Understanding where Johnny Manziel may be coming from

Posted on April 20, 2016

(Last Updated On: April 20, 2016)

Of late, it seems two roads of thinking have predominated regarding Johnny Manziel:

  1. He’s an idiot
  2. He has a real problem and urgently needs help

This is said about pretty much any player not taking full advantage of their talent. While one or both of the above could be true, based on my experience playing football and my teammates, there is another line of thinking which could be applicable.

As a brief recap, I played football through high school and at a small division I college not worth bragging about. That said, it was big enough one of my college teammates ended up playing 10 years in the NFL, and maybe one or two guys per year would get a decent shot at the NFL.

In high school, we made it to two state championship games and a semi finals game. A good run.

My college roommate was my high school (and college) teammate. He made all state for football and won the state long jump competition. He had multiple track coaches tell him if he pursued the long jump, he had a shot at the Olympics.

Another high school teammate received all state honors and got a full ride to a division I school for being one of the best shot putters in the state.

All I’m trying to get across to start this is while I and nobody I played with were Heisman Trophy winners, athletically, some of the people I’ll be referencing surpassed Manziel. Career wise, 10 years in the NFL looks like a lot more than Manziel is going to get at this stage. Statistically speaking, the following people referenced made it much closer to Johnny Manziel than many of the people commenting on him, which may be why the following perspective has been left out. As for the ones who did play who are commenting on him, they’re being politically correct and not honest.

The football life really isn’t that great

High school is as good as it gets. Talk to virtually anybody who played at multiple levels, and they’ll tell you high school was their favorite time. The way I frame this to people is you get to college and it’s not too long before you realize your performance as a ~20 year old dictates the livelihood of your ~50 year old coach. That ups the seriousness very quickly. That while you’re a 20 year old kid trying to be a student, have a girlfriend (who is tired of hearing you groan from being sore), have a life, your coach’s only job is your performance. Meaning your performance inevitably becomes more and more job like. In approach and in time commitment. But with a whole other level of intensity. I saw coaches ruin players with criticism. The lowest forms of verbal insults you could imagine. Genuine threats. Despite the fact as a player you’re not getting paid, you’re always hurting, and have no longterm care if you get seriously injured.


Before Obamacare, if you had any noteworthy injury in college, you could, immediately once getting out of college, be denied healthcare for having a preexisting condition. How many players do you think got out of college with no injury history? You can see what happened to me after tearing my ACL and having to go without insurance for a year (before the new law started). Tons of ACLs are torn in college football.

The NCAA and the universities get males in the prime of their lives giving everything they have physically, and longterm incur zero costs for that. I dislocated my elbow in college. If I have arthritis down the road, the college I played for has no repercussions for that, but I do. Physically, emotionally, financially. Now high schools are broadcasting games and making money on Friday Night Lights. I saw a guy have a compound leg fracture playing a high school game. You think his high school is ponying up the money for any follow up surgeries which happen later in life? For the “psychological damages?” They couldn’t care less. See how many other industries you can name which have gotten away with this. And see Friendly Reminder: The NCAA Invented The Term “Student-Athlete” To Get Out Of Paying Worker’s Comp.

-End Tangent

Because college is when you invariably realize, “Oh man. I might be messed up longterm from all this.” Because the level of play / intensity / physicality gets ratcheted up so much. I saw this with many teammates, and this was before the concussion thing became news. Teammates who wondered how they’d be walking at 30 years old. Teammates who already didn’t want to do it anymore because they wanted to move their arm to throw a ball with their kids later in life.

When you realize having an itinerary -you literally are handed one- outlining every hour of every day, all in the name of jacking up your body, all in the hopes you get to enjoy ten days a year…12 months of year round training, for 10 games. And those 10 days are only enjoyable if you play, play well, and win!

From what I’ve gathered from NFL guys, the NFL is a souped up version of college. More of the same. Even more of a job. Even more of a toll on your body (which ends up being a toll on your mind).

So why do it?

Why put up with it all? It depends.

