On a recent drive with my wife on I-271, I checked my mirrors, intending to change lanes but saw another vehicle rocketing toward us from behind. It flew by us on our right, cut in front of us, and raced on at what seemed to be at least 90 miles per hour, maybe 100. We held our breath watching the car change lanes repeatedly and disappear out of sight ahead of us. I glanced at my wife who was clearly upset at what we had just witnessed, a public menace, risking the lives of dozens of others.
“Well,” I said, “it’s not Johnny Manziel, he’s in Cincinnati.”
But it was Johnny Manziel a few days earlier who was behaving as a public menace in much the same way and who was eventually pulled over and questioned. He had been drinking that afternoon but was not cited.
According to numerous reports, Manziel spent ten weeks in an addiction rehabilitation facility prior to that incident on I-90. The specific reason for his voluntary admission into the facility is not a matter of public record, but his problems with alcohol have been documented for several years. Even his own father said he had a problem with alcohol.
Only those in a face-saving mode, would think it a reasonable idea to continue the charade.
In preparation for writing this column, I went back and re-read a column posted on WFNY on March 27 this year titled “Can Johnny Manziel come back from the Celebrity Injured List” to see if much has changed in the last seven months. Not much at all, it turns out.
Why do I suggest this annulment? Because it’s the right time and it’s for everyone’s benefit. Call it a mismatch … with irreconcilable differences.
1. Manziel had remarkable success as a college quarterback, even becoming the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy in 2012. But his success had “does-not-necessarily-translate-to-the-NFL” written all over it. To begin with, there are virtually no advantages to being a short quarterback in the NFL. A scant few become stars or even starters. The smart path to follow, especially in the AFC North, would have been to develop a big, sturdy, strong-armed quarterback. Athleticism and a little mobility are always nice but counting on your little quarterback’s elusiveness and rushing yardage is a disaster waiting to happen.
2. Even casual fans know how important it is for a quarterback to be dedicated to film study. Work in the film room? Manziel’s coaches at Texas A&M and the quarterback, himself, made it clear he mostly just blew off that part of his job. In his rookie season (surprise, surprise) Manziel blew off that part of his job as a member of the Cleveland Browns. Supposedly there’s been improvement in this area, but as evidenced by recent events, it is still not a top priority.
3. From the March 27 column: “Anyone who has heard the story of Manziel’s commitment to glitz, to the party life, to the idea of intoxication-on-display as entertainment, must surely wonder if this 18/19/20-year-old had any significant influence in his life that sought to apply the brakes to this off-road speedster.” Prior to the Browns drafting him, Johnny Manziel, embracing the very public, celebrity persona as he did, revealed a great deal about himself, and much of it raised serious questions about his character. That information seems to have warded off many NFL suitors, but not the Cleveland Browns.
4. An oft-heard comment after Manziel was drafted was about the national attention he would bring to a mostly moribund Cleveland franchise. Form over substance. Glitz over competence. Giddy fans may be vulnerable to such shallow sentiments, but the team’s owner and the paid professionals charged with re-building a team that gets enormous financial support not just from fans, but from taxpayers, have no business playing with such baubles. There doesn’t have to be a public meeting of a Truth and Reconciliation Committee, but the Browns need to sit down and confront this one head on, because it shouldn’t happen again. Being motivated by the sale of a popular jersey can only lead to considering a jersey buy-back program.
5. That Manziel checked himself into an addiction rehab facility shows that, at some level, he understood the gravity of his situation. But being discharged after ten weeks signifies almost nothing on the long road back where addiction is concerned. For long term results it takes continual and sizable doses of self-surrender, humility and maturity to return to soundness. More often than not there are relapses, failures, and a more profound deterioration before the addict truly turns with loathing from his dangerous habits. The road signs of where Johnny Football was headed were all there before the 2014 draft. Since then, what evidence have we seen of humility or maturation? OK, maybe he got serious about learning the playbook. What else?
6. Speaking of facing issues head on, euphemisms such as “partying” to refer to an ongoing habit of intoxication as entertainment, behavior that can lead to addiction and the endless list of tragic results that can follow, is a disservice to those who have hit rock bottom and are trying to recover. Statements that he didn’t do anything illegal, or that he’s just a 22-year-old out having a good time, or that there are plenty of others who do the same thing smacks of enabling and doesn’t begin to acknowledge that alcohol abuse and addiction is the biggest drug problem in this country. Manziel came out of rehab a new man, you say? He gave up the money sign and the Johnny Football moniker. What else, exactly, has he been willing to give up?
7. Finally, an adult surfaces in the room: Mike Pettine. And like a school teacher trying to overcome the effects of the neglectful parenting of a child who is a terror in the classroom, Pettine has to be fuming over this role he has to play. Yes, it’s a distraction. Coaches probably work 80 hours a week or more as it is, without this bad boy celebrity maintenance stuff. The complaints that the Browns haven’t just come out and said specifically what they demanded of Manziel and how he violated a trust are unrealistic. The Browns cannot speak of these things, and they shouldn’t. If they did, they, too, would be violating a trust. There are slivers of indications that Manziel’s problems are even more serious than the stories for public consumption reveal, but if I’m an owner or general manager who respects my head coach and is responsive to his needs, I’d be looking to remove this albatross from his list of duties.
8. For the same reason the Browns cannot discuss Manziel’s personal life issues, they also cannot be specific about why he was, until recently, deemed unfit to be a starter. It would be folly for fans to expect the Browns organization to publicize their unfiltered assessments of any player. That some fans are demanding to see what the team has in Manziel by just letting him play, completely overlooks the whole point of having scouts, general managers, coaches … and practice. Does anyone think the Cleveland Orchestra cannot select violinists without putting them out there in front of a big crowd at Severance Hall? The owner should trust the evaluation process or change the evaluators. All teams make mistakes. The process is far too unpredictable to avoid them altogether. Covering them up or delaying their remedies, however, only compounds the error.
9. The Cleveland Browns talk about personal accountability. They preach the idea that no matter where you were drafted or how large your paycheck, you have to earn the right to play. The players who prepare the best, who practice the best are those who play. Except for the Johnny Manziel fan club, there aren’t too many people in the business who are saying that Manziel outperformed Josh McCown. So clearly, the Browns breached what they preached. Manziel was given the starting role without truly earning it. This was yet another mistake. The thoroughly professional Josh McCown took the news as you knew he would, with maturity, even grace, though through clenched teeth. Drafting a successful franchise quarterback is a hazardous business, so teams have to pursue every avenue at their disposal. If the Browns ever hope for Cleveland to become a destination location for highly regarded free agents — especially experienced quarterbacks — they have to walk the walk. They can’t entice an experienced quarterback to Cleveland only to have him immediately walk into another silly Cleveland quarterback controversy for the sake of satisfying the culture’s insatiable appetite for celebrity.
10. One final reason some in the Browns organization (and some fans) might want to hang onto Manziel is that they’re afraid he’ll resurface later as an outstanding player for some other organization. While I am among those who think that won’t happen, I am also among those who won’t care if it happens—it’s beside the point. If another team wants to take on the challenge (and the baggage), it’s all theirs. In the best interest of both the Browns organization and Johnny Manziel himself, they should go their separate ways. Both made mistakes: The Browns by drafting him in the first place (and who could possibly say today, they would draft him again if they had it to do over?); and Manziel for the immature, unprofessional start of his professional career. Both sides need this re-boot.
If Thanksgiving is a special time for expressing gratitude for the good and meaningful things in our lives, let’s be grateful not only for the abundance of the harvest, but for those experiences that bruise and humble us.