Jan 4, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Texas A

Commentary: What Can Johnny Manziel Do For You?

“If you’re a college student, he’s just like you. Except much better at football.”

This isn’t going to be the “athletes aren’t role models, and they shouldn’t be treated like them” rant. Far from it. While I share that sentiment for the most part, the subject of this rant happens to be a 20-year old collegiate athlete – or what Deadspin refers to as a minor league football player – who may or may not be a little bit of a brat.

In my opinion, it’s almost not even fair to call him that.

In my opinion, ESPN‘s Scott Van Pelt’s (quoted above) assessment was more accurate. Johnny Manziel is a college student, and his behavior, attitude, and sense of entitlement aren’t all that different from an overwhelming amount of people his age across the country.

Until Deadspin’s article Wednesday afternoon, pointing out some of the underlying tones in ESPN’s Wright Thompson’s feature on Manziel, I really felt like the only reason we were all talking about the most recent Heisman winner so much was for the benefit of whoever the forum hosting the conversation was. And while Deadspin sort of crapped in my cereal, I still for the vast majority am disgusted with the media’s picking apart of a 20-year old kid.

Now, while I’ve seen sections of social media say Manziel gets favorable coverage considering all of the shenanigans he’s found himself amidst, lets for a second recap Johnny Football’s said shenanigans. Most recently, it’s come out that Manziel likes to drink with his buddies, he also shows up at rival colleges (ooooooohhhhh) frat parties, and drinks beers in a Tim Tebow jersey! Don’t forget flying out to cool it with pal Drake (he claims OVO on his Twitter profile, like a boss).

In other words, some of these offenses sound like the list that the janitor reads to Eric in Billy Madison.

Even though it may not be applicable, we’re not talking about a player or his family accepting money or driving any cars given to him by boosters, heck it’s not like he’s even flunking out of school. The only real blemish on Manziel’s record is that he got arrested the summer prior to his freshmen season (for coming to a buddies aid in a bar fight), where you guys remember him for winning the Heisman and taking the SEC by storm.

I don’t mean to downplay the possibility of Manziel having a drinking problem, but based on reading into quotes and very limited evidence, I’m not going to stand with the rest of the media and point fingers at a 20-year old because he likes to party like the rock star he is.

While my stance is clearly to defend Manziel, which I’ll expand upon shortly, of course I’ll acknowledge that Johnny Football hasn’t handled his success with much (if any) grace, and it’s a bad look for a star to seem as dense as he has. Whether or not he got kicked out of the Manning Quarterback camp for partying too hard, that story is just another example of speculation as to “what’s wrong with Johnny?”

He’s not entitled to the privacy that he’s made clear he so badly wants, but he’s been picked apart – from his girlfriend, to his friends, to his family, to his whereabouts and when he’s there – for the last few months and I don’t think it’s fair.

It’s impossible to avoid the fish bowl when you’re setting scoring records and winning a Heisman trophy as a freshman, but he’s not the first college football player to have such astronomical success, he’s just the first to really do it under the microscope that social media have created. Which I have to say, I’m cool with tweeters tweeting and bloggers blogging, but ESPN may as well have started a Johnny Manziel Index initiative months ago, and they’re adding to it fervently.

The story we almost all can’t wait to go away keeps coming back, as it looks like ESPN’s found their new Tebow. And while I thought that Thompson’s feature was actually very insightful, humanizing, and hopefully a piece that would allow readers to step down from their pedestals, it just gave ESPN a 5 hour energy shot to keep beating the dead horse.

Colin Cowherd, whose perspective I tend to really appreciate (seriously), took the article and pointed to Manziel’s financial security and pushy father as the reasons he feels he can distance himself from his popularity. Saying Manziel only likes being a superstar when it benefits Manziel, using an example like he doesn’t want to sign autographs for family members (which apparently he spends at least a half hour doing every time he sees his parents!), but if it’s a group of babes or sorority girls, he can’t sign his name quick enough.

While that’s Cowherd being snarky Cowherd, it almost made me hysterical that he said Johnny only does what Johnny wants to do when it’s good for Johnny, while ESPN seems to be using Manziel when it’s good for them. Does ESPN think we’re naïve enough to think that college athletes, specifically football players, drink less than your typical college students? Or are we supposed to be even more naïve and not take the drinking aspect of college into account at all?

I’ll feel really awful if it comes out that Manziel really has a drinking problem, but concerned parent ESPN should really back off of someone who they treat like TMZ despite him still being an underclassmen.

To me, it seems more like ESPN actually wants us to dislike Manziel. They want us to view him as if he’s LeBron post-decision. He’s the bad guy, he doesn’t care about anything off the field, and there’s nothing you can do to stop him on the field, cause he’s just that bad (Michael Jackson bad).

I’m not going to delve deep into ESPN’s SEC coverage heading into their 20-year TV deal with the conference starting in 2014, because frankly all the signs are pointing to Manziel ditching Texas A&M after this season for the NFL – if he’s capable of doing so.

Which again, arrives me back to my point of what is there to gain by picking this kid apart? While it doesn’t seem like Manziel’s season was a fluke, he’s no Andrew Luck. 6-foot-1, 200-pound, scrambling QB’s aren’t typically the toast of the NFL. Even if he would’ve been able to enter this past draft he more than likely would not have been a first round pick.

Honestly, Manziel is more Tebow/Eric Crouch than he is any kind of NFL quarterback in 2013.

So why do we have to tear him down? Why can’t we let him be the big man on campus? What has he really done that’s offended you or made you think he can’t sustain his success? What has he done to besmirch the good name of the NCAA? Or the integrity of college football?

While I know I’m one of the few people singing a sad song for him, I don’t think it’s right to interject our judgment and naysay at a 20-year old collegiate athlete who isn’t criminally breaking the law, harming/offending anyone, or doing anything but being a 20-year old kid.

Spoiled? More than likely. Humble? Most definitely not. But you not liking him for those reasons are you problems. And while ESPN may try to skew you into thinking he’s a dirt bag – which he might be – he’s bringing them, the NCAA, his university as well as his coach, and every single newspaper across the country covering his “trainwreck” some pretty pennies.

Yet here we are, judging a college kid.

All we’re hearing about is how a 20-year old, living a 20-year old’s dream, needs to grow up.

Keep living the dream Johnny, one more week until there’s actual NFL action, and then they’ll all go back to talking about Tebow.

It never fails.

If you’re interested in College Basketball snobs who constantly complain about the Knicks, Jay-Z, and the state of rap music, follow Jared on twitter at @JMintzHoops

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Tags: ESPN Heisman Johnny Football Johnny Manziel

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