Image Courtesy of Governor Rick Perry (who is an asshole)

Image Courtesy of Governor Rick Perry (who is an asshole)

Disclaimer: this is not a baseball post. But it is about Johnny Football, who, aside from Jason Kipnis, is Ricky and I’s favorite person in the world. Sorry, family members.

Since poor ‘ol Johnny Manziel walked in late to Archie Manning’s center for the advancement of kids-who-throw-footballs-good, dehydrated or hungover, there has been the classic talking head’s response over his “makeup” and “character”. Almost all have lambasted him for being a Heisman winner who doesn’t take life seriously enough, who disrespects the game, and who won’t have an NFL career if he keeps this up. To all of the talking heads, I just want to say this one time: Shut up.

There seem to be a legion of mostly old southern white men working as analysts who propagate the idea that there is a football tradition, one steeped in honor and ‘playing the game right’, which they support with a bunch of colloquialisms such as the ones I’ve mentioned above: “character”, “makeup”, “heart”. These have more to do with off the field persona, as if they expect a good strong kid with “backbone” to show that on the field. It’s all intangibles.

They do this especially for quarterbacks, and especially for white quarterbacks, who they seem to think should be the scions of moral integrity in the game – the leather laces that act as the only thing holding the riotous mass of dark leather together. They always do this with serious racial undertones, using completely different terms to describe quarterbacks who are black or mixed race vs. quarterbacks who are white. But no one cares to challenge this, because we have a professional sports team named the Redskins, and because the heartbeat of the game is sustained by old white men who don’t give a shit about socioeconomic and racial inequality.

Maybe there was a football tradition once. Maybe Johnny Unitas, with his flat top, quiet strength, and cannon for an arm, led through example on the field and off. Maybe he was a Chevy guy and never drank, I don’t know. And that’s the thing – we’ll probably never know the in depth history of his life, because the media wasn’t a circus back then. Compared to today, that Johnny was in a desert of media coverage. He could walk around without people obsessing over how he was hungover in the offseason or had three drinks on Friday night, or how he was at a fourth of July party with a sparkler in his mouth.

The days of Johnny Unitas and sparse, respectful media coverage are over. They have been for some time now. Brett Favre texted pictures of his dick to a NY Jets hostess. NFL players have been shooting themselves and others for the past ten years. The number of DUIs this off season in the NFL is currently 10. But hey! There’s still over a month until the season starts, so we could break last year’s tally of 13.

The failure of football at all levels, whether it be high school, college, or the NFL, is that there is a major disconnect between what football “should be” and what it actually is.

I’m sure the rash of suicides, murders, DUIs, brain injuries, convictions for dog fighting, and other scandals are extremely troubling for everyone involved in football management. I’m sure it’s troubling for many of the athletes, too. I’m not going to sit here and blame all of football’s woes on the fact that it’s an inherently vicious game, but it should be obvious that it is a part of the picture. There is no rosy image of the NFL anymore. There is change coming, make no mistake.

The problem with Johnny Manziel is that he is being roasted for not conforming to this once rosy picture. He is not the good white boy who stays in to study and doesn’t drink and won’t have sex until he’s married. This, of course, is precisely why all of us horny drug using party sluts love him. I remember the moment that Ricky and I fell in love with Johnny Football – it was while watching the upset of Alabama last year in a seedy Oakland sports bar. I actually remember the very pass that did it for me:

From that vision springing through triple coverage, we grew to love the zany stuff he did off the field, all the crazy stories about him, and how his last name truly was Football.

Johnny is alluring because he is the perfect metaphor for football in its current state. His speed, his excitement, his unpredictability, and yes, his imperfections, are what the game of football is right now. When he burst onto the scene last year, we were enamored with his background – his weaving in and outside of the lines of expectations during his youth, his crazy athletic achievements; he was already a legend. And honestly, in retrospect, winning the Heisman was probably the worst thing that could’ve happened to him. The microscope went on his every move, and the talking heads didn’t like what they saw, and they labeled him a non conformist to the Archie Manning school of white guys who throw the football good down the football field. Unfortunately, the legend is continuing to be worn off by these hacks, and now we’re seeing who Johnny is and always was – an extremely talented young man with a bit of a wild streak.

Here’s the point of this whole article – there is nothing wrong with him being that. Johnny Manziel is 20 years old. He is in college, and now he is a celebrity. People want to party with him. Women want to have sex with him. The best case scenario is that he’ll play a few more years of brilliant college football, get drafted, and be a decent NFL quarterback.

The talking heads will tell you that they are up in arms about all of this because they don’t want to see his talent go to waste, and they don’t want him to bring “shame to the game”. But in reality they don’t give a shit about Johnny Manziel. All they care about are the last shreds of the dying mirage of football tradition, one that never really existed, one that was borne out of bullshit ceremonies like the Heisman trophy that old white men use to paint a glossy veneer on a vicious, exciting game.

Maybe Johnny Football won’t take a snap in the NFL – that’s partly his decision to make. If that happens, it will be kind of sad, and we’ll remember that year that Johnny ran all over Alabama, and then we’ll forget he ever existed except for the 10 and 20 year retrospectives of once famous sports stars.

But I won’t forget, and neither will Ricky. We’ll continue to talk about the Legend of Johnny Football Heisman Trophy Plays. We’ll reminisce about how wild that Manziel kid was off the field and how he captured everything that was fun about the sport of football in the first place. And we’ll wear our Johnny Football t-shirts, the ones with the number 2 on a football helmet with a big picture of Texas on it.  The same one I’m now about to go cut the sleeves off of. I know Johnny would approve.