Today’s article: “Johnny Manziel Is Number One,” Barry Petchesky, Deadspin
No long, drawn-out intro today, readers, we’re going to get straight into it. Our topic: the ever-controversial Johnny Manziel. In the span of just a couple of years, Manziel’s skyrocketed from an unknown quarterbacking recruit out of a random Texas high school to one of the most famous athletes in America, partially because of his talent but predominantly because of his antics. And his antics seem to split the line between his supporters and his detractors.
Last night brought the latest transgression, or if you’re keen on not viewing Manziel as the symbol for Everything Wrong With This Generation, last night brought his latest amusing action (you can probably guess which side I fall on). On a Monday night preseason game against the Redskins, Manziel flipped a middle finger to the Washington bench, later admitting their incessant shit-talking had gotten under his skin and he’d lost his composure.
One can probably predict how some reacted to this egregious act of disrespect. Joe Theismann tweeted some bullshit, Skip Bayless gleefully rubbed his hands together in excitement, and Manziel’s own coach gave the whole “disappointed” speech.
Aspects of Deadspin’s piece pretty much sums up my reaction: who the fuck cares? The dude threw up a middle finger, unfortunately on national television. Cool. I do that multiple times a day (not on national television). And yet, Theismann, for example, reacted like Manziel had been caught driving under the influence.
There’s a whole conversation here, about how some sports takes themselves too damn seriously. Baseball is obviously the biggest offender with all of its bullshit unwritten rules, but football can be just as bad. We’ve ragged on Roger Goodell often in this space, and this is another arena where his idea of this sanitized image of the NFL permeates every crevice of the league’s output. When one person DARES to challenge the status quo, they freak the fuck out.
And it’s not like Manziel is harmful in any way. He’s just fun as shit, and doing exactly what he wants. He behaves exactly how I’d imagine I’d behave if I was an extremely talented quarterback with a fucking Heisman Trophy to my name. He’s hilarious to watch, and I don’t understand how anyone can see something like this video, for example, and instead of being amused, use it as another talking point to call Manziel “immature.”
That brings me to my other point: I’m not sure how controversial Manziel really is. Cam, do you know anyone our age that doesn’t like Manziel? That finds him irritating and disrespectful? Perhaps the media outrage cycle belies the fact that Manziel actually is a fairly popular character, and ESPN personalities are disproportionally represented in mainstream media. Or maybe it’s just an older generation thing. Either way, I think there’s some sense of unanimity among people our age in our fandom of Manziel. Perhaps it’s just the league that has a vested interest in sanitizing everyone’s image, and journalists like Peter King are eager to blare out the party line to anyone who’s interested.
I know a few people our age who dislike Manziel. Seems like most also dislike things like partying, pot, and rap music. It’s the group of kids who, for whatever reason, look down on popular forms of entertainment — whether that be a football player or drink — and deem it “immature.” Maybe they’re just pretentious. Maybe they’ve always been outcasts of sorts and feel the need to justify their sad lives by hating on everything that brings joy to their more socially affluent peers. Whatever the reason, these guys won’t miss a chance to tell you that Manziel is an attention whore whose behavior is stupid and vulgar, just like your favorite Eminem song.
You’re right, though, almost everyone our age is a Johnny Football fan. I am too, a pretty big one. Not that I ever invested myself in Texas A&M, or will care too much about how Cleveland does this year, but Manziel cracks me up and I like seeing him succeed. The humor in his antics hardly needs explanation. There’s not wit or punchline to floating down a river on an inflatable swan while chugging liquor, but you’re lying if you say you wouldn’t crack the fuck up at the sight of your own friend doing the same. And while sacrificing a day of lessons from Peyton Manning for a night of heavy drinking is admittedly pretty narrow-sighted, it’s hard not to chuckle at the thought of Manziel being so intent on having a good night that he kind of forgot he was supposed to be at football camp the next day. Manziel’s rowdiness is a reminder that life isn’t as serious as all of us non-Johnnys would like to think, and that thought makes me smile.
