by Kent Sterling
There are smart ways and places to indulge in irresponsible behavior, and then there is the way Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel has done it again and again.
Whether or not Manziel was kicked out of the Manning Passing Academy for being too hungover, or whether he was dehydrated and left on his own, he has thrown enough facts at us that a Bobby Layne-esque mythology that also may or may not be rooted in fact.
Regardless, people in the public eye need to be prudent in managing their brand – which can starkly contrast with reality if he likes.
When Peyton Manning was losing to Florida as the quarterback for the Tennessee Vols, the media coverage focused on Manning delivering pizzas to the students camping out in line to buy tickets to watch him play. Does that mean he never drank a bunch of beers and acted like an idiot? Of course not.
Manning just never did it in front of the cops or cameras. It’s a bit of a different game now with smart phones that can take pictures or video and post them for anyone in the world to look at within seconds, but the logic of avoiding the kind of publicity that is dogging Johnny Football is the same.
I spent a long weekend in Mexico with a couple of guys, and there were two rules in dealing with the people we met – stay out of pictures and no last names or email addresses. Vacation friends are just that, and when the plane’s wheels left the runway for the return trip home, that was that. No residue. And we’re nobodies.
Drew Magary is a writer for Deadspin and other places. He published a piece late this afternoon about how the media is ruinng Manziel’s life. We tend to become who we are told we are, according to Magary.
“NFL executives and analysts have devised a system in which any talented and suggestible young quarterback will find himself hounded and hounded until, in the end, he assumes the very characteristics that they mistakenly believe he possesses,” Magary writes. “This isn’t a traditional case of building someone up and tearing him down. This is trolling on an elaborate scale. This is finding a ripe target and molding him in the image of your worst bogeyman. Johnny Manziel may not have been a douchebag a year ago. But by the time the machine is finished with him, he will be.”
That’s a nice paragraph, but with a silly premise, and fallacious conclusion. The media isn’t bright enough to orchestrate the ruination of anyone who isn’t a willing accomplice. There is a danger that they will follow a narrative to where they believe it should lead, rather than allowing it to organically develop on its own, but to cast the media as the villain here gives its members way too much credit.
Back to Manning for a minute because he has been lavished upon by positive media coverage that very few will ever enjoy, but it wasn’t for the lack of occasionally engaging in the kind of behavior that Manziel appears to enjoy quite a bit of. The media didn’t report it because Manning was never stupid enough to force them to.
The media saw lapses, but no one ever posted a picture on instagram or youtube, so there was no need to publish it. Manziel opened this door himself, and the media was required to walk through it.
Some reporters may do it with more enthusiasm than others, and Indianapolis media more accommodating than other cities, but Manziel needs to keep the silly side of himself behind closed doors and away from cameras.
All athletes need to understand that they are brands, and their public behavior will define them. Those who don’t get it, like Manziel (at least to this point) are doomed to be caught in a series of gotcha stories until they snap like Lindsay Lohan, Dennis Rodman, Amanda Bynes, and Amy Winehouse.
The blame for the image of Johnny Manziel belongs to Johnny Manziel, not the media. The glee that seems to accompany some of the reports is ridiculous and reflects an ignorant cruelty, but fooling the dunderheads who do the reporting is too damn easy for someone in Manziel’s position to ignore.