Ethics Dunce: “Johnny Football”—True, But Now What? Maybe Hollywood Had The Solution

You don't know this actress, do you? There's a reason...

You don’t know this actress, do you? There’s a reason…

Texas A&M Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel, a.k.a “Johnny Football,” ended last year by winning the 2012 Heisman Trophy, the first freshman ever to do so. He has spent the first 8 months of this year showing that he is an immature, arrogant kid with a dangerously inflated ego, with no sense of his obligations as a widely admired elite athlete, and little expertise in how to conduct himself responsibly and ethically.

A brief and incomplete sampling of his exploits:

  • In January, following his team’s  A&M’s Cotton Bowl win over Oklahoma, he visited the Winstar Casino in Oklahoma for some late-night gambling. He tweeted a photo with friends, waving money around. When the photo went viral on the web, sparking criticism, Manziel tweeted, “Nothing illegal about being 18+ in a casino and winning money…KEEP HATING!”
  • In March, Manziel was frustrated after throwing an interception during a spring football scrimmage, so he shoved aside a graduate assistant who happened to be in his way.
  • He was photographed with a fake tattoo of Texas A&M’s archrival Texas Longhorns, infuriating the fanatic fans of the Aggies.
  • In June, angered by getting a parking ticket, Manziel sent out an obnoxious tweet, subsequently deleted, that read “Bullshit like tonight is a reason why I can’t wait to leave College Station…whenever it may be.” Then he tweeted, “Don’t ever forget that I love A&M with all my heart, but please, please walk a day in my shoes.”
  • In July, as a participant in the Peyton  Manning Passing Academy , Manziel missed meetings and subsequently left, explaining that he “overslept.”
  • The same month, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor stemming from a 2012 bar fight in College Station.  His parents reveal that Manziel has undergone alcohol counseling and therapy for anger issues.
  • This month, the day before Texas A&M’s first practice, ESPN’s Outside The Lines reported that Manziel made a deal to sign memorabilia in exchange for a “five-figure flat fee” during a trip to the site of the BCS National Championship. This is a violation of his amateur status.

In between all of these events has been a whirlwind tour of awards, parties, photo sessions with celebrities, rock concerts, first ball ceremonies at baseball stadiums, interviews, a music video, and more. The net effect of the events of 2013, however, is to establish with some certainty that this is a classic example of a kid who was unprepared for the accolades and fame being showered on him, and does not appear to have the strength of character—or, to be blunt, the intelligence—to avoid becoming a classic egocentric, selfish, impulsive, greedy, rule-breaking jerk who thinks that he is entitled to privileged treatment as long as he continues to shine on the playing field.

In other words, Alex Rodriguez.

The question is, what is to be done about it? The last of his transgressions, if verified, could end his college football career. No matter: Manzeil is so talented that NFL teams will still bid for his services, still make him a millionaire, and still gamble that his character will improve with maturity. Maybe it will, but that would run counter to experience. Most pampered, lauded-over stars in any profession get worse, not better, especially if they were not blessed with an excess of gray matter to begin with. Rodriquez, Roger Clemens and Justin Bieber started out as polite, self-effacing kids. Ted Williams, whose intelligence quotient was almost the equal of those three combined, came to stardom as an uneducated, undisciplined, self-centered 19-year-old monster (he was called “Teddy Ballgame”) but slowly matured into a teacher, hero and role model. It can happen. I wouldn’t bet on it happening with Manziel.

What would assist most future young stars in avoiding Manziels’ pitfalls would be for the NFL to make Manziel a cautionary tale, as Hollywood reputedly did with Jayne Meadows, the prettier sister of “The Honeymooners” star Audrey Meadows and later known as the glamorous wife of Steve Allen, whose projects were the primary source of her minor fame, such as it was. You won’t find it on her Wikipedia page, but I was told by a good friend, a Hollywood insider and long-time publicist, that Jayne Meadows was blackballed in Hollywood.

She had arrived as a hot new starlet with great fanfare, he said, and was reputed to have beauty, talent, sex appeal and charisma. But in her early films she was unmanageable, demanding and difficult to work with, so the studios agreed to make her the example for future aspiring actors who didn’t know their place. Her contract was cancelled, her offers dried up, and the word was put out to all that Meadows  was the industry’s walking, talking public service message that talent alone wouldn’t guarantee career success or even opportunity in Tinseltown. You also had to obey the rules, and respect the business.

