Anyone tired of Manziel-Gate 2013? Rather, Manziel-Gate July 2013? Yep, me too. For those of you stuck under rock or reading books and interacting with others, a couple of weeks ago news hit that Johnny Manziel had, by mutually consent, agreed to leave the Manning Passing Academy. Now Johnny's been plastered all over ESPN and Sports Illustrated with "in depth stories" about his drinking problem and his public persona being out of control.
Wright Thompson and Andy Staples both spent time with Johnny and both wrote articles. The crux of both was that Johnny was nearing a point where the media coverage, both traditional and social, were threatening to ruin his promising career.
Let's summarize, Johnny's in a fish bowl and the whole world is watching him. Oh and he's friends with Drake.
I have two divergent points on this issue. And to be honest, I don't really care much about it. I went to A&M, full disclosure, but years of Dennis Franchione and Bill Byrne's act soured me more than a little bit. Plus, I'm pretty sure A&M is a cult. There I said it, now if you need me I'll be hiding under my bed.
Let's talk about point number one: Who Gives a S**t? I'm raising my hand. Who's with me? Johnny Manziel is 20 and drinking. Stop the presses, hit breaks, burn the mother down! Let me bet that if you followed around, oh I don't know, David Ash, or Garrett Gilbert, or Casey Pachall (ok bad example) or AJ McCarron, or Bryce Petty when they were 20, they probably snuck a beer or 50 and made some questionable comments, maybe even tweeted them, and probably have some regrets. Well maybe everyone except Bryce Petty. He goes to Baylor so following him around at 20 is probably pretty boring except for the rager milk shake parties on the quad and debates over Calvinism.
The difference appears to be that Johnny's got money and so Johnny can go to a Drake concert in Toronto. Not that anybody should want to do that, but there's no accounting for taste. As long as there aren't illegal benefits changing hands I don't really care. As Johnny said, he's 20 and he's going to act 20. We all wish we could do the same. (Holy cow, he met 2 Chainz!) We even celebrate those that do.
Remember ESPN classic used to do those Sports Century documentaries on people like Joe Namath, etc. Remember how Namath did things like drink too much, wear fur coats, chase women, and wear panty hose? We eat that stuff up. Art Donovan always told a story about how he and his teammates filled up a glass shower with water until the floor caved in. We laughed. Mickey Mantle RAN through New York City, leaving a carnage of Brunettes and Blondes and liquor bottles in his wake. I don't have the articles with me, but I'd bet that no one said to Broadway Joe that he should respect the game more or that Mickey Mantle should be aware of his image. That stuff is now legendary. Legendary because few people witnessed it but the stories grow with time. We don't have that creative luxury now. We see all and know all. Usually within the 24-hour news cycle.
While we're at it "respecting the game" is a phrase I don't understand. How exactly do we do that? It sounds like respecting the game means we all walk around like brown shirts and kneel before football or baseball like they're some minor deities.
Transcendent players are beings of self expression, creativity, and humanity, not drones. They do their thing and we watch because we can't even hope to do their thing. And when they're done doing that thing, they can go and do whatever they want with whomever they want and barring illegality (Aaron Hernandez I'm looking at you) the "game", whatever that means, doesn't suffer from lack of respect. Respecting the game is jocular locker room jargon that only exists to make a very few feel elevated for doing something they are genetically and physiologically predisposed to do. You never hear an accountant tell another accountant to "respect accounting" because they're usually smarter than that. Mark May and his like play the respect card because they don't have ANYTHING useful/non cliche to say. I've seen your bit Mark May, the second you have something worthwhile to offer we'll all know it because you'll looked as shocked as we will.
If Johnny's off the field issues are an issue then guess what: we've got the greatest dispenser of justice in college athletics waiting for him in September. The SEC. Alabama has spent ten months bunkered up watching film, devising new and incredible schemes to break Johnny in two. LSU welcomes him to Death Valley. Heck, even Fayetteville, Arkansas is salivating at the chance to crush the golden boy. If he gets crushed, great, Icarus flew too close to the sun or listened to too much Drake, whichever. But if he performs like he did last year or even comparably, then the sports moralists need to find someone else to shred with a thousand cuts.
