The plunge from professional orbit to obit became a sad reality long ago. It’s particularly sad in the world of sports and celebrity, which have all but melted into one stew of stardom.
But it’s hard to think of someone who plunged so far so fast as Johnny Manziel. The golden boy of college football hails from the Lone Star State, where Friday night football is de facto Sunday service, perhaps a rung below the Bible at the tail of the Bible Belt.
He went on to win the Heisman. The first-round selection and the money soon followed. But you had the sense, almost the moment the Browns plucked him from Texas A&M, that he was entering more than the lake-effect wasteland and outpost of pro football. He was facing bigger hurdles than a few ornery lineman looking to pound him into humility.
There are more monsters off the field than on it. And Johnny Manziel found them. Quickly. No matter the zip code, every town in America has a club, a corner, an alley, where the demons congregate. And you don’t have to look very far or hard to find them. Especially if you’re a man of Manziel’s means. As it is, over 25 million Americans suffer from substance abuse. Regular folk.
Those who have either endured and survived addiction, or love someone who has, often scoff at the cultural partition between alcohol and drugs, as if whiskey weren’t a drug, a mood-altering substance to be used and abused and rather addicted to. Booze is the Godfather of drugs. And the stats back it up. This is from the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc.:
“Alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the United States: 17.6 million people, or one in every 12 adults, suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence along with several million more who engage in risky, binge-drinking patterns that could lead to alcohol problems.
More than half of all adults have a family history of alcoholism and problem drinking, and more than 7 million children live in a household where at least one parent is dependent on or has abused alcohol.”
So that means someone you know, and love, is at least addicted to alcohol, if not narcotics. And booze wrecks more lives than cocaine, opiates (Vicodin, Percocet, Oxycontin, heroin) and methamphetamine combined.
Manziel’s father recently took his painful crusade to the airwaves, in an attempt to scoop his son from the haunted free-fall the world is watching. It was seen as a skit fit for late-night fodder. But when a dad publicly asks for someone — anyone — to save his son, or he may not see his next birthday, that’s a plea for help.
Not that Manziel is entirely worthy of sympathy. If he indeed struck his ex-girlfriend so hard that he collapsed her eardrum, grabbed her hair and dragged her back to his car, or did anything else that compelled her to get a protective order, then Johnny Football needs to meet the full force of Johnny Law.
But if he gets beyond that, sobers up and moves forward, you’d like to think she could forgive him, and perhaps settle something out of court. But for all the warped affects of addiction, there’s no excuse for violence against women. So if jail awaits Johnny, so be it. Part of future recovery is fixing and paying for the past.
During his Super Bowl State of the Union, Roger Goodell was asked about Manziel. The commissioner assured us that the league has ample aids in place to pull players like Manziel from his personal quicksand.
That’s hard to believe. Between their archaic domestic violence policy and withholding vital concussion data, the NFL has a rather dubious reputation for protecting its players, whom it largely views as high-end livestock. So if you’re waiting for the NFL to exhume Manziel from his vocational death bed, or even to rewire his warped sensibilities, you’ll grow old doing so.
No franchise can rescue Manziel. There’s no geographical solution to a physical and metaphysical sickness. Jerry Jones, for all his football largesse, can’t save Manziel from himself. A conga line of luminaries, from Von Miller to Dion Sanders to Earl Campbell, have offered to speak with Manziel. But that’s not an answer.
Treatment is what Manziel needs. Not a starting QB gig. Not some more sycophants. Not another girlfriend. Not even a friendly phone call from President Obama. Only immediate rehab, for an extended stay, and an ardent support group of friends and family can save him. If all the reports of his decay are accurate, then Johnny Manziel is perilously close to dying.
Sure, it’s easy to dismiss Manziel as a pampered brat who hasn’t heard “no” since he was in diapers, who, coated in Daddy’s oil money, perhaps took a pay cut to play in the NFL. And in his rookie season, he went from national character to caricature the first moment he was blasted by a linebacker. We love to see a man humbled, if not humiliated, in the face of his epic hubris. Cam Newton just ate way more than his words after he was demolished in the Super Bowl.
But we’re way past humor now.
Johnny Manziel is a very sick young man. Why would anyone fly to Vegas when they’re supposed to be home, at work, on a trainer’s table, getting treatment, doing physical therapy or studying film? Why would anyone show up to work drunk? Why would anyone drink days after leaving rehab?
It’s all part of the sickness. The manifestations are as varied as the people impacted by it. If you’re not addicted or haven’t dealt closely with someone who is, this may read like Latin. It’s so simple, you say. Just put down the drink, the drug, the danger. If it were that simple, millions of lives would not have been lost to the disease.
Try telling Lawrence Taylor he’s soft. Or Mike Tyson. Or Doc Gooden. Or Darryl Strawberry. Or Josh Hamilton, Andre Agassi, Ricky Williams, Roy Tarpley, Len Bias, Steve Howe, Derek Boogaard or Michael Irvin. Or thousands of behemoths who could bench press 500 pounds, pummel the toughest men on earth with his fists, yet were helpless in the face of a 12 ounces of whiskey, or a quarter-ounce of powder.
CC Sabathia literally locked himself in a Baltimore hotel room and drank himself out of the MLB playoffs. If nothing else, Sabathia is known for his blue-collar ethic and epic effort in October. The last person you expect to leave the mound under the bright playoff lights is the Yankees’ hefty lefty. We can only hope CC, a good guy for many years, returns and, more importantly, recovers.
Manziel has to help himself. He has to want to help himself. Maybe then, Johnny Football can get back to playing football. Before he can get back to playing football, Johnny Football has to find Johnny Manziel first.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.