If it weren’t for Miley Cyrus’ VMA performance, Texas A&M University quarterback Johnny Manziel would still be the most talked-about 20-year-old in the country. Since Miley’s raunchy display on stage with Robin Thicke, however, the drama surrounding Manziel has faded away, with twerking replacing Johnny Football as the new trending topic on a range of media platforms.
This can only be a sign of relief for A&M head football coach Kevin Sumlin. The focus is on football, for now, and Sumlin no doubt wants to keep it that way. But Manziel is a loose cannon and larger-than-life character that can never find a break, at least not in today’s excessive information age. No matter what the young man does, he can never find himself without a cell phone camera on him, primed to capture whatever shenanigans the football star turned folk hero will pull off next.
Take this summer, for example, when Manziel single-handedly dominated ESPN’s morning dialogue, from his episode of “dehydration” at Peyton Manning’s passing camp that resulted in him leaving the camp early, to the allegations by the NCAA that he was taking money on the side for signing autographs.
This is the life of Johnny Manziel, a six-foot-tall, dual-threat quarterback with the uncanny ability to elude tacklers and fling 60-yard bombs with the precision of a marksman. His talent is impressive and, at times, even jaw-dropping. The excitement with which he plays is at times mind-boggling, for he can pull off the unthinkable, even when plays are broken down and most other quarterbacks would have already thrown the ball away. Not Johnny Football. Once the ball is snapped, he takes on opposing defenses with a relentless drive that only he can harness.
It is this spark that made Manziel the first freshman ever to win the Heisman Trophy, following a campaign in which he set multiple offensive records in the toughest conference in college football, the Southeastern Conference, and knocked off eventual national champions University of Alabama in their own stadium.
But this rapid ascent to the pinnacle of college football came at a cost, and one I don’t think Manziel expected. With the on-field success came national attention and fame—celebrity status that made the baby-faced kid from Tyler, Texas more than just a college athlete. While in reality Manziel lives his life no differently than many other college students across the country, he is constantly subjected to pressure from the media to fit an image as a clean-shaven, moral role model.
Johnny Manziel is not Tim Tebow. He doesn’t mind the occasional beer or frat party with his friends and will take to Twitter when he is mad about getting parking tickets. For the most part, these actions go unnoticed for the majority of college students, but not Johnny Football. The media takes his actions and spins them into morning talk show material, making a raucous out of the ordinary and unimportant. So he’s a quarterback of a team with national title aspirations—how many other undergraduates did no different with their summer?
I understand why Sumlin and his teammates might be tired of his antics, but why does the media have the right to judge him? He’s a college student, let’s not forget, and he never signed up to be a national role model for young children everywhere. Yet the media and fans everywhere have taken to message boards, talk shows and blogs to uphold his actions as though he did.
It is this objectifying of sports stars and celebrities in general that makes me feel like our country has got it all wrong. Growing up, I remember blindly looking up to my favorite athletes as if they were demigods, but then I had a sharp realization at the age of ten that I was wrong. I was never going to be a world-class athlete, and though their achievements are glorious, I had to have a reality check and realize that the most inspirational people in my life were not Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan, but my own parents, teachers and community leaders. Those were the people making a difference in my life, not the stars I saw on TV.
We should not be overestimating the character of celebrities and making their actions law for how we should personally live our lives. Let Johnny Manziel be Jonny Football and have the time of his life in college. He was recruited to A&M to win football games, not to get bashed on ESPN for why he was at a University of Texas frat party drinking Keystone. So long as he produces on the field, who cares what he does off it.
As a whole, our country needs to escape our predilection of finding role models in celebrities. Just as I would not want my daughter, or any young girl for that matter, looking up to Miley, I would not necessarily want my son, or any young boy, wanting to be the next Manziel. Maybe our country’s recent downturn is not the result of who’s in charge or what legislation is being passed, but rather the result of a citizenry failing to recognize the unsung idols going unnoticed in their lives.
Rather than wasting time worrying about what Johnny Football is going to do this Saturday night, try mimicking the single mom working two jobs and getting up before the sun rises to support her family. It could bring this country a whole lot of change and give Johnny Football and his coach a chance to focus on what they were brought in to do: win football games.
Mark Schreiber is a Trinity freshman. His column runs every other Friday. Send Mark a message on Twitter @MarkSchreib.