Johnny Manziel: Being 20 is not an excuse

Well, at least it's not a Dolphins cap...

It’s impossible to ignore the big story in college football right now.

This is how it goes. Johnny Manziel allegedly had a little too much fun on Bourbon Street one night. As a consequence, he struggled to wake up in the morning and was sent home/kicked out of the Manning Passing Academy.

Manziel offered a very different set of events at the SEC media event last week. He says his phone died, he overslept. He’d been busy, he was tired and it was just one of those things.

I’m not entirely sure many believe Manziel’s side of the story, but it hasn’t stopped a lot of people supporting him on this issue. It’s not just the army of Texas A&M homer’s either. As Sally Jenkins at the Washington Post points out: “He’s 20. And you know what else? It’s summer.”

Sorry, but I’m not having that. Not one bit.

Admittedly most 20-year-old’s attending college spend a lot of time partying. Many will miss the occasional lecture, meeting or seminar.

Having attended University in the United Kingdom where it’s legal to drink alcohol from the age of 18, I can assure you I pushed my liver to the limit. And ultimately that led to a few missed alarm calls along the way. It happens to everyone. That’s what regular 20-year-old’s do.

The thing is, Johnny Manziel isn’t a regular 20-year-old.

Regular 20-year-old’s don’t receive multi-million dollar contracts to play in the NFL.

However much you want to debate it, these kids aren’t like me and you. They aren’t. There’s so much more at stake for them.

Is it unfair? Nope. It’s part of the (well paid) job.

If Manziel doesn’t want to be a quarterback, he can give up at any time. While ever he strives to become a professional sportsman, he has to know that life for the next year or two is going to be one long job interview.

C’est la vie. It’s how the NFL works. Either embrace it or choose a different path.

It’s not even just about allegedly enjoying himself a little too much on one particular evening. Had Manziel missed a random class at school, the excuse of him ‘being 20’ would be a little more tolerable. Going on an all-nighter the evening before the Manning Passing Academy begins, as reported, is just being a bonehead.

Again, this is one long job interview for any prospective franchise quarterback. The MPA is a fantastic platform to put yourself in the shop window. All of the top young quarterbacks in the NFL took part in the event before turning pro. It’s one of a series of opportunities to project what you’re all about. Manziel’s absence says more about him than anything he could’ve hoped to achieve on the field.

For me the MPA is on the quarterback check list. It’s as important as any work out, whether it’s the combine, pro-day or Senior Bowl. Basically any non-game event where you have a chance to compete alongside and against your peers. If it wasn’t as important as that, why does every single top college quarterback attend without fail, year after year?

Had he not shown up for a Senior Bowl work out, or the combine — people would ask serious questions.

What’s the difference?

Age is no excuse or justification here. Not if he wants to be a 21 or 22-year-old starting quarterback in the NFL, earning NFL money. You can’t have it both ways. Whether you like it or not, reliability, time keeping, responsibility, professionalism, dedication and the ability to handle fame and pressure is all part of the job description. Football might be considered the ultimate team sport by some, but no other sport has a single position that places so much responsibility on one persons shoulders.

It’s not about expecting these players to be lifeless robots, as some have suggested. It’s about picking your moments. Knowing when to have fun and when to get down to business. That’s pretty basic stuff right there, whether you’re a prospective NFL quarterback or working at Burger King.

This particular story won’t have gone unnoticed by each of the 32 front offices in the league. Fortunately he has a full season of football to bounce back. But this is the kind of thing teams will investigate over the next few months. It won’t be unfair for any of the GM’s to ponder whether the 21-year-old Manziel is likely to be much more mature and responsible than the 20-year-old version.

My greatest fear is that he doesn’t have any. Fear, that is. It’s no secret that Manziel comes from a well-to-do family. For a lot of people, the fear of being unable to earn and therefore support drives them on. Take that pressure away and what have you got to lose?

That’s not to say Manziel isn’t motivated. I don’t know the guy, or how badly he wants the NFL and the money that comes with it. I do know he’s a very talented individual who deserves all the on-field plaudits he receives. You don’t get to his level of talent without working at it. Technically I’m not convinced his game will translate perfectly to the pro’s, but I also wouldn’t bet against him.

However, when I see Tweets like this…

…I can’t help but have concerns. Apparently that was a reaction to receiving a parking ticket picked up during a fishing trip. At best it’s a poor choice of words. He quickly deleted it (although the damage was done), apologised and then wrote another Tweet asking people to live a day in his shoes.


