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Sports & Fitness // Hot Air
Steve Murray

Father Is Failing Johnny Football

Wright Thompson’s ESPN The Magazine article on Johnny Manziel paints a vivid and disturbing picture of a young man bordering on the abyss.

The Texas A&M quarterback is a man-child possessing an on-field maturity that runs counter to the 20-year-old’s ability to manage the stage he has been thrust upon – and doesn’t appear to want.

Manziel is trapped, caught between expectation, his need for attention and the desire to retreat from the ever-present crowds. He also has severe anger issues, a potential drinking problem and is surrounded by a cadre of enablers who are equally ill-equipped to deal with the issues.

It’s a sad tale moving toward tragedy.

Paul Manziel is Johnny’s father, and his son’s biggest obstacle. Lacking a relationship with his own father, Paul seems more intent to be Johnny’s friend than parent – going so far as to digress into adolescence, starting a crotch punching game with men months past their teenage years.

Backstage at a country music concert, the middle-aged Manziel got things going by punching one of his son’s friends in the crotch. Johnny then picks up the action, connecting with two more pairs of testicles. The scene finishes with Johnny and daddy celebrating with a fist bump of triumph.

This is Johnny Football’s primary adult mentor – a grown man turned pubescent boy for a moment of inappropriate male bonding. And one who is most comfortable placing the yoke of responsibility on others.

Thompson writes, “He (Paul Manziel) blames his own absent father for not helping him reach his potential as a golfer, for his flaming out on the mini tours, but somewhere inside he knows he shares the blame: He let his anger, and his immaturity, derail his dreams.”

The pattern is clear. When problems occur, blame someone else.

When talking about his son’s need for love and patience, Paul Manziel instinctively disparages the university which provided his son the platform to become an icon.

” ‘And if I give up on him, who’s gonna take over? The school sure the hell isn’t gonna do it.’ ”

When it was revealed the school considered suspending Manziel for a season after his June 2012 arrest outside a bar, and that he considered transferring, Papa Manziel lashed out.

“‘How’d that get out?’ he asks. ‘Less than 50 people know that. That’s someone in the school talking.’”

After police found Johnny’s car parked illegally, Paul blamed police for not just driving away. The officers knocked on Manziel’s door after midnight and offered his roommate the option of moving the vehicle rather than being issued a ticket. The offer went unappreciated.

“‘They know where Johnny lives. They take him home after the games. They know whose car it is. They are harassing him,’” said Paul Manziel.

He also didn’t like when Aggie criticized his son online.

The senior Manziel was twice kicked off the TexAgs message board after going overboard in his comments. On the second occasion, Paul Manziel used a friend’s ID to post on the site. His friend also was banned.

Most concerning is the drinking, which Paul Manziel believes his son does to deal with the stress. If he’s right, the talented QB could be facing a serious problem.

It doesn’t help that the redshirt sophomore-to-be drinks so openly and with apparent approval of every adult around him.

Thompson’s article is full of alcohol episodes. Not drunk and out of control episodes but the unhidden use of beverages he is not yet old enough to legally partake:

“He orders Crown and Sprite, which ranks second to Jack and Coke in the pantheon of overgrown-boy drinks.”

“The night he won the Heisman, he and his best friend, Steven Brant, sat in the window of his New York hotel, drinking beer in their pajamas, looking out at the bright lights.”

“The waiter arrives mid-rant and asks if Johnny would like another beer. ‘Yes, please,’ Johnny says quickly, a hard edge to his words.”

Most troubling, “‘He’s a boy’. As his dad says, ‘He ate Skittles, drank beer and won the Heisman.’”

This spring, Manziel began seeing a counselor to help him deal with the pressure of being a celebrity. He also met with an alcohol counselor six or seven times during the season. The effectiveness of the sessions appears spotty at best. What is clear is that Johnny Manziel is having a difficult time being Johnny Football. He’s happy on the field, sometimes a mess off of it.

While everyone saw an emerging hero after A&M’s win over Alabama, his mother saw something different; a frightened child.

Thompson writes: “After the shocking Alabama win, the one that earned Johnny the Heisman, a crowd gathered near the Texas A&M bus, pushing forward, crushed together, trying to see the star emerging from the locker room. Michelle watched as state troopers battled their way through the crowd with him. She saw the look in his eyes, one she’d never seen on a football field: panic and fear.”

Forget the grab-assing. It’s time for his father to accept responsibility and be a parent.

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