Watching the legend of Johnny Football unravel

By Kristen Tribe | Published Saturday, August 3, 2013

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Last weekend I was tired of hearing about Johnny Manziel.

I groaned Sunday night as a lame television news story told of his latest exploits in Austin, this time getting kicked out of a fraternity party.

Kristen Tribe

Kristen Tribe

My frustration stemmed from the fact it was a “non-news event,” and this was one more step on his path to self-destruction, which obviously would impact the Texas A&M 2013 football season.

We hadn’t had much to cheer about in Kyle Field since I graduated in 1998, so last season was a sweet reprieve and more than any Aggie had hoped for entering the Southeastern Conference. Manziel electrified the field, helped revive the A&M football program and was just plain fun to watch.

Everyone fell into the Johnny Football frenzy.

So for months, I had extended to him the pass of youthful indiscretion in the wake of his antics and tantrums. But by last weekend, I was tired of it. Partially frustrated by his immaturity and equally aggravated by the media’s relentless spotlight, I wished he would straighten up. Either that or just go ahead and implode, but this merry-go-round of ill behavior was getting old.

Tuesday, I changed my tune.

ESPN posted an article, “The trouble with Johnny,” by Wright Thompson on its website, and it gives incredible insight into the Manziel family, the environment in which Johnny was raised and the demons that he currently faces.

It left me feeling sympathetic to certain aspects of Johnny’s “plight,” if it can be called that, but also frustrated with his parents who seem to indulge his every whim.

I’m not trying to make excuses for Manziel, but the article did make me think more about what it’s like to go from being a high school senior in small town Texas to a nationally famous athlete in a matter of four months.

Thompson writes: “After the first home game, Johnny ran to his house from the stadium. Nobody noticed. By the end of the season, the local police needed to drive him the few blocks in a patrol car.”

It makes me wonder if, after that first game, Manziel imagined the notoriety and fame that lay ahead. He probably hoped for it, unaware of the potential consequences and hassles.

I hadn’t before considered the speed with which his star rose, but I think it would be tough for any 19-year-old to keep things in perspective under those circumstances.

At the beginning of last season I agreed with Coach Kevin Sumlin’s rule that prohibited freshmen players from doing media interviews. It was refreshing on some level, and I thought it was a good move to help keep young players focused while easing them into the spotlight.

But as Thompson points out, it may have accidentally done more harm than good. He says the policy turned Manziel into “an empty vessel for people to fill as they saw fit: a folk hero, a cartoon character, a savior.”

He goes on to say, “Texas A&M wouldn’t let anyone know Johnathan Manziel, so they all fell in love with Johnny Football.”

A sad statement, but keen observation.

How could he ever live up to our expectations?

On the field he seemed at ease, unshakeable and brave. He carried the confidence and cockiness necessary for his position and truly flourished on the field. In the days leading up to his first interview, I was nervous, hoping he would speak humbly and intelligently. And he did. There wasn’t one on-air hiccup.

But he was swept up in the hype, as were his parents. Apparently no one stopped long enough to consider how to help him cope, manage stress responsibly and grow as a person and athlete. He’s likely never been held accountable for his actions and until he is, he has no reason to change.

But I hope he finds his way – on and off the field.

Kristen Tribe is news editor of the Messenger.

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