Capping off a month that saw anonymously-sourced reports snicker about how big a mess he was, Johnny Manziel checked himself into a treatment center last week.
In some ways, Manziel—whose hard-partying “Johnny F—ing Football” persona combined with his on-field collegiate greatness to turn him into an icon—has seemed to be on a path of self-destruction for a while. But the dominant narrative about Manziel has celebrated him for his excess while he was dominant at Texas A&M, and then lampooned him for it after he went pro, which is a weird sort of pressure to put on a human being.
Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel finally raised his hand last week and admitted to his family and to the Browns that he needed help, that it was time to go to inpatient rehab for his possible dependence on alcohol.
On Tuesday, he flew out of Cleveland and informed those close to him of his intentions. On Wednesday, Manziel checked himself into an undisclosed facility somewhere within driving distance of Cleveland, a place that the Browns knew about and felt comfortable with.
According to multiple sources, those close to Manziel were proud of him for taking such a big and difficult step. Not many 22-year-olds volunteer for inpatient rehab, but Manziel was ready, which is why his friends and family members are optimistic that he’ll take it seriously and do the work needed to get well.
The Plain Dealer’s report, by Mary Kay Cabot, describes the Browns’s organization as supportive of Manziel’s decision. But the sports media and fans, which are notorious for holding players like Manziel to curious standards—alternately rewarding and punishing them for their public personae—is less encouraging.
The New York Daily News started their headline about Manziel with the words “Cleveland Browns QB Johnny Manziel partying too hard,” while within 24 hours of the news, ESPN crafted a #HotTake under the title, “Johnny Manziel sets stage for colossal failure or all-time comeback.” ProFootballTalk’s follow-up on Manziel actually started with the words, “Setting aside for now the reality that Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel apparently suffers from a health condition for which he needs support, understanding, and assistance” and then proceeded to relentlessly mock the Browns for drafting him. Forbes printed the headline, “Window’s Quickly Closing On NFL Opportunity For Johnny Manziel,” and the lead, “The train wreck of Johnny Manziel’s rookie NFL season continues to roll sideways.” (The gossipmongers at TMZ, by contrast, seemed downright sober in their report.)
If the headlines were eye-grabbing, though, the comments from readers have been something else entirely. Over at NBC’s ProFootballTalk, for example, fans seem to celebrate the news with relish: “This is one rehab clinic that is looking at an epic fail,” one writes. “Johnny Bust will never give up the booze and party life.” “Hopefully, he’s getting treatment for being such a poor quarterback,” another says. “I don’t feel bad for this guy, there are people in the world with real addiction problems who make way less money than this entitled punk,” another writes. You can read them all, and most of them are pretty hateful.
But the reaction from the media and fans really does serve to highlight the double-standard that athletes face, and the amount of ownership that fans feel toward athletes’ personal lives. Hard-partying Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski won a Super Bowl ring on Sunday, and he’s one of the game’s great personalities; Manziel had a lost year, and he’s a “train wreck” that “continues to roll sideways.”
It’s hard to imagine a 22-year-old navigating that sort of mixed messaging effectively: Just be a guy who wins a lot of games and you’re former TCU star and current Bengals QB Andy Dalton (whom ESPN compares Manziel to in its opening paragraph, deriding him as “a middle-of-the-road starting quarterback who went about his business”), which doesn’t sound like something to aspire to. But if you’re a captivating personality, the margin for error is razor thin: Manziel was adored for his partying when he was winning games at A&M, just like Gronkowski is in New England, but a few bad games in a row and, well, we’ve seen what happens.
Manziel’s future is unwritten: Given his talent and drive, it’s certainly possible to imagine him succeeding in the NFL. It’s also possible that being Johnny F—ing Football will kill his career in a way that will delight the commenters and media who love to scold a guy for the same things they praised him for a year ago.
Regardless of how it ends up, though, Manziel is a media-savvy guy who is very aware of how his public persona is perceived. He had to know that entering rehab would be met with the sort of jokes, condescension, snark, and bile that are all over the Internet right now. Give the guy credit not just for being a 22-year-old who knew himself well enough to make a decision that countless people fail to make when they should, but also one who was willing to do it in the face of a media that couldn’t wait to find new ways to celebrate his failure.
(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)