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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

COLUMN: Heroes and Heismans

 
 

Sports talk benefits from depth, and everyone can appreciate a good story. Narratives help us make sense of a game to which meaning doesn’t always come easily. Players have little use for them, but since when have sports been about the players?
We’ve bought and sold our own narratives on Johnny Manziel many times over. “Johnny is a disgrace to the school,” or “Johnny is a repeat offender, or “Johnny is the finest live-action Scooby Doo on record.” (Tangent: Remember those Scooby-and-score days? They weren’t long ago, but they seem as much.)
Now we have a new narrative that nobody knows what to do with it: a sinister heap of allegations that Manziel received compensation for signed memorabilia.
Only where’s the villain? If we can’t find one, we have no benchmark with which to approach this goopy mess of pay-for-pen allegations, of “Autograph-gate,” of memorabilia dealers and a young Drake fan with a Heisman on his resume.
The idea that a market exists for a college kid and yet can’t be tapped by said player (but can be strip-mined by the NCAA, Texas A&M, ESPN and countless others) is a travesty. Manziel should be able to open a “Johnny Football Signature Emporium” and hock signed candy wrappers for one grand each. He should sign his toenail clippings for a nice dinner.
Whether or not a 20 year old can handle being the single most famous college athlete in the history of the world (and no, Tebow doesn’t count – he didn’t have to wade through the swamps of the Twitterverse) is a question I have no business dealing in. And if Kyle Field 2.0 isn’t “The House That Johnny Built,” he had something to do with laying the foundation.
However, as silly as the rule against NCAA athletes profiting from their likeness is, it’s not some bylaw tucked in the back of the manual. This is a rule everyone knows.
Which brings us back to narrative. The villain candidate pool is a deep one.
When ESPN’s Joe Schad and Darren Rovell broke the story of an NCAA probe into Manziel’s handwriting habits, the Aggie community went at their throats.
The shoddily manufactured report leaned on anonymous sources with little tangible proof. They tossed a half-baked story to the Twitter wolves. But ESPN doesn’t give us a good villain because, frankly, they may be right about this whole thing.
The NCAA makes a great villain, most of the time. The institution is past its expiration date. But, again: just because Manziel doesn’t like the rule, it’s still in place.
Manziel’s “manager,” Nate Fitch, is an easy target, because the “friends make bad business partners” narrative appeals to plenty and it shifts the blame from Manziel.
In College Station, at least, Manziel is still too “Heisman-y” to tear down. The student body seems split on the matter. Many, myself included, think he’s a little misunderstood and has been chafing for some time under the load with which we’ve saddled him.
On SportsCenter, on the ticker at the bottom, yesterday’s topic headings read like this: “NFL, MLB, NBA, Manziel.” Have we forgotten where we were one year ago?
If Johnny is eligible for Rice he’ll be on the field with the first team. If not, Sumlin has a stable of contingency plans.
At practice Wednesday, redshirt freshman Matt Davis looked good taking second-team snaps. Junior Matt Joeckel (who doesn’t even have a Twitter account, if you can imagine how boring that would be) and freshman Kenny Hill (the dark horse, maybe the sharpest talent of the bunch) will grapple for the passenger seat.
If they have to take the wheel, the football team might not get as many speeding tickets as it did a year ago, but it won’t run off the road.
You’ll notice I can’t help myself. I use car metaphors to make sense of things. I’m neck-deep in this world of sports, so I’m aware I can’t separate the game from the narrative.
But if you sit back and try, you’ll notice there’s no villain here and there’s no hero. If Manziel goes down, no one wins. This is a spider web of money, careers, wins and egos.
But if what we’ve seen in Year One of the Manziel Era is any indication, don’t bet against Johnny Football tearing through this mess.
We’ve underestimated him at least 100 times by now. Are you willing to do so again?

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