I do appreciate the pressure that comes with being a high profile quarterback playing for one of the biggest sporting institutions in the United States. I also hope Johnny understands that everyone gets the occasional parking ticket (I received one just last month). While a lot of people don’t have to deal with the media spotlight, a Nick Saban defense and the expectations of thousands, they do have the pressure of important things like bills, long hours, low pay and in some cases — mere survival.

Perhaps the best thing for Johnny would be to live a day in our shoes. Get some perspective and realise the kind of opportunity he may just waste.


  1. kevin mullen

    He’ll get his reality check when he’s still in the green room on day two.. or three.

  2. SunPathPaul

    Glad you expounded on this story Rob. Now I better understand what happened, and why it actually IS a big deal… If you want to play with the BIG boys, you have to put on your BIG boy pants!!! lol

  3. Ben

    For those comparing Manziel to Russell Wilson, Drew Brees, and RG3, all I have to say is look at what they’re doing with their time, and then look what Manziel is doing. There’s a huge difference.

    I just have to say that I never liked this guy, he just seemed…off. Even before he won the Heisman.

    • Peyton

      I’m really starting to doubt that Manziel has the work ethic to be a star in the NFL. When you here about him oversleeping the MPA, and the fact that he doesn’t even go to class on campus at A&M , it makes me doubt that he’ll put in the work that other QBs do. QBs like RG3, Brees, and Wilson all put the work in off the field to become the successful pros that they are. I’m not sure “Johnny Football” will do the same.

  4. MarkinSeattle

    This kid reminds me of Ryan Leaf. There is a certain arrogance about him. It goes all the way back to his arrest his redshirt year.

    You don’t succeed in the NFL without being a professional and spending long hours in the film room. I don’t sense that Johnny has that focus right now. Perhaps he will change, but I think that hardware is going to get in the way of an awakening for quite a while.

    • Ben

      All the talent in the world, just not the personality to back it up, a good comparison.

  5. adog

    does a qb in the nfl have to be a model citizen to have success? Not sure about that. I think a lot of the qb’s get white washed in the nfl…that is they receive much more scrutiny from the media and therefore much more protection from the all facets of the nfl…from corporate on down the ladder to the trainers. It took a federal investigation to sway Vick away from dog fighting…surely someone asscociated with league office had some inkling of his off the field behavior prior to the investigation. The same can be said for the Rothelsberger who just so happened to play for one of the model franchises in the nfl. If Manziel was doing this while playing in the nfl, his actions would have been covered up so quickly that the only story would be how “hot” his girlfriend is. I think it’s an overreaction by the media. I don’t see Manziel as being a great qb in the nfl, but more like a Matt Schuab type.

    • Rob Staton

      I think a QB pretty much has to be a model citizen, yes. And I don’t see why that’s a problem. There are only 32 starting quarterbacks in the world. If you don’t want to do the job and earn the money that comes with it, find something else to do. That’s not asking them to be lifeless robots with no personality. It’s asking them to be Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck and all the other guys who are completely dedicated professionals who never even flirt with controversy.

  6. williambryan

    I hope, for your sake, some of the top sites/editors see this. This is a great article that should be featured on ESPN or Yahoo sports, SI, etc.

  7. dave crockett


    I get the abstract point here, but this particular story is kind of a non-story UNLESS it balloons into something else. Regardless of the actual cause of him missing meetings at the Manning Passing Camp, the response from the Mannings was appropriate. I don’t necessarily see anything deeper than that until it gets deeper than that.

    “20 year old does immature thing and gets disciplined,” certainly isn’t what you want to read about a prospect as an NFL GM. It may in fact be the sort of thing that puts him behind some of his competitors. (I have my doubts about his pro prospects anyway.) You want a QB that is preternaturally mature, obviously, but as adog points out, that wasn’t Roethlisburger. It’s not Kaepernick. That wasn’t Aikman or Ken Stabler either.

    Then, it also wasn’t Jamarcus Russell, Ryan Leaf, Vince Young, and a host of other guys who didn’t make it. The point is, sometimes these kinds of incidents can tell you that a guy is never gonna grow out of it but it’s not so clear cut that you dismiss a guy outright.

    • Rob Staton

      In fairness Dave, I haven’t dismissed Johnny Manziel outright. I’ve written a piece saying being 20 years old isn’t an excuse. And it is an excuse that Manziel, some sections of the media and a heck of a lot of fans are clinging to.

