a marketing sign for media outlets to draw dump trucks of cash.

Who am I kidding. We all knew that's the direction this was going. Whether or not he could play, he was bank to everyone who could get their greedy and needy fingers around his rather sizable ego.

Any chance Johnny Manziel had to break free of Johnny Football dissipated the second he began making a larger-than-life name for himself in college. In the world of realism, crashing-and-burning sells. It garners attention. It's the new vaudeville. Johnny Manziel, for his "15 minutes of fame," was the ringmaster of NFL's three-ring circus. He was the car speeding down the street at midnight without its lights on. He was a jackhammer to anything resembling an ideal. He was a cautionary tale that sold newspapers, and put eyes on screens.

He didn't have a chance.

This isn't to divert blame from the unfortunate path that Johnny Manziel took on his way to becoming "Johnny Football." In the end, every person is responsible for their own actions, even if the cards are stacked against them.

Some people flourish when the spotlight is placed directly on them. Some people have built the type of character and moxie that legends are made of. Most people don't.

Of course, "stacked against him" is all relative, considering where he came from. His great-grandfather, Bobby Joe Manziel was a Lebanese boxer who was friends with heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey. Bobby Joe retired from boxing, and borrowed $400 from Dempsey to try and drill an oil well. He hit black gold. Since then, while the Manziels were a family full of talent, and loaded with oil-built wealth, they've equally been ripe with all the problems that come with that misguided privilege, if handled the wrong way.

I don't know Johnny Manziel, or his upbringing, but it's clear that he had means that many are lucky enough to have. This goes beyond athletic talent. So when I say the cards were "stacked against him," we're talking about his athletic career, and how it bled into his personal life. We're also talking about the allowances that he was clearly given, and without parameters, a "beast," of sorts, was born.

This shouldn't have been about domestic issues or alcohol or drugs or parties or perhaps even life-or-death. This should have been about talent and touchdowns. Of course, this is the NFL, and too often, these tales end up in the courtroom or worse, the court of social media opinion.

Manziel came from a life of privilege, and didn't have a thing to worry about, if you consider money to be the only thing people have to worry about. Most would shrug their shoulders at that and say, "most NFL players come from humble beginnings, and have to fight their way out of gangs, shootings and drugs. THAT'S a real problem." They wouldn't be wrong, but there is truth to the thinking that constantly being praised for being "amazing" has its pratfalls too.

Manziel's own father was concerned about his son's behaviors long before he was even a thought in the Browns' drafting minds and heart. When asked about his son's anger and penchant for drinking and celebrity, his reply was certainly foreboding.
"Yeah, it could all come unraveled, and when it does, it's gonna be bad. Real bad."
Of course, was his path ever diverted? Was he ever held accountable? As Johnny Manziel veered more and more off the beaten path, did anyone provide him the coordinates and parameters to make successful decisions?

Unfortunately, habitual behavior is hard to overcome, especially when it comes to addiction, and who knows what addictions we are talking about here. Are they drug addiction? Are they alcohol addictions? Are they spotlight addictions? Are they all of the above?

Manziel's role in this can't be ignored. In the end, the burden of his mistakes is directly on his own shoulders. He left a University amid turmoil. He'll soon be leaving a professional organization in search of yet another "franchise quarterback." He's likely poison to most NFL franchises at this point. Allegations or not, and charges dropped or not, acquiring a player with potentially a history of domestic issues isn't on the top of most team's lists. Acquiring a player that's not really done a whole lot in their professional career outside of rehab, parties, suspensions and trouble will likely leave him an afterthought.

But this the NFL.

A team may yet give him another chance. This is Johnny Football after all. He's swashbuckling. He's rich. He's handsome. He'll provide everyone around him a good time, regardless of his football talent.

But I do root for people.

My sincere hope is that "Johnny Football" is expelled from the football ranks, and that the millionaire, who doesn't need the game of football to make it in life, has his stage taken away. While I don't know Johnny Manziel, I'm not sure "Johnny Football" does either.

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I often think back to last offseason, when Manziel entered rehab, and wonder if he didn't find himself a bit. He entered rehab at, or around January 28th, and was released some time in early April. During his stay, he was able to leave on occasion, for family and holiday functions. He seemed to be doing great.

When he entered camp, there was no melodrama. He learned his plays, and he seemed to welcome the opportunity to earn his teammates trust. This was exactly the opposite stance he had taken the previous year, when he clearly didn't know the playbook when he was given the opportunity to start late in the season.

Perhaps "Johnny Football" was tucked away somewhere safely away from Johnny Manziel, and the privileged kid was able to just be himself for awhile.

Of course, that's the idealism talking.

We all know that "Johnny Football" is Johnny Manziel, and that the line between the two is likely blurred and gray. Like anything that's habitual, one is the other, and perhaps the only break between the two is the separation of Johnny Manziel and the term football. Perhaps that's the toxicity that needs to be removed from the boy, in order for him to become a man.

You see, I root for people.

I root for Johnny Manziel, and hope that he figures out that his life has value outside of the tabloids, outside of the people taking advantage of "Johnny Football," and away from the NFL; before there's no life left to value.

Let's hope he can find his path back to a healthy and successful life, before his life is lost forever.
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