It’s impossible to know at this point what kind of pro quarterback — or guy — Johnny Manziel will turn out to be. But the grim moralizers have no right to dictate who he is or what he should act like so long as he’s still a nominal amateur who plays the game for room, board, tuition and free drinks.
Most of the critics ripping the Heisman Trophy winner for his offseason behavior are users and touts trying to build their names by invoking his. Their so-called concern over Manziel’s comportment and how it might affect his future draft status is nothing more than ginned-up controversy for paid-subscriber consumption based on his star power. The day Texas A&M pays Manziel a licensing fee for trading on his image is the day we can write a morals clause into his contract. Until then, the only people with the right to scold him are the head coach who gave him a scholarship and his daddy.
Manziel may or may not have been overserved, which may or may not have prevented him from getting out of bed and missing a session at the Manning family’s summer football camp last week. Apparently he lay there in a heap under the gaze of Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, his roommate, whose dimpled Shirley Temple demeanor is the model Manziel’s critics want — as if quarterbacking and on-field generalship are in direct proportion to Prince Charmingness. And as if being overserved and oversleeping defines Manziel once and for all as an entitled slacker. Well, so what if he is?
The main impression left by Manziel since last week is that he’s un-embarrassable. There was something Teflon about Manziel’s self-possessed public appearance this week at Southeastern Conference football media days, where he was forced to answer questions about his drinking, sleeping and tweeting habits.
“At the end of the day, I’m not going for the Miss America pageant,” he said. You could interpret that as either supremely confident or too dumb to learn. The point is, we can’t know which one he is yet. He’s 20. And you know what else? It’s summer.
As the first redshirt freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, Manziel played football last season with all the abandon of a Labrador chasing a toy. He apparently enjoys his life off the field with the same mindless energy. He’s been caught roistering outside of a bar, aired indiscretions on Twitter and committed the unpardonable sins of relishing his celebrity — and his daddy’s money — with courtside seats at an NBA game and a round of golf at Pebble Beach. All of which he refuses to apologize for. “I’m going to continue to live life to the fullest,” he says.
In response, his critics have acted as if he’s a step away from being handcuffed for felonies. Radio jock Paul Finebaum believes he’s “trending for a train wreck.” He also accuses Manziel of violating some kind of solemn oath with the Mannings, who are “football’s royalty,” by oversleeping at their camp.
Now, the camp was a volunteer affair. And the Mannings are very nice and unpretentious people who are regular enough to recoil at being described as royalty. Also, they grew up in New Orleans — where, I’m guessing, some beer and maybe even a Hurricane or two passed their royal, overly solemnified and deified lips.