It feels like every week or so, there’s another report that Cleveland quarterback Johnny Manziel is out and about, being photographed, Tweeted at, Instagrammed, or otherwise documented enjoying himself out and about wherever he happens to be. People dutifully cover it, and then Johnny Football gets flack from the people who disapprove of anyone involved with the game taking it one iota less than As Seriously As Possible All The Time, capitalizing those letters as they discuss whether or not he has “The Drive” to succeed at the next level. It’s a little silly, like most things involving football players during the offseason, and Manziel recently doubled down on his wish that people would cut him some slack.
“Nothing that I’m doing on the weekends is affecting my job,” Manziel told ESPN. “Nothing that I’m doing on the weekends is hopefully hurting any of my teammates in the locker room.” The quarterback also remained adamant that he wasn’t going to stop his partying, saying that while he was working to stay out of the gossip news, “If I want to go back home and spend time with my friends or go out and enjoy my weekends, I absolutely have the right to do that.”
Moralizing on Manziel does seem to have turned into a bit of a cottage phenomenon, one that has its roots in his exciting, and polarizing, play over two years at Texas A&M — especially his sophomore season, where he threw for almost 40 touchdowns and over 750 yards. It was as an Aggie that Johnny Football gained the attention of the larger sports universe, and he quickly garnered notable fans like the NBA’s LeBron James and notably emotional emotive rapper Drake. From there, the sky was the limit, and he was even regarded as a possible (if unlikely) No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
As for how the media fixation had worn on his teammates, Manziel said that he was “just like any other rookie out there that they haven’t gotten asked about 1,000 times.” He continued on to say that he believed his team was tired of that, as well as tired of the hype that made his jersey sell more than any other player’s when he was picked by 22nd by the Cleveland Browns. “I’m tired of that too,” he added.
That’s a statement that’s got to be taken with as much salt as you can find on short notice, though. A player like Manziel, who openly courts attention, can hardly ask for respite when he feels that it’s not working out in his favor — he wasn’t drafted by the San Diego Padres or the Harlem Globetrotters for his baseball or basketball abilities, after all. Hype is the coal that fuels the Johnny Football train. What he’s really pushing back against, we suspect, is the fun police that seems to have a grip on so much of the national discourse over America’s most popular sport. And that’s legitimate.
The NFL is unapologetic about the way it treats its players: like cogs in their billion-dollar operation. There’s a likelihood that Manziel could wind up being unable to remember anything about his 20s in a few decades, and at the very least, he’s going to spend his professional career being chased after by guys who want to knock him into next week. With that in mind, why begrudge him on how he spends his downtime?