Football needs a similar message; indeed all of sports and entertainment needs that message. Johnny Football would be a good one to carry it. It won’t happen, of course. Let’s hope Johnny finds his way to ethics.


Source: USA Today, ESPN

28 thoughts on “Ethics Dunce: “Johnny Football”—True, But Now What? Maybe Hollywood Had The Solution

  1. Yep. I said it at the beginning of the year that if Manziel is as good as he seems he would be a complete danger to the reputation of our program as history shows youthful celebrity rarely ends well. As it turns out I was wrong: he ended up better than predictions, but with just as much active immaturity as I guessed.

    Success and fawning attention of everyone only rewards his character, so now has a less of chance of improvement.

    After his first round of foibles and shenanigans, I felt the A&M coach shoulda benched him for a game or two with the warning of half a season of benching if anything else happened.

    When the summer camp episode occurred (with heavy suspicion that alcohol was the source of his ‘sleeping in’) the coach should have automatically benched him for half the season.

    A courageous leadership would have done that and told the world “we don’t care if we lose any games because of this punishment”. But after hearing that there was some behind the scenes deal making by the football program to get him out of some other troubles before even signing him on with A&M, I didn’t hold out hope that any strong stance of that kind would be made.

    A&M, which prided itself on rigorous enforcement of personal and professional standards I guess has slipped as well into rationalizing everything for a few more wins. But I still hold out hope that the football program and upper administration may still choose to take honorable action before an outside source compels it.

    Point of order Jack, when referring to the little community college in Austin, it is permissible (the only time it is permissible) to use a lower case ‘t’ when writing Texas. I note you wrote Texas Longhorns, it is more grammatically correct to write “texas university longhorns” or “tea sipping hippies” or any manner of derogatory terminology.

    • Thanks for the tip.

      Yes, obviously the first line of defense would be the school and the team. Instead, they are both hostage to the “Star Syndrome.” In the post, I just presumed that the team wasn’t going to do anything. That was wrong, though, though it sounds like it was also correct.

      • Oh yeah I know. OU….

        My dad loves to brag on OU…the ‘pride’ of Oklahoma. I have to remind him that in the end he’s just bragging about another team of Texans.

        OU had a chance to make a stand against the self-assumed monolithic force of texas university; they even looked like they were going to. But I think they ultimately caved because they felt bailing on the Big 12 would put them in a conference that fewer Texans would be willing to join. I theorize that, fearing this slow trickling loss of their primary source of players, they envisioned a gradual melting into obscurity. So, they backed down from their rhetoric and rejoined the longhorn hegemony.

  2. All this stuff seems like very small potatoes, especially if we are talking about completely blackballing someone. Most teenagers have gotten into one or more of those scenarios at various points, and it seems like run of the mill arrogance of youth hijinks, with all the douchery that goes along with that. He’s been coddled for most of his life, yes, but wait until the first serious injury, or something similar. Life has a way of evening out these things, without a lot of outside interference. He has plenty of time to “be put in his place”, whatever that means.

    • Yet, with great gifts come great responsibility. If someone is placed at a particular level of responsibility they are expected to behave as such. And when or if they fail, they cannot be quickly forgiven, because of the message it sends about being in positions of great responsibility and visibility.

      I understand the desire to show mercy to someone who just doesn’t know, but the greater message outweighs that concern. (Although it may mitigate it some, I would submit not much).

      • Of course your objection raises the question: “why then do we elevate people to levels of responsibility for which they are woefully inadequate?”

        Why do we? We did it twice in the last 2 elections.

        Money and power and trendiness is why.

    • But its a lot of small potatoes. I don’t disagree that this kind of acting out is predictable when an 18 year old becomes a god, but he should know better. Ken Griffey, for one, managed to avoid such stuff. Nor do I think blackballing, a la La Meadows, is fair to the blackballee. Not at all. But cautionary tales work.

        • If the analogy is the boxer who wants to throw one elbow represents the authorities and the system at large and the other boxer who throws all the elbows represents any particular misbehaving potential superstar.