Either way, Johnny will sink or float. He'll still be a 20-something college student with bad tats and a penchant for beer drinking. Visit your local college campus. He's not that unusual. Further, like the rest of the bros you'll meet, he's far from the finished article.
Second, ESPN and SI are both putting out pieces about the dangers of celebrity on Johnny Manziel. Think about that for a second, we're ESPN, we've locked Johnny into a constant scroll on our family of networks and we've got a 24-7 spread on Johnny on our websites. Is all the attention hurting Johnny Manziel? Find out tonight at 10. Oh and by the way, we've got A&M's opener with Rice in August on ESPN 2.
ESPN and SI are in the business of forging super hero narrative. It's what they do. That's why, as Tim Marchman brilliantly points out, we get 6,000 words on the moral tug of war inside Johnny Football but no conclusions or even positioning statements. If you think Johnny Football is a drunk, then throw it out there. If you think he's out of control, then say it. But they don't. This is all about continuing the narrative. "The season will bring the answer." wrote Wright Thompson, what he neglected to write was that ESPN will cover it all in brilliant HD and oh by the way they pay my salary so maybe that's why I'm here, to forge the narrative. Does Superman really hate kryptonite? You decide!
Thompson, who I follow on twitter, tends to feel a little self important whether he's talking about his taste in bourbon or his articles. He tweeted:
If you say so Wright. You totally struck a nerve with 'Merica. I guess it means something. People either like Manziel or despise him. Thompson certainly insinuates that Manziel has a drinking problem, but then couches the assertion in Manziels parents concern for their child. The idea is to get people talking. You fall in one of two the two camps Thompson poses right? This is a classic ESPN-journo shell game. Reduce something down or rather convince everyone that the reduction is proper and then debate it. Put it on First Take and let Screamin' A and Skip hash it out. Put a poll up on Sportsnation. Point counter point on twitter. Is Johnny a little boy lost or is he the ultimate A-hole. You decide! But it's all just chatter to sell advertising and draw in viewers. A column built to make the rounds on ESPN's family of networks. Whether ESPN will admit it, that's always the point.
ESPN and SI dictate the scroll at the bottom of your television. So when they say Johnny Manziel is back in the news remember a college kid going to Spring Break or tweeting out frustration, or going to a concernt is not news until someone decides it is. Decision makers don't make it news unless they can, for lack of a better word, sell papers. Super heroes sell papers, not 20 year-olds with bad tats.
When Andy Staples hounds Manziel for an interview he's admitting that Johnny Football doesn't want to be in the headlines, but SI wants him there because that story will sell. Staples even admits that Manziel isn't doing anything any other 20 year old wouldn't be doing, but then SI isn't hounding many 20 year-olds for a cover story. Keep moving the plot points along. Keep selling papers.
The articles and coverage have a undercurrent of "Johnny Football is over exposed" and to deal with that issue we'll expose it. Staples, in a separate behind the scenes look at his article (speaking of self-importance) makes a point of saying that Manziel had to be coaxed into sitting down by some of his most trusted friends. Staples assured Manziel's buddies that he would write a fair accurate article.
Well who in the hell decides what's fair?
Manziel could have said no, and I'm not eliminating any blame from his camp throughout these past 10 months, but it is tempting to do a sit down with a guy who's going to throw out an accurate portrayal of you if you think your portrayal has been otherwise inaccurate. Unless you get script approval or sit on the editorial board, once the story is written, the accuracy component lies with the writer and his editors. Their primary concern isn't accuracy, it's chatter.
Here's a thought Johnny, you be you, but don't let "them" have access to think they can write you, accurately or not.
Oh, and please come quickly football season. The world needs you.