      As I noted, I wouldn’t bet against this guy making it in the NFL. I have reservations about how his version of quarterbacking translates to the next level, but I could see him being a success. This particular incident will not define him. But what he did at the MPA was dumb and age is no justification. If he wants to deliver on his talent, I think he needs to dump the excuses and realise the opportunity on offer.

  8. Rob Staton

    Some interesting thoughts from Peter King here:

  9. T-CARP

    What Johhny Manziel and other prospective NFL quarterbacks need to understand is that whether he likes it or not, he is already a role model. Whether he was hungover or not is irrelevant, the fact of the matter is that he had a responsibility to show up to one of the most prestigious football camps and mentor kids who more than likely wanted to be just like him on the field. What kind of message is he giving by shirking his responsibilities and then giving the excuse of being a 20 year old. The last time I checked you are legally an adult at 18. Being a Heisman Trophy winner comes with the pressure of living up to the class and dignity of his predecessors.

    That being said, he does have tremendous pressure on him as the Heisman winner, Johnny Football, a starting quarterback, and having to face the defenses of Alabama and Florida (not sure if he plays UF this year, but their D is STACKED!) I am still in college and the life of a student athlete is difficult. But, like Rob stated, he chose the life. The pressure comes with the territory. Maybe instead of visiting Bourbon Street, he should have visited with the Mannings and learned a thing or two about what it really means to be a professional, a celebrity, and an NFL starting QB.

    Thank God for Russell Wilson. GO HAWKS!

  10. Colin

    As a fellow college student, I don’t blame Manziel for enjoying “the nightlife”. It’s a part of the experience, even if he is underage. I don’t think anyone really cares about that part.

    What does bother me and shows a major red flag as a repeat mistake is that he cannot control himself. This isn’t his first little scrape involving said activities. He isn’t a take responsibility kind of guy, and he gives the impression that he isn’t very disciplined in the manner of bearing down and doing what needs to be done at the time it needs to be done.

    When the Manning Academy or other individuals extend a hand to you, it has to be taken with some class and appreciation. They’re basically saying “Hey, we want you to be part of this because you are a great football player and these kids adore you” and there’s a level of expectation that goes along with it. And to pull a stunt like this is embarassing, and shows that again, he lacks better judgement.

    This was a weekend camp. A ONE WEEKEND CAMP. 2 days. And you can’t handle yourself for two days so you can throw a football around with some 14 year olds? Wow, dude, just wow.

    Johnny needs a little reality check.

  11. Kip Earlywine

    I actually really like Manziel as a prospect, particularly for his potential as a buy-low bargain.

    I don’t really care too much about Manziel having some fun and oversleeping at a summer event that had nothing to do with his football team.

    What bothers me 10,000 times more was the tweet. He had a similar “screw Texas A&M” type tweet a while back and I thought it was a huge mistake, but I could have overlooked it easily if it happened just once. Now it’s happened again, and it makes me worry that Manziel has maturity issues.

    If you are someone like say, Percy Harvin, exhibiting similar behavior that’s one thing, but QBs are supposed to be example setters. They are not hired guns, they are supposed to be the engine that drives the vehicle.

    And if being a college legend and receiving too much attention is this much of a problem, how would he handle the pressure of being the next Tim Tebow type character in the NFL? I think Manziel is a very different and vastly superior QB, but both were college legends with uncertain NFL futures and we’ve clearly seen how it created “Tebow Mania” in Tebow’s case. Think about all the unwanted distractions Tebow Mania caused, and then realize that Tebow handled it about as well as he possibly could have. Put Manziel in that same situation and it could be an even bigger media mess- big enough to possibly effect his focus and NFL development.

    I would say that barring an unreal 2013 season, Manziel has probably behaved his way out of likely 1st round consideration. His lack of maturity is a legit red flag and he was a controversial NFL prospect to begin with. And I say this as someone who thinks very highly of his NFL potential.

  12. Nolan

    I’m just glad the Seahawks employe Russell Wilson and do t have to worry about QB for a long long time… Now if ASJ can just slide to number 32 we’d be all set

    • Ben

      Dear god, that wouldn’t even be fair.

  13. A. Simmons

    Manziel is no Russell Wilson. I now judge all QB prospect intangibles by Russell Wilson’s intangibles.

    • Attyla the Hawk

      It’s certainly the gold standard that is for sure.