  1. To get girls
    1. Seriously, why do men do anything? To attract women.
  2. You may not have known this would happen. That you wouldn’t enjoy post high school play. By the time you figure it out, you feel like you just got out of prison after two decades. “What the hell else can I do?” You keep doing it for no other reason than “I’m the football guy. That’s how people know me.”
    1. This is irrespective of talent. You can be very good at something and not enjoy it just like you can love something and not be very good at it. Now how long you can get away with a lack of passion, who knows. “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” Not always.
  3. You wouldn’t have made it to college, or at least not this good of a college, without being on the football team. You could stop playing, but then how are you going to pay for everything?
    1. What I saw guys do to get around this: Be always hurt. Basically make it through your last couple years or whatever and just barely ever get on the field. They can’t revoke your money as long as you’re still going out there some. You may be amazed how many do this.
  4. Similar to 3., you can’t make the type of money doing anything else but playing football.
    1. This seems to be a big issue for lawyers and doctors who realize halfway into law / med school the only profession they can pick to pay off all the loans is to law / medicine, even if they’ve realized the profession isn’t for them.
  5. You don’t. You choose to stop playing.
    1. Incredibly rare. Besides myself, I only saw one person do this, and they quit one week into the first week of freshman camp. This is despite many, many, being depressed and really not enjoying their time.
  6. You love the game that much. You may even enjoy all the drudgery.

Number six is what we assume all good players are. “Passionate.” “Football junkie.” “Would play for free.”

It’s not true.

Many of the better players we know aren’t obsessed with football. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are exceptions BECAUSE of their passion. Their level of passion is considered to be an outlier, not the norm. Many will tell you how much they love football, but so few would play for free. High school? Sure. NFL? No. The physical repercussions are too great.

Many love football, but not as a job. Again, why high school is the best time. It’s when it’s the most about the game. Not the occupation.

Football shenanigans

Here are some things that have happened with teammates of mine:

  • We set up one guy’s backyard in the shape of a ring. We started a fight club, yes, like the movie, though we wore gear. We had a coach in each corner, timed rounds, and seats.
  • I can’t count all the run ins with cops
  • At a charity golf outing the captains of the team had three golf carts amongst us. One cart ended up stuck in the mud in the woods…from trying to off-road it. Another ended up flipped in a bunker from trying to fish tail. Luckily we could deadlift the carts to normalcy.
  • Within a couple week span the same guy took a poop in public outside a relay for life event because no port-a-potties were available, and then he barrel rolled through the front lawn of a teammate’s house, bandana on head, with a water gun. No warning or anything. Teammate looked outside, and there he was, somersaulting through the lawn.
  • Keg off. Something like seven guys to a team. First team to finish the keg wins. If you peed yourself you were off the team, and they had to finish without you.
  • Played 210 cup game of beer pong.
  • Quite a few dudes would show up to class without having gone to bed the night before. My personal favorite was when my chem lab partner showed up hammered “Let’s torch some shit up today!”
  • One guy got quite the strip club fix and would go to one basically every weekend for like a year
  • One guy loooooves gambling. Has been playing cards since high school. Once high school was over, he would play with our former high school coaches. If there is a roulette table nearby, claw marks will be on it before pulling him away from it.
  • One guy had a few too many one night and his girlfriend got nervous when she couldn’t find him. She called his mom, and they went driving looking for him. Apparently he didn’t want to be around her that night. When they found him walking home and yelled his name, he jumped behind a tree and tried to make himself really skinny, hoping they wouldn’t be able to see him.
  • Multiple nights fish tailing and doing donuts at the neighborhood park
  • One guy ran out into the middle of a street when he saw someone he knew at a red light. He pulled down his pants and stuck his ass on the window.
  • A few who couldn’t avoid pot for more than a day
  • Many nights of car tag. Yes, cars chasing one another. (You had to get out of the car to tag it though.)
  • Going out five nights in a week had periods of being routine
    • Many of these nights started at a bar which had dollar beers until 10pm. For some, 10 beers, or $10, was warming up.

Some reading that will now think my teammates and I were / are lunatics / idiots. While another group is laughing “HAHA! I did something like that too.”

As far as being idiots,

  • One of the guys who really enjoyed fight club is now a doctor, with intention to specialize in female pelvic surgery
  • Another is a dentist
  • Perhaps the best cop story was a teammate who was chased down the street by four undercover cops. He was thrown in jail overnight (but charged nothing). Here is my favorite part of this story: 12 hours after being released from jail, he was given a national award at a national banquet for his work with underprivileged youth. He’s been promoted since this time for this very work.
  • The strip club guy, at age 26 (!), became the head chef at an Italian restaurant in New Jersey (you know it’s good), and studied in Italy.
  • You have no idea how many of those former teammates above are now police officers. The guy who pooped in public and wanted to do an impromptu water gun fight is one. Easily 10+ people I played with are in law enforcement.
  • A couple guys are dads, and from what I can tell, good ones.
  • The guy who showed up to chem lab drunk got an A in the class and was an engineering student. Another guy who showed up to a final after 18 beers the night before got the highest grade in the class. He fell asleep during the test; woke up, and finished it.
  • One of the pot heads is now a “data operations engineer”
  • I’d have to go Facebook hunting to find a guy I played with who isn’t a college graduate, but everyone referenced above sure is.

