By Shehan Jeyarajah
Johnny Manziel is no stranger to preferential treatment. The Texas A&M quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner who has been dubbed “Johnny Football” comes from a family of success and oil wealth.
Behind Manziel’s fame and fortune is the story of a kid who has a lot of growing up to do, while the NCAA allows him to sink.
ESPN reported on Aug. 4 that the NCAA was investigating claims that Johnny Manziel accepted payment for autographs that he signed back in January. ESPN reported that a broker came forward and claimed that he had paid Manziel $7,500 to sign 300 helmets while attending an event.
A cell phone video provided reportedly shows Manziel signing all the helmets, but does not directly show him receiving the money.
Would a kid who has repeatedly shown his all-about-me personality have signed 300 helmets out of the goodness of his heart?
The NCAA held a hearing with Manziel on Aug. 24. ESPN reported that they questioned him for six hours straight, before letting him go.
A decision was reached four days later. Four days.
Concurrent with this investigation, Miami football has been under investigation. The committee to decide their fate has been deliberating for over two and a half months with no response. The investigation of Cam Newton in 2011 dragged out over most of a football season.
In fact, the average wait time for a BCS school after final hearing is over three months. Not Johnny Football though. Manziel got out of hot water in only four days. It typically takes the NCAA four days to tie their shoes, and suddenly they’ve gone through an entire investigation in that timeframe.
And that investigation led the NCAA to suspend Manziel for the first half of their first game. Or as many people on Twitter joked, he received “half a slap on the wrist.”
The suspension of Johnny “Football” exposes the NCAA and BCS for the mismanaged and corrupt organization that it is.
In 2009, current Dallas Cowboy and former Oklahoma State wide receiver Dez Bryant was put under investigation for a meeting that he had with Deion Sanders. Bryant was brought into a room and questioned about the meeting.
“The manner they asked the questions led me to believe that I did something wrong when in fact I had not,” Bryant said later. “My mistake was not seeking advice prior to being interrogated.”
The relationship between the two players was entirely legal. But Dez didn’t know that. He did not have a lawyer, he did not know the rules and he assumed that the NCAA wouldn’t ask him questions if he was not wrong, so he lied.
That lie led to the NCAA to suspend him for an entire season.
“Hell yeah, I’ll be mad [if the NCAA doesn’t suspend Manziel],” Bryant said. “I will be mad.”
“I will be mad more at the NCAA on how they do things,” Bryant continued. “I just feel like it’s not fair. This is something I have no problem talking about because I feel like somebody needs to say something to him and let it be known how they treat people is not right.”
The NCAA’s response to Manziel gives a precedent that he is bigger than football. Two and a half month investigations were put aside to hurry and exonerate Manziel. For the stars of the college football television, exceptions will clearly be made.
A similar situation is former USC running back and current Detroit Lion Reggie Bush. Bush was one of the most electrifying running backs in NCAA history while winning two National Championships. NCAA investigations surrounding him were pushed back until after he was already in the NFL and the television money was already raked in. Would the investigation have been quicker if Bush wasn’t making the NCAA millions?
Even if Manziel is only guilty of “inadvertent violations regarding the signing of autographs,” half a game is light. In the eyes of some fans, the half a game suspension is an effort to save face while also allowing Manziel to play in the games that matter financially for college football. Even the half a game suspension meant that the country turned on the season opener to see Manziel play after halftime.
I don’t blame Manziel for the investigation, and neither does Bryant. Manziel did what was asked of him by college football. This is a problem with how the NCAA does things.
I blame Manziel for his response.
When Manziel came on the field after his half a slap on the wrist, his performance certainly spoke for itself. He completed six out his eight passes for 94 yards and three touchdowns in only one quarter.
But the win wasn’t enough for Manziel. He couldn’t just beat Rice, a team they were projected to beat, he had to embarrass them.
Before throwing his first touchdown, Manziel appeared to taunt a Rice defender by pretending to sign an autograph. On another instance, he appeared to rub his fingers together in the universal symbol for “money.” Later on in the game, he was benched by Aggie football coach Kevin Sumlin for taunting Rice by pointing at the scoreboard after another touchdown throw.
“I’m not saying he’s a punk, but he acted like a punk in that game,” former Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher said on his Fox Sports 1 show. “He’s making plays out there and running around and running his mouth.”
Urlacher knows that Manziel has the talent.
“He’s such a good football player. You saw in the second half, what he did — three touchdown passes and ran it pretty well. It’s just too bad he had to act like that.”
Rice finished in 10th place in non-BCS Conference USA last season. Texas A&M is the seventh ranked team in the country. The Aggies were supposed to beat Rice, and beat Rice easily; this was true regardless of whether Manziel played.
When Manziel takes the chance to pretend to write autographs and collect money, he is laughing in the face of the NCAA’s investigation. But as long as the television dollars continue to pile in, Manziel is untouchable.
John Paul Manziel, Johnny’s father, knows his son has had his troubles with his newfound fame.
“I don’t enjoy playing golf with Johnny because I don’t want to see that temper. He still needs to see he’s wrong – and how to control his temper. If I give up on him, who’s going to take over? The school sure the hell isn’t going to do it.”
Manziel is responsible for his own life. No one has any obligation to “fix” him.
But if the NCAA and Texas A&M are going to continue the preferential treatment they give their stars, Manziel is headed down a road that will be difficult to return.
“It could all come unraveled,” Manziel’s father said. “And when it does, it’s going to be bad. Real bad.”
Shehan Jeyarajah is a sophomore political science and journalism double major from Coppell. He is a sports writer for the Lariat.