          But that analogy makes it out like the actiosn and reaction are equitable morally. I don’t think they are. One is misbehavior and the other is disciplinary from a constituted authority.

  3. I don’t see the problem with the first one, the tweeted casino picture. If 18’s legal to gamble and you win big, why not brag about it?

    • Although gambling has come a long way and more or less is a mainstream form of entertainment where people can blow a little money for fun, it still carries with it a bit of the old stigma of being the pastime of financially irresponsible people of people who can’t keep their priorities in order.

      Additionally, the manner in which he flaunted his winnings (which I don’t know if they were his winnings or if just what he started with) came across as arrogant.

      • I guess, but that’s a lot to extrapolate from one night at the casino- especially to be used as an “exploit” that shows he can’t be ethical or responsible. I know Jack is against gambling but still.

        • Gambling and team sports athletes are anathema to each other, in the eyes of governing bodies, and properly so. The last thing a college football star should be seen doing is hanging out with gamblers, which is what a casino is—a hangout for gamblers. The point of the post is that he’s clueless, and that’s clueless behavior. Gambling scandals have deeply wounded boxing and horse racing. College football had some devastating gambling scandals. Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays were banned from baseball briefly for serving as casino greeters. Paul Horning, great Green Bay star, was suspended for a year for gambling. Pete Rose’s lifetime ban was for gambling.

          No athlete should be hanging around casinos during his playing career. Simple as that. Go to Disney World.

  4. Clever! Normally I don’t read your sports posts (nothing wrong with sports, I’m just not into them), but this time I just had to read the whole post to find out who the heck the photo was of. :-p

  5. The evidence is not in per the alleged signing the autographs in a hotel room while being video taped by what may appear to be a person who was on a devious mission but wait you hear “you never saw me in this room signing….”…still the evidence is not in. There was no five figure bonus signing offer unless people don’t understand that lingo. But still the evidence is not in.

    But due to his earlier escapades and if this was my kid he would not be let out of my sight, he would be on a choke collar at this point. The coach needs to bench him, the TAMU alumni needs to prepare for a rough year and quit teaching kids wrong moves off campus. You teach and coach leadership so it’s time to make him a real man.

    And in my day we called them “tu”…little letters with a non capital T. The rest cannot be repeated.

    • Hmmm…that’s gonna kill some jobs in the near term, at least.

      The change will probably have the greater impact on the smaller schools, in the (probabilistically) rarer instances when a big name emerges in one of those schools’ programs. OTOH, maybe not; maybe these days, with websites, market access is a click away (as it wasn’t in earlier times). “The rich” will get richer; bigger schools will roll on with sales of the same stuff, with no need for another outlet via the NCAA, and with no worries about hypocrisy.

      This troubled me: “Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby went as far as saying a fourth division or federation of major college football programs was needed to ensure they could make their own rules without resistance from lower-budget programs.”

      I want VARIETY in the contenders for national championships – not the same, boring clique of ten-thousands-plus student enrollment mega-universities sending their teams to the big games and slicing up the biggest TV revenues amongst themselves every year.

      I think there is a deep enough talent pool across the country now so that, say, Wake Forest can play New Mexico State in the Rose Bowl for the BCS Championship, and with both teams deserving to be there with little debate – after Ohio State and Alabama and Penn State and Southern Cal are all soundly trounced by one or both teams – and I believe more people would follow the drama of the climb to the top, if more teams had more chances to get there. I really hate seeing schools “hogging” talent, and seeing the same teams in the big games every year.

      All the above is a virtual stream of consciousness. Meaning: if I have said something senseless or otherwise indefensible, I am very likely to agree, concede and retract quickly.

  6. On the field, Johnny Manziel is everything good about college football. I wish he’d stop showing his utter contempt for it.

  7. My mom introduced me to classic movies and television. I always wondered what happened to Audrey Meadows. I had heard of other Hollywood stars being blacklisted but not her. I would not have imagined she was so demanding. Great tidbit of Hollywood history.

  8. I’m not one to moan about losses or crow about wins. A win is a win and a loss is a loss, don’t complain about the minor details that lead up to them. If you wanted a win, shoulda played harder and smarter.

    But in this case, I will join the “that was a bullcrap loss” crowd.

    Un-flagged horse collar with Manziel looking at an open lane to the end zone.

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