From the first Morning Jolt of the week:
Johnny Manziel, Victim
John Branch, pro football columnist for the New York Times:
The N.F.L. draft — our coverage of it and our appetite for it — is a cultural phenomenon. But it also shows, as much as any sporting “event” in this country does, how fans and leagues — and even the players themselves in this age of social media — are willing to dehumanize the games they love, turning people into products and lives into entertainment.
Name a form of popular culture that does not turn people into products and lives into entertainment. Obviously, Hollywood does. Theater. Dance. (You want to talk about long-term negative health effects? Let’s talk about professional ballet.) Music, in all its forms. (Has this guy never seen any episode of “Behind the Music”?) Maybe novels? Eh, even then, there’s a certain amount of marketing of the persona of the author – J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, George R.R. Martin, John Grisham. The art world? Ask Warhol.
Branch’s exhibit A for this dehumanization is the rise and fall and subsequent widespread mockery is… former Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel:
Manziel is the latest example, playing out in real time as another draft approaches. To read online comments and social media posts about Manziel’s troubles — arrests, parties, rehabilitation — is to explore the underbelly of fandom, dismissive and cruel. Schadenfreude is the flip side of reverence, and perhaps a stronger attraction.
When are we allowed to be mad at a guy for taking one of life’s golden opportunities and throwing it away? Here’s a young man who forgot the lesson of every afterschool special, who ignored every warning, dismissed every pep talk from a coach or teammate, tuned out every bit of criticism, no matter how valid… Everyone around him, it seemed, warned him that his heavy-drinking, hard-partying lifestyle was jeopardizing his career, his health, and perhaps his life – his parents, his coaches, this teammates. He ignored them all, and seemed to demonstrate less impulse control over time, not more. The vast majority of NFL players manage to go through their careers without ever getting in trouble with law enforcement. Why was it so hard for Manziel? If, as Branch contends, it’s cruel to mock Manziel, is it fair to mock anyone?
From Branch’s column, it’s easy to forget…
Johnny Manziel has been indicted by a Dallas grand jury on a misdemeanor assault with bodily injury charge, sources told KRLD-AM in Dallas Sunday night.
Prosecutors presented the case to the grand jury on Thursday. Manziel faces up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.
The charge stems from an altercation Manziel had in February with his ex-girlfriend Colleen Crowley, who obtained a protective order against him shortly thereafter.
The indictment came despite a civil settlement being reached between Manziel and Crowley, according to KRLD-AM. In a sworn affidavit, Crowley said Manziel hit her and threatened to kill them both. Her lawyer said he struck her so hard she suffered hearing loss.
Why are NFL fans the villain here?
For what it’s worth, in his first two seasons, he was a pretty disappointing player:
In 15 total games he had eight starts, a 2-6 record, 57 percent completions, 1,675 yards, seven touchdowns, seven interceptions, 6.5 yards per attempt, 111.7 yards per game passing.
He also ran 46 times for 259 yards and one touchdown.
Branch, the Times’ football columnist, tries to shame his readers for enjoying reading about the draft, caring who their team drafts, and apparently not thinking about these players as human beings enough:
The results of those measurements, along with those from various other tryouts, are mixed with rumor and speculation to create “mock” drafts. Players are plotted over seven rounds of the coming draft, as if it is important, or possible, for anyone to know whom the Denver Broncos might select with the 253rd pick…
Knowing what we know about things like concussions and addiction; the possibility of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or C.T.E.; and the likelihood of a shortened life expectancy, you might think that we have moved past viewing football players as interchangeable parts to be haggled or numbers to be calculated.
You know, I think the world has bigger problems than pro football fans being insufficiently humanitarian in their assessment of their team’s needs at outside linebacker. I mean, they never found those schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram. Can we please stop telling football fans that they’re the problem? All they do is pay money and ask for some escape from their troubles for a few hours. Thinking about whether the offensive line can hold together is more fun and diverting than thinking about paying the mortgage, whether that rattle in the car’s engine is going to be a problem, or the traffic.
Fans did not make Johnny Manziel go out and party. You’re not Johnny Manziel’s problem, NFL fans. Johnny Manziel’s problem is staring back at him in the mirror.