When Johnny Manziel played quarterback for Texas A&M, I became a fan. After his speech at the Heisman Trophy ceremony, I thought: A future NFL star is born.
Unfortunately, this just shows you how wrong a person can be.
Just one week after being named the starting quarterback for the Cleveland Browns, Johnny Manziel was benched as a third-string quarterback. It had nothing to do with his on-field talent; it was all about his maturity. Call it a case study on an emerging generation of athletes, whose gifts may be bigger than their character.
- Johnny’s coaches spoke to him, before a bye week, making their expectations clear on his behavior during his time off. They expected him to handle himself “the right way.” Coach Mike Pettine said it was sad that they even had to talk like this to a grown man—but alas, they did.
- Even after this clear communication, Johnny just couldn’t control himself. He got “crunk” (crazy drunk) at a Texas party and, well… you know, a guy will do anything when intoxicated. With so much time on his hands, you can’t expect him to stay sober the entire time, right? Let’s just say Manziel didn’t represent his team well.
- Not only did he lack the intelligence to follow his supervisor’s orders as a professional, he then felt obligated to post pictures and video of his wild and crazy time. Yep, he did. In our day, we now do stupid things and then feel the need to broadcast it for all to see. It’s part of the new currency: a large platform to flaunt.
“We all know what happened and what got put out there, and it led to much disappointment and frustration,” Coach Mike Pettine said later on the Cleveland Browns Radio Network. “It was something we felt had violated the trust that we had put in him…”
Days later, the sobering news was broadcast about Johnny’s party. Pat McManamon for ESPN writes that Johnny Manziel’s decisions off the field this season cost him the chance to establish himself on the field, as his latest incidents demoted him from starter to third string.
May I suggest a handful of lessons young athletes can learn from this?
- If you want to go “pro,” start acting like a professional now.
Coach Pettine said he felt let down by his quarterback’s behavior given his on-field growth. “I’m especially disappointed in his actions because he’s been working very hard.” But alas, Johnny’s conduct didn’t match the role. Note to self: You move forward when your leaders see your capacity for a new level now. Don’t wait to act like a pro until you’re a pro. Promotion is only the recognition of current preparation.
- You can’t have it both ways: discipline can’t be a category.
People can’t live two lives and expect to be trusted. Trust evaporates when coaches see discipline in one area, but a total lack of discipline in others. Johnny Manziel says he wants to quarterback the Browns, but his life doesn’t show it. Leadership always begins with self-leadership. Dr. Aaron Stern writes, “To attain emotional maturity, one must be able to delay gratification in favor of long-range goals.” His progress on the field was eclipsed by his lack of discipline off the field.
- When given direction from a coach, see it as a “test” to pass.
Johnny’s coaches said they “didn’t use the word ‘test’ but that’s essentially what the bye week ended up being.” How we carry ourselves when on our own is always a pop quiz. Social media usually offers our grade. Professionals must either align with team boundaries or get out. Unfortunately, Johnny all but screamed: I don’t want to start anymore.
- To be treated as a mature adult, you must earn it with habits.
Adolescence is a period during which young people strain to maintain the privileges of childhood while demanding the rights of adulthood. Unfortunately, you can’t have both. Rights always come with responsibilities. Johnny—if you want to be a man, you can’t keep acting like a boy. Healthy adults build habits that serve as guardrails for their progress. Coaches watch for patterns in your life. What are yours?
Perhaps Coach Pettine said it best: “Success goes well beyond the field… It’s a little easier to handle [antics like Manziel’s] when it’s just a one-time occurrence, but when behavior repeats, not just him but with anybody, it’s certainly a cause for concern,”
He added: “You have a vision of what you want the team to look like, how you want them to handle themselves when they’re out of the building. We talk a lot about it … so when you have incidents like that [where] a guy knows that he represents more than himself and has issues off the field, it is frustrating.”
A word to the wise—learn from the lessons Johnny Manziel teaches us.