BEREA, Ohio -- Johnny Manziel walked the fine line between celebrity and football more than successfully in college.
Now he’s trying to walk it in the NFL, with a new team, a new coaching staff and new teammates. Manziel deserves his time to himself, his time away, but there is a bottom line in the NFL that Manziel has yet to address because it has not been possible for him to do so: What happens on Sunday matters the most.
Wednesday at the Cleveland Browns' facility Manziel brought to light all the realities that make up Johnny Football. He said his weekend trip to Vegas was a non-story, but that wherever he goes people want to take his photo. He said he’s done nothing in the NFL to deserve this attention, but admits he will get the attention and shrugs off the photos.
It was a unique combination of humility and brazenness.
Cleveland now knows the news cycle with Manziel. He does his thing as a 21-year-old, takes part in helping it go public, sees it become a story, then does a pretty good “gosh golly gee whillickers” and says it’s not a story. At which point those who wrote about it being a story write that it’s not a story.
Wash. Rinse, Repeat.
In some ways it’s disingenuous to follow Manziel and hype him because of his actions, then criticize him for living the way he always has.
It’s also a bit ... interesting ... that Manziel can act so surprised his weekend was news when he freely admits he can’t go anywhere without being photographed.
“I’m used to it by now,” he said. “Fair or unfair, whatever it may be, that’s my life.”
What a life he's lived in 21 years, too. Manziel has even changed the old "What happens in Vegas ... " axiom.
To be clear, Manziel did nothing at all wrong in his jaunt to Vegas, except perhaps unwittingly contribute to a perception that he is as interested in his celebrity as he is football. Perceptions aren’t always correct, but they can form quickly, especially with increased scrutiny now that he is in the NFL.
It could be that Manziel simply was having a fun time like many other NFL players, but that the circles he runs in and the attention he draws are more in the laser beam of attention. A guy is allowed to go out and relax. It’s just that when Manziel relaxes it seems to be at places like the Masters, the Kentucky Derby, the Final Four or poolside at Vegas. Expect to see Manziel holding the Bible at the next inauguration, smiling through the Chief Justice and new President.
Manziel said he intends to live his life to the fullest, which he did at Texas A&M while being successful on the field. He has started in Cleveland living the same way, which is his right. The only thing Manziel can’t answer yet is whether it indicates a trend to be more interested in the sideshow than progress on the field. It didn’t happen in college, so there is no reason to expect it to happen in the NFL.
But it would matter if the off-field escapades detract from his play.
As one Browns player said years ago about a teammate: “He’s an idiot, but he’s there for us on Sunday.”
Manziel himself said he has not done anything in the NFL yet.
In that regard he might help himself by simply not being so public about his time off. He is entitled to his jaunts, but if he doesn’t allow himself to be photographed and be the subject of tweets, he won’t be discussed. Had Manziel not been in a photograph, the world might not have known of his trip. It’s one thing for him to have his privacy invaded with photos, quite another for him to volunteer to be part of the show.
Right or wrong, quarterbacks are judged by different standards. It's part of the position, part of the responsibility. Quarterbacks are leaders, and leading sometimes requires sacrifice -- even if it's to set the standard for the team. Manziel said experienced and successful quarterbacks are at different points in their life than he is, but it's probably no coincidence players like Drew Brees, Tom Brady and the Mannings are not photographed in these situations. There are a lot of ways to get the job done, but Manziel might want to put the public stuff on the back burner until he actually ... well ... plays a down and completes a pass in an NFL game. He clearly does a good job with his teammates, but taking things slower would avoid the sideshow that Manziel himself admits surrounds him.
Manziel clearly runs in a galaxy far, far away from the general population. If it’s unavoidable for him to be followed, then so be it. He is still entitled to his time.
But in a quiet moment, Manziel might wish to ask himself how much and how often he wants to be a part of this kind of story.
Even if it isn’t a story.