Former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel used to have it all: a promising career as a quarterback for the Cleveland Browns, a killer college record, and a kickass nickname—“Johnny Football.” But in light of his rapid descent into NFL ignominy, the 23-year-old is quickly learning that being named after the sport you play can have unforeseen, deeply depressing consequences.
On Thursday, Manziel once again found himself mired in scandal following another alleged incident with his ex-girlfriend Colleen Crowley. Reports surfaced that during an encounter last week, Manziel allegedly struck Crowley and told her to “shut up or I’ll kill us both.” When the police arrived on the scene, Crowley said she was concerned about the absent Manziel’s well-being. After a helicopter search, Manziel was located and deemed safe. Friday, the Dallas Police Department issued a statement saying it had received a domestic assault complaint on Jan. 30, and that, “A criminal investigation into the incident, in which Johnathan Manziel [sic] is the listed suspect, has been initiated. Detectives will thoroughly investigate the case to determine what criminal charges, if any, will be filed and victim services will be offered.”
Crowley took out an order of protection against Manziel on Friday in which the athlete must stay at least 500 feet away from her home and work for two years, and released the following statement to Dallas’ ABC affiliate WFAA on Friday: “On Feb. 5, I met with domestic violence specialists at the Dallas Police Department. I provided them with a complete description of the events on the night of Jan. 29 and answered their questions. I don’t know what will happen next with this case—that’ll be up to the Dallas Police Department. I am hopeful that everyone will understandably respect my wish for privacy at this time.”
That same day, Manziel was dropped by his agent Erik Burkhardt, who claimed “his future rests solely in his hands,” while Manziel’s father told The Dallas Morning News that his son had refused to enter rehab twice in the past week, and if he doesn’t let go of his partying lifestyle, he “won’t live to see his 24th birthday.”
Johnny Football’s is a tale of a hard-partying rich kid who’s been given a million and one chances and left them all in flames.
He’s the great-grandson of Bobby Joe Manziel, a former bantamweight boxer from Lebanon who made a fortune after striking oil in 1930s Texas. The money’s since trickled down to Manziel’s father John Paul, an ex-bartender with a net worth of approximately $50 million. Despite his considerable privilege, Johnny was a big-time party boy in his days attending Tivy High School in Kerrville, Texas.
“Sometimes Manziel had too much fun, skipping class and sweet-talking his way out of trouble,” wrote The New York Times in 2012 while profiling the father-son duo on a golf course. “His father made him a deal: he would buy Manziel a new car if he stayed away from alcohol during his junior and senior years in high school. One summer night, Manziel went to Wal-Mart to buy a phone charger, the security guard smelled alcohol and the police were called.”
Manziel spent the night in jail and was later sentenced to 20 hours of community service for the incident. His father took away the shiny new car, replacing it with a busted-up pickup truck.
His devil-may-care ways continued at Texas A&M. During the summer prior to his redshirt freshman season, while competing for the starting quarterback spot, “Manziel was arrested and put in jail for an incident outside a bar in College Station. As he and a friend were leaving, the friend had shouted a racial slur to a man on the street. Manziel stepped in between, trying to be a peacemaker, a witness told the police, when the man pushed against Manziel, who shoved the man, precipitating a fight,” wrote the Times. “He eventually gave the police a fake ID. The police said he appeared too intoxicated to answer questions, but he managed to apologize and ask for a ride home.”
So John Paul intervened, meeting with Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin to help draft a daily schedule for his son that included random drug testing, drug and alcohol counseling, and plenty of community service.
“I’m going to hold him accountable; I’m going to make a man out of him,” John Paul told the Times, adamant that his son achieve his NFL dream.
Manziel would go on to win the Heisman in that 2012 season, becoming the first freshman to ever take home the trophy as well as the new face of college football. During the season, his parents struck another deal with him: If he acted like a “model citizen,” he could have a hot red Camaro.
“We have to keep him focused; Johnny needs incentives,” his mother Michelle told the Times. John Paul added, “Johnny needs structure all the time, because down time for Johnny is the worst time.”