But I also want Manziel to be more than a source of laughs, I want him to continue dominating football games. For one, it’ll silence clowns like Theismann and Bayless, and hopefully force them to get heated about NFL players whose behavior is actually damaging to the league (like running backs who beat their wives). If Manziel can rise above the “immaturity” that leads to bird-flipping and bottoms-up’ing, and competently lead the Browns, his detractors will have to acknowledge they’ve been focusing on petty shit all along. But more than anything, I just want Manziel throw touchdowns and win games for humanity’s sake. That sounds like an overstatement, and it is, but my point’s merely that seeing him succeed will be at least one break in a stupid notion our culture often advances: that having fun and accomplishing meaningful things are mutually exclusive.
Give me your more detailed take on Manziel. Why do you find him funny, and are you going to be cheering him on this season? What pisses you off most about the people who rag on him?
I think that narrow-mindedness is why I find Johnny Manziel such a likable character. Sometimes, it feels like these athletes in the brightest of spotlights — Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Tom Brady, etc. — are no more than football automatons, robots built specifically for the purpose of throwing footballs accurately. Russell Wilson’s one of my favorite athletes, but there’s nothing relatable about him. He’s boringly perfect. Manziel, on the other hand, makes the same stupid mistakes I make in my own life, and continues to do so despite intense scrutiny from the national media of a country of 300,000,000 people.
And yes, that’s why I am desperately rooting for Manziel to succeed. I don’t have much to add to your point about how his success is a middle finger (ha) to all of the people who think Manziel’s propensity for fun excludes him from contributing meaningfully to a football team. Yeah, it’s hyperbole to say that he’s winning games for humanity’s sake, but I don’t think it’s too strong to say that his success/failure will change the conversation on how we view athletes who have an outsized personality. And that’s kind of a big deal, in terms of how the league wants to market itself going forward.
What pisses me off the most about the people who rag on him…that’s a question that could make me sound like a jerk, so I’ll refrain from answering too extensively. Let’s just say I don’t think they’re having the most fun.
A successful season from Manziel would also be a kind of confidence boost to all of us out there who lack the diligence of someone like Wilson. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve woken up from a night of drinking, even if it followed a heavy week of reading and writing, only to think, “Russ wouldn’t have done that.” I’m half-joking, but only half, because, again, our people love pushing the narrative of the laser-focused athlete/academic/businessman/etc. On any post-party morning, it’s hard to think that I compromised my chances at success by treating myself to some fun. And so I think Johnny Football, sill as this may sound, really could become a sort of personal inspiration to younger adults. We’ll see a Manziel touchdown pass and think, you know, even if I do get inflatable-swan drunk sometimes, I’ll be okay.
I guess I’ll answer my own question about why I can’t stand the Bayless-esque takes on Manziel. You put it pretty plainly and true in your first email: obnoxious as Manziel might sometimes be, it’s not as if he’s harming anyone. Yeah, middle fingers are a poor way to deal with your anger, acting like you’re so rich you talk on a phone made of money is douchey, and failing to handle your responsibilities because you’re too hungover is regrettable. But why the fuck does the media care what victimless mistakes Manziel’s making on his own time? If he really does become too consumed by the fast life to handle quarterbacking duties, only he and the Browns organization will be worse for it. I have a really hard time believing that Skip Bayless gives even one fuck about either Manziel’s or his team’s well-being, so why’s he getting red in the face over Manziel making the “right” choices?
And let’s not forget about the Colin Cowherd herd, the ones who see their criticism of raucous behavior as a duty done “for the kids.” We better blast Johnny Football’s every off-field action, lest we want to raise a generation whose preferred method of diplomacy is a double bird! Fuck that. Let me tell you, if your kid sees Manziel flip someone off and immediately thinks “hey, that’s cool,” the bad role model is not the athlete, but you, the parent.