Keith Strudler: Turning off the Train Wreck
Last week I told someone I was done writing about Johnny Manziel. His story went from journalistic to voyeuristic, which is where I vowed to get off. I didn’t want to chronicle one young man’s unstoppable fall from grace, even if that’s not exactly the right term. My conviction lasted for all of a few days, as I now find myself writing again on this very bizarre topic.
As you may have heard, the talented yet troubled quarterback found himself back in the sports pages again last week for something other than playing football. Only this time, it seems to not be entirely his fault. Not directly, at least. For some incomprehensible reason, Manziel’s lawyer sent a condemning text to an AP reporter, where he mentioned that Manziel, his client, can’t seem to stay out of trouble. And that he’d be in real trouble if he had to take a drug test. And that he spend $1000 on drug paraphernalia 15 hours after an alleged hit and run. This was all sent directly from Manziel’s lawyer – who again, Manziel pays to keep him out of trouble – to an Associated Press reporter, who earns his keep by breaking stories.
That, in a nutshell, is why I can’t keep my promise and not write about Johnny Manziel, just like that lawyer can’t keep his promise and honor attorney-client privilege. Of course, the story didn’t end there, but continued with a response from Johnny Manziel’s father, who told ESPN that his son is a druggie, needs help, and could easily end up dead. Oh, and he hopes Johnny goes to jail, since that might be his only hope for survival.
In response to that, on Tuesday, Johnny Manziel posted an Instagram photo of himself relaxing in Cabo San Lucas, which, according to Wikipedia, is well known for its nightlife. He tagged the photo with the #hiDad, which I’d guess sets a new standard for passive/aggressive intergenerational communication. But I’m not a psychologist.
This all continues as the once star studded quarterback faces a misdemeanor assault charge against his now ex-girlfriend, which may or may not be headed for a plea deal, depending on what you think of that now ex-lawyer’s text. This entire saga is the dictionary definition of train wreck, something that seems far more a conclusion than a postulate. The only question now is the extent of the damage.
While Manziel is not currently employed, apparently the NFL is still offering help in whatever way that might come. The league takes a fair amount of abuse for its shortcomings, but I see no culpability here. Johnny Manziel has had more than a few enablers in his life. The NFL Commissioner is not one of them.
So that’s the current and bizarre tale of Johnny Manziel, the gifted and troubled young adult who’s living his life like it were a Shakespearean tragedy. The question may no longer be, “will Johnny Manziel ever make it back?” Instead, it’s now, “should we care?”
There’s probably a couple of relevant answers. First, the obvious answer is yes. We should always care when someone walks towards the precipice of life, and seems to take victims along with them. So from a purely human perspective, yes, we should care.
But here’s the other side. Every day, there are human tragedies much like Johnny Manziel’s. People fall victim to drug, alcohol, and every other form of abuse known to humankind. We live in a world of stress and vice, where life’s challenges often overwhelm our sensibilities. So good luck finding someone who hasn’t been touched by substance abuse. This happens each and every day, and each time it’s sad. But it’s not more sad because this time, it’s a star athlete. Or, as it’s been said before, and apologies for the perception of callousness, people die every day.
So, to the extent that Johnny Manziel can serve as a cautionary tale, then yes, let’s talk more about Johnny Manziel. Let’s talk about how people need to watch out for each other, understand the pitfalls of substance abuse, and help people to help themselves. Let’s talk about the risks of growing up too fast and living without consequence. Let’s deal with drugs and alcohol in America and help people make real human connections. Let’s be vigilant for enablers, of which Johnny Manziel has had far too many throughout his still young life.
But worry about Johnny Manziel because he’s a star quarterback? Or because we have some lurid fascination with self-destruction? I’ll pass on that. Which is why I’ll probably never write about Johnny Manziel again. And this time, I promise.
Keith Strudler is the director of the Marist College Center for Sports Communication and an associate professor of communication. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler
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