Tuesday, December 01, 2015 • 09:47

I Kid You Not: Johnny Football and the curse of extraordinary talent

September 03, 2013
I've never been really, really good at something.

I know that I have a decent amount of writing talent, and I very much appreciate all those who give me their feedback about the things I write. I also know that I'm decent at softball, indoor soccer, playing a few instruments, cooking a burger and figuring out how to connect a new device to a WiFi router. This isn't going to turn into a laundry list of all the things I'm good at, although I have learned pretty well how to get a hair color stain out of a white shirt.

The thing is, I'm pretty good at a bunch of different things, as are a lot of people these days. Information seems much easier to obtain than it did a decade ago, and so many people are taking advantage of it to take better photographs, to change the oil in the car or to stack and un-stack plastic cups really, really quickly.

But there aren't that many people, myself included, who are really, really good at one specific thing. Those who are form the elite of our world and, in many cases, are deserving of the fame and adulation that are the natural extensions of our collective admiration.

Not being one of these elite-level talents means that I can't fully understand what it's like to live that kind of a life, no matter how many noobs I frag in Call of Duty.

Consequently, I don't think I'll ever really understand the full picture of what Johnny Manziel is going through right now.

Johnny Manziel is the sophomore quarterback for Texas A&M University and last year's Heisman Trophy winner as the best college football player in the country. He won this award as a true freshman, meaning he was only a year removed from high school during his phenomenal 2012 season.

He is also the first true freshman to win the coveted award, and a lot of people in the sports media wondered if it would be a good idea to give such a prestigious award to a 19-year-old kid.

The jury is still out as far as the long-term effects, but less than a year removed from the award's presentation, things aren't looking so great for Johnny Football.

Manziel spent the summer tweeting photos of himself with LeBron James and Megan Fox (on separate occasions, lest the Twitter-verse explode), going to Mardi Gras, dropping in on any major sporting event he could find, flaking out on his obligations at the Manning Passing Academy because he "overslept," and, most notably, getting in trouble with the NCAA because he allegedly profited from the sale of items bearing his signature, which is against the rules of the governing body overseeing collegiate athletics.

Of this last charge, he was finally, if confusingly, acquitepunished (a new word I just made up) by the NCAA, which forced him to sit out for the first half of the first game of the 2013 college football season. Reports say that the NCAA couldn't find any evidence of wrongdoing on Manziel's part, and yet they still kind of punished him by sitting him down for 30 minutes of the first game, which is, for a major college football program, almost always a laugher of a contest against an outmatched opponent.

So how does he handle this little bit of adversity? The way we all would, of course — by talking trash to the linebackers at the University of Rice, making a mock signature gesture to one of them, taunting some other players after a touchdown, celebrating by rubbing his fingertips together in a "money" gesture, and all but ignoring his own head coach's remonstration on his way back to the sideline.

Head coach Kevin Sumlin benched Manziel for the rest of the game, but with Texas A&M leading by three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, it didn't seem like much of a punishment.

Since that game on Saturday, many in the sports media have been chastising Manziel for his immaturity, his brazen disregard for authority, and for what seemed to be the biggest issue most commentators had with the situation — Manziel's squandering of his other-worldly talent by acting in such a way that every move he makes turns into a circus.

I have to wonder if Manziel can even help it.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm definitely not a slave-to-our-emotions kind of guy. Every single one of us makes choices every day, and sometimes, in order to make a good choice, we have to choose to do something that's contrary to whatever's going on inside us. That's pretty much life.

But for Manziel, and for a lot of other privileged young athletes, I wouldn't be at all surprised if it's difficult to remember that the world does not, in fact, revolve around them.

Before he was Johnny Football, Manziel was a high school kid the way most of us were high school kids once. He played football all four years at Tivy High in Texas, but wasn't the full-time starting quarterback until the start of his junior season.

He didn't start to garner national scouting attention until after an outstanding junior season, and he finished his high school career with a bucket load of awards and accolades.

But anyone who has seen Friday Night Lights or has ever heard of Texas and football knows that high school football in Texas is bigger than college football in a lot of other places across the country.

All of that to say that Manziel has probably been treated like a little prince for the entirety of his adolescent and adult life. And he's certainly not alone.

So many of the travails that await successful young athletes stem from, in my opinion, the spoiling of the talented that's trickling down to athletes of younger and younger ages.

It's all about what we're used to.

If you grew up in a house full of left-handed people, you might think that the entire world is left-handed for a while. If you entered high school without ever having spoken to a girl other than your mother and sisters, you might think it is normal to entirely ignore the existence of any young lady you think is pretty or has a pulse.

And if you go through high school and your first year of college with an ever-increasing circle of gushing admirers on a national stage, you might not know exactly how to deal with people who don't think you're a lock to be Jesus' first pick in His fantasy football draft. You might be tempted to think that spot is reserved for Tim Tebow, but I like to think that his first pick would be Adrian Peterson, because Our Lord knows how valuable touchdowns are, and He might have had a supernatural hand in Peterson's astounding recovery from knee surgery in 2011.

Anyway, Manziel is probably a little bit confused by all of the backlash after the whirlwind summer of Letterman appearances and NCAA testimonies. Somewhere in his mind, he must be thinking that all he had to do was stick to the same old stuff he's always done and people had no choice but to continue to adore him — because that's the reality he's been conditioned to accept for the past five-plus years.

So no, I'm not disappointed in his immature behavior, because I expect the immature to behave as such. I'm not shocked or saddened or disappointed or flabbertained (another situation requiring a new word) or any other trumped-up emotion that we like to fling in the general direction of things we don't particularly like.

At this point, I just think Johnny Manziel is a kid who needs some time to learn what reality really is. He needs to learn the lessons that only time and experience can teach about maturity, responsibility, respect, and character. He needs to learn how to listen to the people who really know him and to weed out all the hyperbole going on around him.

He needs to grow up, the same way all of us do.

I hope he does, because he's really, really good at football, and it would be a shame for such a talented kid to end up as another casualty of believing the hype.

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