Johnny Manziel has become a reality star due to his offseason behavior. Stephen Silver challenges the conventional wisdom that this calls into question his character.
With NFL training camps opening and baseball approaching its trade deadline while confronting its latest drug scandal, the biggest story in sports is. . . the partying of Texas A&M quarterback and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.
Manziel, a 20-year-old sophomore nicknamed “Johnny Football,” won the Heisman last year as a redshirt freshman and is generally considered a top NFL prospect—that is as long as his career isn’t derailed on account of “out of control partying” and “character questions.”
Manziel was arrested in the summer of 2012—before last season and prior to his time as a national household name—for his part in a bar fight, in which he was also found to be using a fake ID. More recently, Manziel was asked to leave an offseason football camp run by Peyton and Eli Manning’s family due to an “illness,” widely assumed to have followed a night of drinking.
Just last weekend, a tour by Manziel of University of Texas frat parties was treated, by many sports blogs, with the sort of tick-tock coverage usually saved for official presidential visits. There were stories about Manziel having spent time with rapper Drake and, of course, no end of disapproval from some talking heads.
Has Johnny Manziel acted in an irresponsible manner? Possibly. Does this reflect “poor character” on his part, to the point where he may not deserve to be chosen with a high draft choice by an NFL team? Of course not.
Every year around the time of the NFL and NBA drafts, we hear a lot about “character questions” involving athletes. Did this guy feud with his college coach? Does he have a history of arrests, failed drug tests, or even prison time? Teams are asked to consider whether they can justify giving a chance to a guy with that sort of background or, more practically, if it’s worth drafting a player who may one day need to be suspended or released.
This has come up a lot, to state a rather horrific example, in the case of Aaron Hernandez, the now-former New England Patriots tight end who’s already been indicted for one murder and is reportedly suspected of multiple others. Hernandez, after a superlative college career, was chosen in the fourth round in the 2010 draft, due largely to the proverbial “character questions,” which in his case was a euphemism for “multiple failed drug tests.”
These questions have prompted Sportswriter Nation to imply the Patriots should have seen that whole murder thing coming. Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk even suggested, ludicrously, that the NFL strip draft picks from teams who draft players who commit crimes, as though taking a chance on a player with a checkered past wasn’t a huge risk on the team’s part as it is.
Then again, all kinds of players who were accused of untoward behavior in college went on to have successful, incident-free pro careers. Remember Cam Newton, and his stolen-laptop and pay-to-play scandals during his collegiate career?
Then again, I don’t think we’ve seen nearly enough to suggest that Manziel has either “character concerns” or a “checkered past.” The question I pose to anyone alleging that is, “Weren’t you ever 20?”
Johnny Manziel, based on what we know about him, is a 20-year-old star quarterback who likes to party. I’m guessing at least three quarters of quarterbacks currently on NFL rosters fit that same description when they were 20, and that percentage is likely even higher for current college QBs. Some of them probably got in bar fights and—shocking, I know—I’m guessing more than a handful of them even had fake IDs at one point.
Sure, if Manziel did in fact get drunk and oversleep at the Manning football camp, that doesn’t reflect especially well on him. But it also doesn’t deserve to go in the same category as someone who failed multiple drug tests, accepted improper benefits, ran someone over while drunk driving, or committed a violent assault—sexual or otherwise—much less a murder. Those are all things current or very recent NFL players have done.
The operative question to ask is, is there any evidence that Manziel’s partying has affected his play on the field? The bar fight and Manning incidents both took place during the offseason. And don’t tell me he’s hurting his training—we all went to college with people who could party the night away on a Saturday night and get up on Sunday morning, do six straight hours of studying and then write a term paper.
If Manziel were getting drunk the night before games, playing hungover and costing his team games, then I suppose that would go into the category of “character questions.” But what he’s done so far? Absolutely not.
Photo: AP/Gary Cosby Jr