Its impossible to know at this point what kind of pro quarterback, or guy, Johnny Manziel will turn out to be. But the grim moralizers have no right to dictate who he is or what he should act like so long as hes still a nominal amateur who plays the game for room, board, tuition and free drinks.
Most of the critics ripping the Heisman Trophy winner for his offseason behavior are users and touts trying to build their names by invoking his. The day Texas A&M pays Manziel a licensing fee for trading on his image is the day we can write a morals clause into his contract. Until then, the only people with the right to scold him are the head coach who gave him a scholarship and his daddy.
Manziel may or may not have been overserved, which may or may not have prevented him from getting out of bed and missing a session at the Manning familys summer football camp last week. Apparently he lay there in a heap under the gaze of Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron, his roommate, whose Shirley Temple demeanor is the model Manziels critics want – as if quarterbacking and on-field generalship are in direct proportion to Prince Charmingness. And as if being overserved and oversleeping defines Manziel once and for all as an entitled slacker. Well, so what if he is?
The main impression left by Manziel since last week is that hes un-embarrassable. There was something Teflon about Manziels self-possessed public appearance this week at Southeastern Conference football media day, where he answered questions about his drinking, sleeping and tweeting habits.
At the end of the day, Im not going for the Miss America pageant, he said. You could interpret that as either supremely confident or too dumb to learn. The point is, we cant know which one he is yet. Hes 20. And you know what else? Its summer.
As the first redshirt freshman to ever win the Heisman Trophy, Manziel played football last season with all the abandon of a Labrador chasing a toy. He apparently enjoys his life off the field with the same mindless energy. He has been caught roistering outside of a bar, aired indiscretions on Twitter and committed the unpardonable sins of relishing his celebrity, and his daddys money, with courtside seats at an NBA game and a round of golf at Pebble Beach. All of which he refuses to apologize for.
Im going to continue to live life to the fullest, he says.
Say this for Manziel: Hes not holier than thou. He doesnt disguise his enjoyment of the high life, or deny he likes his social refreshments or pretend he hasnt made mistakes. He seems frank, unaffected and wry; thats a nice change from the usual media-trained platitudes.
The spotlight is 10 times brighter and 10 times hotter than I thought it was two months ago, he admitted.
Only one aspect of it didnt ring true: He leaned a little too hard on the Im just a 20-year-old college kid excuse. The Mannings football camp was a volunteer summer camp, but it was a commitment he made because it was a big-name event. He got the brand of attention he deserved when he cheated a bunch of kids and didnt fulfill his responsibilities there. Now we will see what he does with that lesson, and if hes learned anything after pleading guilty Monday to a misdemeanor charge resulting from an off-campus scuffle in June 2012.
Ultimately, the opinions of Manziel that are the most telling are those of his Texas A&M coaches and teammates.
These guys know where my head is at and where my heart is at, Manziel said. He can make all the nonsense of the summer evaporate by adding some substance and discipline to his natural talent. After all, thats what people go to college to do. Lets wait and see who he is at the age of 21.