Leave Johnny Alone: Why The Media’s Crucifixion Of Johnny Manziel Needs To Stop

  • Zach Berger

Tebowmania, in its most monstrous form, is a thing of the past. But it has been replaced by Manzielmania, which is ten times the monster that the media’s Tebow coverage ever was. What was once constant raving about one player has turned into a crucifixion of Johnny Football for reasons unbeknownst to me.

Sports media likes to pick one player and talk about them non-stop for an extended period of time before moving on to the next guy. That isn’t an issue when they’re in love with the player like they were with Tebow. It’s a bit of a bore and a nuisance, but it brings in viewers and readers and that’s perfectly understandable. But when that enthusing is replaced by unwarranted, unjustified, and persistent criticism, most of which stems from Johnny Manziel being a typical college kid, a problem begins to arise.

We first saw this kind of media nightmare when Tebow, as the Broncos starting quarterback, pulled off a slew of fourth quarter comebacks. That was the peak of Tebowmania. “You can’t talk enough Tebow,” former ESPN Radio host Doug Gottlieb recalled being told at one point. It has resurfaced again from time to time, like when Tebow was signed by the Patriots just a few weeks ago and ESPN mentioned him 137 times in 120 minutes. But for all intents and purposes, Tebowmania is thankfully either dead or in the process of a slow, painful death.

Then again, I’m not so sure that I should be thankful about its demise. Tebowmania was certainly the lesser of two evils. In recent weeks, Johnny Manziel has been thrust into the very same spotlight that once relentlessly shone on Tim Tebow. When ESPN needed to fill some time on “SportsCenter” or “Around the Horn” or “First Take,” their go-to subject was always Tim Tebow. That void has been filled by Johnny Football, the young Texas A&M quarterback who won the Heisman as a freshman.

Manzielmania first began when Johnny Football led the Aggies to a 29-24 upset victory over #1-ranked Alabama on the road. It’s safe to say that the vast majority of the sports world had never heard his name before that defining game. But after that game, nobody could get enough Johnny Football, and that was certainly reflected in the media’s coverage of his great freshman campaign.

At first, the coverage of Manziel was very similar to Tebow. Reporters and pundits gushed about Manziel all day, every day. And that was fine. Sure, the majority of people probably don’t want to hear about Johnny Manziel all day long in the same way that they didn’t want to hear about Tim Tebow all day long, but at first they were simply saying great things about a kid who’s a great football player, and all was well and normal in the world of sports journalism.

But then things took a turn for the worse with this tweet from Manziel last month:

“S*** like tonight is a reason why I can’t wait to leave college station … whenever it may be.”

That’s the quote that turned Manzielmania, a non-stop stream of positivity about the Aggies quarterback, into a month-long Manziel crucifixion, a media-driven witch hunt of sorts that doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.

First, the subject was that tweet and the meaning behind it before it turned out to be about a parking ticket. Then came Manziel’s early exit from a Manning family quarterback camp, which may or may not have been related to a hangover. And then the focus became Manziel getting kicked out of a Texas frat party.

There’s a distinction that needs to be made here. When you’re covering Manziel in the way that many blogs like Deadspin have by mentioning his alcohol-related escapades in a “Hey, look at what Johnny Manziel is up to” sort of style, that’s perfectly fine.

But if you’re ESPN or any other national, accredited, syndicated news outlet, stories about a college kid drinking aren’t for you. If you’re going to plaster his face on national television or news websites to analyze the defects of his character based on him partaking in normal, typical, average college student behavior, that’s wrong. If you’re going to crucify the 20-year old kid for partying, having some fun, and making a few pretty minor mistakes when juxtaposed with the big picture of the sports world, that’s wrong.

If sports media wants to pick one subject to be their proverbial dead horse every few months and beat it until it dies a second, third, and seventeenth time, that’s fine, albeit slightly annoying, if it means constant gushing about a player like Tim Tebow. But the second that the dead horse beating makes a switch to constantly rebuking, criticizing, and admonishing a college kid for being a college kid, it has to stop.

It’s time for sports media to take a look in the mirror and think about what they’re doing.

Please, I’m begging you: Leave Johnny alone.

Photos via Getty Images