There was a time when I didn't feel the least bit sorry for Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, the 20-year-old phenom who became the first freshman in history to win the Heisman Trophy. Woe was not Johnny, despite his belly aching over media coverage of his own making.
But there's a difference in riding the train and driving the bus, and the latest round of media coverage has crossed the line.
An elaborately detailed and expertly sourced article on Deadspin takes readers down the Manziel family line, all the way back to 1883 in Syria. As convoluted and corrupt as the Manziel family tree seems to have been more than 100 years ago, it's entirely unfair to pin that on Johnny, who wasn't even born when the vast majority of his ancestors' alleged corruption occurred.
You can't pick your family, and Johnny Football didn't ask to be related to oil wildcatters, cock fighters and cocaine-traffickers.
You can't pick your family, and Johnny Football didn't ask to be related to oil wildcatters, cock fighters and cocaine-traffickers. If you'd like to judge him based on that activity, I'd invite you to do a little digging into your own family history. Sure, your great-great grandfather may not have cozied up to Jack Dempsey in a string of questionable business deals. But odds are there'd be a few surprises.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the spectrum sits Texas Monthly, which has dedicated its September cover to a Superman version of Johnny Football. There's certainly room for Lone Star State bravado when it comes to pigskin, but it hardly seems appropriate to put the kid on an even greater pedestal just days after serious NCAA violation allegations.
Despite what senior editor Jason Cohen said in an August 7 post, there's nothing heroic about signing autographs for cash as a college player. Fight unjust rules in the courtroom; don't use it as an excuse to cheat with backroom deals.
Athletes who have no respect for the rules aren't to be exalted. Sports are nothing without the rules that govern them, and breaking the rules off the field is just one step away from skirting them on the field. Or, as David Zirin so plainly said for The Nation recently: "No, for the love of God, Johnny Manziel isn't Rosa Parks."
All of this comes on the heels of an ESPN The Magazine story that shamelessly included a fantasized police report about Manziel being arrested in Plano and watching his NFL career go up in flames before it even started.
Not since Tim Tebow has a college player captivated this much public scrutiny. And Johnny Football, by his own admission, is no Tim Tebow. The homeschooled altar boy was maligned for being overly pious and perfect. Manziel takes heat for precisely the opposite kind of behavior.
It's one thing when Manziel ends up in headlines for what he's done, however stupid and mundane: throwing up antagonist tweets with wads of cash; illegally parking his Mercedes-Benz in cop-happy College Station; getting kicked out of the Manning Passing Academy; and sauntering through a rival school's fraternity party circuit — in a Tebow Jets jersey, no less.
It's hard to have pity on a spoiled rich kid with no filter. It's much easier to sympathize with a boy who's being blamed for the mistakes of his father, and his father's father.