Johnny Manziel is no hero, and in danger of no longer being a football hero


Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel gets a lot of attention, especially after he won the Heisman Trophy last year. (Dave Martin/AP)
Mike Wise
Columnist August 10, 2013

If you want to read that it’s okay to pound beers and get locked up for disorderly conduct and have a fake ID because you’re 19 and you were going to the win the Heisman Trophy later on that year anyway and all kids do dumb things, go somewhere else. If you want to make a rebel without a clue out to be Che Guevara, try another columnist.

Johnny Manziel is not Che Guevara or Norma Rae or Curt Flood. He is not the flashpoint for change in the hypocrisy that is unpaid apprenticeships in college athletics.

Mike Wise is a sports columnist for The Washington Post. View Archive

He’s closer to the intersection of Kevin Federline and Kid Rock, about a trailer park away from Tonya Harding. He is a Texas-size dumpster fire who stands for nothing and is just plumb lucky that Texas A&M and NCAA investigators fall for everything.

In fact, in fairness to Manziel and the growing social crusade he has allegedly spawned for the humane treatment of jailed, shirtless Heisman winners everywhere, I thought hard about the stupidest thing I did at 20.

Oh, yeah. When I was playing college basketball very sparingly at a junior college in Northern California, I learned to steal from the gymnasium soda machine. Two teammates working in unison showed me how to tilt the machine back until Dr Peppers and Cokes tumbled down the metal chute.

Except when I tried this stunt by myself while working at a freight company, rocking that 6-foot-2 behemoth once, twice, three times, the machine . . . fell on me.

All anyone reported seeing after the booming, violent thud was my head and outstretched forearms, as if I had come dressed to work as a giant Mountain Dew machine and decided to lie down on my back. My right knee crushed through the hard plastic facade.

When my supervisor went to get a pen for me to sign my termination papers, I stole every M&M out of his desk candy jar — because I would show him how dumb he was to lose a guy who dropped the break-room soda machine on himself while trying to steal from the company.

But at least my complete idiocy at 20 didn’t affect my chosen profession as an adult or endanger my college career. No one cared or wrote about my marginal college athletic career.

The only difference between me at 20 and Manziel at 20 is everything. People care who he is and what he does when he’s not slaying Alabama on national television.

What Johnny Football — Foosball, Foolsgold, whatever — doesn’t get is that he’s not playing at a no-name junior college in the nooks and crannies of East Texas. He signed an athletic scholarship to play in College Station, at Texas A&M, which began competing last season in the most successful and scrutinized conference in college football.

Prominent athletes who stand to reap great rewards from their considerable physical talent and personal appeal have to understand, even at 20, that they are held to a higher standard of decency and behavior than other kids hitting the kegger in the back of the dorm room. Signing a scholarship with a school of Texas A&M’s caliber means you literally sign up for that double standard.

Part of the job as a starting quarterback at a Southeastern Conference school is ambassador, pitchman. That’s the deal. We give kids scholarships to lead our big-time football teams as freshmen because they supposedly have more talent and leadership qualities than other kids who have to live out their athletic dreams with 50 people in the stands.

If Manziel wants to throw it all away and take on this iconoclast-who-doesn’t-like-the-attention label, fine. Let him. But his actions don’t dovetail with this whole Prisoner of His Own Fame act.

Earlier this month he was accused of accepting money from memorabilia dealers for autographs he signed in January, which threatens his eligibility. It culminated an offseason of being booted from the Manning Passing Academy because he says he overslept; tweeting that he couldn’t wait to leave College Station after getting a parking ticket; and being kicked out of a party at Texas because nothing says “I Hate Being Famous” more than showing up at a fraternity house of your archrival.

Wright Thompson, one of the more gifted people in my business, wrote the equivalent of an intervention for Manziel in a recent issue of ESPN the Magazine. It portrays an angry kid, chained up by his celebrity and sick and tired of meeting people. A series of anecdotes show him ordering beers with his old man on the golf course, at lunch, whenever.

Memo to every kid who wants a man card: If a good chunk of your relationship with your father is knocking back longnecks with him before you’re of legal drinking age, you might want to red flag that one.

He comes across as if he would have been better off partying at some nondescript junior college where no one knew his name and he could make all the stupid mistakes he wanted on his way to finding his real lot in life.

Trust me: It’s not a better life than beating Alabama and winning the Heisman.

The kid doesn’t have to instantly transform his live-wire personality into saintliness. He doesn’t have to become Johnny Be Good. But even Johnny Be Civil would be a hell of an improvement. And I’ll guarantee this: It’s a lot better than Johnny Be Undrafted.

For more by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.

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