      It may not be completely fair to judge them by that standard. But for certain, it’s a very high standard to meet. Having that kind of living example makes judging players by that criteria much more apparent to the average fan.

      Make no mistake though. Russell is special. And has been long before he was getting paid. If one goes looking for the next Wilson, they’re going to spend years failing. And it should be noted, that you don’t need to have that level of maturity and sense of responsibility in order to be a successful QB. Cam Newton would compare unfavorably in that respect but his other gifts still allow him to be a franchise QB.

  14. Miles

    I disagree about the ethics of a higher standard for college athletes. While I obviously won’t condone Manziel’s actions, it is what young kids do regardless of the obligations present in their lives. I tend to think American culture as it relates to sports asks far too much of student athletes. As people like Manziel grow up, they are hit over the head with this idea that competition trumps everything else in a person’s life, which is a very unnatural way to ask someone to live their lives. For guys like Manziel, football is life, and so it’s natural for a person to find an outlet for that. Sometimes that outlet is crime, partying, or just being “irresponsible” as opposed to overly dedicated. American sports culture praises athletes for sacrificing everything else in their lives for a game. So what’s more unreasonable? Is it more unreasonable for Manziel to do what all 20-year olds do? Or is it more unreasonable to expect Manziel to live a perfect, athlete-centric life? I think the latter is FAR more unreasonable.

    While I wouldn’t advise Manziel to do what he did, I’m not going to bash him for it. Regardless of how you slice it, he’s just like every 20-year old guy who gets into a little trouble here and there. The bottom line is this: too much is expected of student athletes, since student athletes are often not students at all; they too frequently give up their educations, their social lives, and family time for a game. To come down more harshly on Manziel than others would be the antithesis of my philosophy here.

    • Colin

      “To come down more harshly on Manziel than others would be the antithesis of my philosophy here”

      Well, I think you are sort of missing the point. Nobody really cares that Manziel is a partier or that he’s brash and free spirited. It’s the idea that he’s going to be the face of a franchise and still act like a jackass that is making people do double takes. If doesn’t want to be a pro QB, fine. No one will care what he does, but I’m pretty sure he has his sights set on going to the NFL and playing there, and if he does, he needs to learn to make judgements going forward.

      • JW

        I’m pretty much in line with your thinking, Miles.

        Your comments resonate with me, a university professor at a Pac 12 institution. There can sometimes simply be too much read into these types of situations. I’d also add that our media crazed/PR driven world is all too quick to capture these stories and also try to idolize/lionize/ ‘build a brand’ around young adults. This is just bad practice any way you cut it.

        Manziel just finished his Freshman year of college during which he won the Heisman trophy. His case is unique, and typical, all at the same time. Given my decade plus experience with young adults, and student athletes- many of whom went on to very good careers as players and ‘leaders’ in the NFL, I’m inclined to call this much ado about nothing. Clearly Manziel has some growing up to do. But, he is 20, and this should be news to no one.

        • Rob Staton

          Being the only QB to not show up at the Manning Pass Academy because he was out partying news to no one? I can’t buy that. Age is not an excuse.

          • JW

            Is it news or surprising to anyone that a 20 year old needs to mature? I hope not, but apparently it is.
            Manziel’s particular situation doesn’t change the realities of human development which can vary by individual but broadly cover a certain scope, as much as you might want it to be so.
            In the end we tend to put too much weight on these types of situations in a young adult’s life.

            Place the kind of measure on it as you will but if you think it’s giving you insight into what a kind of professional or a person he will be at 30, 25, or even 24, you’re playing a game you can’t really win.

            • Rob Staton

              Again, I haven’t said anything about any insight into his career as a result of this. The article never says anything about that.

              What it does say is – getting booted out of the Manning Passing Academy is a faux pas that being 20 years old doesn’t justify.


    • Rob Staton

      Yes, it is more unreasonable for Manziel to do what all 20-year-old’s do. Because 99.999% of 20-year-old’s don’t get the chance to work at the Manning Passing Academy. And if they do, they don’t say they’ll show up, go partying the night before and then struggle to get out of bed. All the other QB’s managed it funnily enough, many of which won’t be getting a chance in the NFL as an early round pick. So yes, I do expect more from Manziel.

    • A. Simmons

      Sacrifice it all for millions of dollars to develop genetic talent that few have.

      • A. Simmons

        To answer the question, I would make that sacrifice if I had the genetic talent to play QB in the NFL, including being a model citizen.

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