Prior to his sophomore season at A&M, Manziel was under investigation for allegedly receiving payment in exchange for signing autographs—a violation of NCAA bylaw 18.104.22.168 stating that “student-athletes cannot permit their names or likenesses to be used for commercial purposes, including to advertise, recommend or promote sales of commercial products, or accept payment for the use of their names or likenesses.” Manziel stood accused of signing memorabilia a number of times, with autograph dealers alleging he accepted payments to sign over 4,000 items at an event in Connecticut. The NCAA ultimately said it found no evidence that Manziel had accepted payments, but chose to suspend him for a half-game anyway at the start of the 2013 season.
After another stellar on-field campaign, Manziel declared for the NFL draft. In the lead-up, former Oklahoma and NFL head coach Barry Switzer blasted the highly-touted QB for his negative attitude.
“I don’t like his antics, I think he’s an arrogant little prick,” Switzer told radio show The Morning After. “I’ve said that and I’ll say it again. He’s a privileged kid. He’s embarrassed himself, he’s embarrassed his teammates, his program, he’s embarrassed his coach. And they all have to defend him because they have to coach him. I know how that works, I’ve spent 40 years in the damn game.”
Despite the off-field question marks, Manziel was drafted 22nd overall by the Cleveland Browns, and was supposed to jumpstart the Browns’ failing franchise with his vision and nimble legs, as well as his ample charisma. Unfortunately, natural talent is no match for alcoholism. Back at A&M, Manziel’s frat boy antics only added to his “Johnny Football” persona. But as any former frat boy will tell you, it’s all fun and games until you’re not even fit to start for the Browns. As his disappointing NFL record suggests, Manziel was often too busy being under investigation or playing hooky to actually start. During the preseason of his rookie campaign, he was fined $12,000 for flipping off the opposing team’s bench in a loss. He had his first career start late in his first year, played poorly, injured himself, and was fined again for not showing up to practice. After this lackluster showing, Manziel resolved to pull himself together, and checked into a drug and alcohol treatment center in Pennsylvania, ultimately spending 73 days in rehab.
Sadly, Manziel’s second season return was far from triumphant. In October, witnesses reported a roadside confrontation between Manziel and then-girlfriend, Colleen Crowley. The couple acknowledged that they had been drinking prior to the incident; Crowley told police that Manziel hit her and pushed her head into the car window. Ultimately the police did not pursue the case, and the NFL cleared Manziel of any wrongdoing.
Manziel’s short-lived sophomore season continued to go up in flames, as the QB was decisively benched after a video of him partying and drinking heavily hit the Internet. This booze-soaked clip (featuring Future and Four Loko) was just the latest in a long line of social media gaffes and well-documented issues with alcohol. After a series of ups and downs, Manziel finally got his job back, only to be ruled out of the season finale with a concussion. After he failed to attend scheduled medical treatment on Jan. 3, reports surfaced that he was partying in Las Vegas. According to one particularly intriguing piece of ESPN coverage, Manziel actually attempted to go incognito at a Vegas casino by dressing up as his alter ego, “Billy.” In a blond wig, fake mustache, glasses, and hoodie, Manziel allegedly dined at the club’s restaurant and stayed out until 3 a.m., all in disguise.
In light of his history, as well as the recent alleged incident with Crowley, the Browns issued a bold statement this week suggesting that Manziel will be released from the team in March. Vice President of football operations Sashi Brown explained, “We’ve been clear about expectations for our players on and off the field… Johnny’s continual involvement in incidents that run counter to those expectations undermines the hard work of his teammates and the reputation of our organization. His status with our team will be addressed when permitted by league rules.”
While rumors are circling of a possible Johnny Football comeback story, in which the troubled QB is picked up by his home-state Dallas Cowboys (or Houston Texans), at this point everything is up in the air.
“It’s like a mirror, it really is,” ex-QB Ryan Leaf said Thursday of Manziel on The Afternoon Show. Leaf was the No. 2 overall pick in the 1998 NFL draft, one pick behind Peyton Manning, before his childish antics doomed his career. “There’s a solution. There always is but it’s so hard to see when you’re on this pedestal and [think] you don’t need help. You don’t need to be vulnerable because you’re a big, strong football player and help means [being] weak. It doesn’t. Asking for help might be the strongest thing you ever do.”