Johnny Football: Icarus 2.0

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The story of Icarus flying too close to the sun and melting his wings, only to come crashing back to earth, is a classic in Greek mythology. Today, the reference is often trotted out to describe stars of American culture who flame out quickly and conspicuously, and we are all familiar with the story of the athlete who believes so strongly in their natural ability that they pay no mind to practice. This athlete thinks that they will have no problem showing up hungover and underprepared, expecting to dominate the competition regardless. Inevitably, this athlete experiences failure, and sports fans are quick to tear them down for their hubris and lack of dedication. One of our favorite things to say is “what a waste of talent.”

After nearly constant off the field issues over the past three years going back to college, Johnny Manziel has been labeled our most recent modern-day sports Icarus — an athlete who thought he was untouchable and spent too much time near the metaphorical “sun”. Yet it’s common to hear pejorative statements about how Manziel’s cockiness and off-field antics derailed his football career before it could even get off the ground and much less so to hear anything resembling empathy or understanding.

The behavior Manziel has exhibited over the past few seasons seems more like a facade than true arrogance. Manziel experienced a meteoric rise to fame after his Heisman-winning season as a red-shirt freshman at Texas A&M in 2012, going from obscurity to nationally known in a span of weeks. He even got a new nickname “Johnny Football” to go with his fame. It’s hard for me to imagine how much of my self worth would be wrapped up in circumstantial success on the football field if everyone in America knew my name based on the results of only a handful of games. The doubts creep in almost immediately: “Was it a fluke?,” “Am I really this good, or did I just have a few good games?” “Will I be able to make it at the next level?”. Also, as an undersized prospect, with relatively few of the “projectable” qualities that NFL teams look for, Johnny Manziel’s future was far from certain at the NFL level.

Rather than risking being exposed in the NFL, it seems clear that Johnny Manziel never gave himself a chance. After being drafted by the Cleveland Browns, every time the starting quarterback position opened up, like clockwork, Manziel found a way to get in trouble. He found so many ways to get in trouble that it began to seem more like intentional self sabotage than just youthful ignorance. And on some depressing level, Manziel’s self sabotage was successful. We will never truly know if Johnny Manziel had what it took to be a quarterback at the NFL level. We can’t say for certain that the same magic and electricity he played with in college wouldn’t have appeared somewhere within a 16-game season.

My only advice is to take a step back and consider the life of Johnny Manziel as a whole before casting aspersions. While the story of Icarus may seem rife for comparison, think twice about Manziel’s perceived overconfidence. I think his public aura of extreme confidence might just be a convenient wall, blocking out the fact that under the surface he’s just like anyone attempting an extremely difficult task might be: filled with self doubt.