August 29, 2013

HOROWITZ | Let Johnny Be Jonathan

Print More

Texas A&M quarterback Jonathan Manziel’s short college career has been one of unparalleled on-field success. In the 2012 season, he became the first player to win the Heisman Trophy as a freshman. He was the first freshman to pass for 3000 yards and rush for 1000 in the same season. A talented dual-threat quarterback, his on-field performance reveals nothing but boundless potential for a successful collegiate and professional career.

However, Manziel’s off-the-field record is replete with behavioral problems. In June 2012, before he ever played his first collegiate game, Manziel was arrested for presenting a fake ID when police caught him in a street fight. After his Heisman season, Manziel was thrown out of a fraternity party at University of Texas, A&M’s bitter rival. He was dismissed from the Manning Passing Academy after he repeatedly overslept. After receiving a parking ticket for parking his car abnormally in front of his house at A&M, Manziel unleashed this angry tweet about his college: “Bulls— like tonight is a reason why I can’t wait to leave college station…whenever it may be.” Worst of all, ESPN recently revealed allegations that Manziel took payment for signing autographs, a direct violation of NCAA rules. This most recent misdeed has the potential to carry serious consequences, including long-term suspension.

Yet behind the scenes of the “Johnny Football” scandal, Manziel’s parents have always known him as Jonathan, a son with great potential but with a strong competitive streak, short temper, and craving for risk. After his burst to stardom in his freshman year, A&M crowned him with a new nickname, “Johnny Football.” The trail of trouble has elevated Johnny Football into a major media icon. The personality has taken on a life of its own, with the press eager to latch onto the next chapter in the ongoing saga.  Lost on many, but not on his parents, is that he’s still the same Jonathan. He’s a kid from a well-off family with strong principles of proper conduct who’s struggling to mature.  In this sense, he’s like all college adolescents, endeavoring to solidify his identity and navigate the road to adulthood.

Jonathan just can’t handle the pressure.  He can’t escape the world that only cares to see Johnny Football get into trouble again. Even Texas A&M seems to care more about profiting from Manziel’s stardom than about supporting and defending him through his struggles.  On this account, his parents are in complete agreement. When Jonathan and his parents requested that Jonathan’s copy of the Heisman be sent to the family home and it didn’t arrive, A&M told the family that it hadn’t yet arrived from New York. Yet, the Heisman Trust notified the family that it was sent directly to A&M. The family suspects that the school deliberately misled them.  And the problem is even more complex. The NCAA investigates every angle of of the Manziel family’s fortune and daily transactions, and Texas A&M is aiding the effort. The family has paid for the services of Jonathan’s therapist, while A&M is building a new atrium designed to flaunt Jonathan’s Heisman to recruiting prospects. His parents know his situation isn’t fair, but they also know that Jonathan needs to endure the pressure while staying out of trouble. Breaking the law is no coping mechanism.

The latest allegations could have major consequences. Multiple autograph dealers have accused Manziel of accepting thousands of dollars to sign autographs. A.J. Green, now on the Cincinnati Bengals, received a four game suspension for selling a jersey in 2009.  Multiple Ohio State players received five game suspensions for similar violations. The sums that Manziel is alleged to have accepted greatly exceed these previous violations, so the NCAA could impose even greater punishment if it can present adequate evidence.

Some probably hope that Manziel will receive the strictest possible punishment. They hope it will finally teach him the lesson that fame is no excuse for breaking the law. But this may not be the best idea. It may crush Jonathan to a point of no return, killing his drive for football success.  That would be a major loss for the sport and its fans.

Does Manziel really even deserve to be punished? He endures the same scrutiny and swarming press coverage as professional athletes, yet they can be paid for autographs. If schools and the media treat college athletes like professionals and profit from them, maybe college athletes should be paid too.

Or, there is the opposite approach. Let’s treat Jonathan like a 20 year old student, not a professional. Jonathan, and most 20 year olds, aren’t ready to be celebrities. The media should let the “Johnny Football” craze come to an end. Texas A&M should focus on helping Manziel feel welcome and cared for, not on profiting from him. True fans want Manziel to simply succeed and mature, so let’s just let Johnny be Jonathan.

Original Author: Ben Horowitz