Not so idiotic after all!

Most of the fun crazy list above is roughly 18 – 25 years of age. Johnny Manziel is 23. While you may disagree, at no point during the years of 18 – 25 did I or any of my teammates think we were out of control, or needed help. At no point did we tell our state long jump champion he needed to seek treatment because he was wasting his potential by doing fight club. At no point was someone given an intervention. Now if you were doing some of this stuff the night before a game, that would be different. But overwhelmingly, nobody got called out for this behavior.

You get to a point for many where it’s pretty much like, look, if you’re in a relationship, or you’re able to get a girl or chase after girls without needing to be a big time player, then football starts to lose some of its allure at some stage. Football is a medium for many guys to get women and or get money anyways, which we could argue the money is for women as well. If it comes to hanging out with a girl, going out chasing them, or learning your Xs and Os, it’s pretty obvious what tends to win out.

So think if you’re Johnny Manziel. You’re getting women no problem. You have tons of money already (at least for now). You’re famous enough without playing you run with celebrities routinely. You’re clearly not obsessed with football like Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. (Who also didn’t go through their 20s with social media and camera phones. Brady, by many accounts, knew how to throw ’em back.) You’re 23 years old. Maybe you just want to have, what you consider, a good time on a regular basis. Like what is playing quarterback in the NFL going to give you that you don’t already have? Besides an impediment to you going out like you want? Besides risking your health? How many 23 year old males would want to have the life Manziel currently has? For a 23 year old guy, does Drew Brees’ life really sound that much more interesting than Johnny Manziel’s?

“If I were Manziel I would be sitting at home not making a peep.”

That’s because you’re boring. Peyton Manning is a boring dude. You think watching film all week is exciting? Unless you have OCD? Yes, you only get one shot at being in the NFL due to father time, but you only get one time to do stupid things in your 20s as well. You for some reason want to look back at your 20s and go, “Dude, I sat at home and never did anything. I was such a good worker. I got so many gold stars.” That’s fine, but others are more intent on wanting to look back and go, “Duuuuuuude, remember that time?!” My former teammates and I remember the stories listed above much more often than we remember any specific game we played together.

“He’s an addict and has a problem!”

Hey, maybe, but the majority of addiction behavior resolves on its own. With no intervention. Meaning what we may call an addiction is many times merely a phase.

Up until the whole domestic dispute issue with Manziel, which absolutely sounds scary and if true would put things into the needs help arena, he is a 23 year old dude who’d fit right in with the majority of people I know who played football. Even with his dad saying he’s scared for him I don’t know, because I had teammates whose moms were scared for them, which was nothing more than them being concerned parents. The guy who jumped behind a tree hiding from his mom and girlfriend? We all thought that was hysterical. His mom though was quite concerned.

Many, many, many NFL players are doing the same exact nonsense Manziel is doing. It’s just nobody cares because those guys aren’t Manziel. They don’t play quarterback. They didn’t win a Heisman. They don’t date models. They don’t come from an oil family. They aren’t friends with Drake. They aren’t hanging out in West Hollywood. And it’s 2016. Read Lawrence Taylor’s book. How he had coaches have to come looking for him like two hours before game time, only to find him handcuffed to a bed in his hotel room. Even LT couldn’t get away with that now.

But just because Manziel can win a Heisman being a partier, which we were all basically fine with, doesn’t mean he is now an idiot or ruining his life because he’d rather go out with his boys then sit at home all throughout his 20s. But disparaging the guy, repeatedly telling him he’s ruining his life because he’s not living the life you want him to live, having him hear this from every single person every single moment? That might push a person over the edge. See: Ryan Leaf. A guy who can’t stop catching shit because he wasn’t as good as one of the best quarterbacks of all-time? Yeah, what a dick. Johnny Manziel doesn’t owe us anything more than Ryan Leaf did. If we want to help him we’d probably be best leaving him alone.

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