Manziel in self-denial about low aspirations

Jul 20 2013 - 9:12pm


The following statement is made without the slightest bit of hesitation on my part:

Johnny Manziel has it all wrong.

The Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback from Texas A&M is in need of an intervention, not because he's a 20-year-old college student who likes to have fun, but because his expectations for himself seem tragically low.

He isn't alone either. He's just the latest in a long and rather prestigious list of athletes -- college and otherwise -- who simply don't get it. Setting aside the overplayed argument that these folks are role models who are setting a terrible example, the real tragedy is that they're selling their own careers short. By living in denial and surrounding themselves only with people who tell them exactly what they want to hear -- that includes coaches, friends and parents -- they're limiting their own potential.

Although most superstar-level athletes love to tell the world about their work ethic and dedication to their craft, the truth is many hold themselves to ridiculously low standards.

I'll pick on Manziel today because he's an easy target, but the bigger picture here is that the sports world -- which tends to be a reflection of society as a whole -- continues to disregard the air-tight argument parents have been using on their children for centuries: Just because everyone else does it doesn't make it right.

(See also: So, if your friends jumped off a bridge, you'd do it too?) Let's start with Manziel, the dazzling quarterback who won the 2012 Heisman Trophy as a freshman -- the first freshman ever to do so. He's a remarkably talented athlete with all sorts of God-given talents, but as is sometimes the case with dynamic performers, his sense of reality is skewed.

Even before last season Manziel had a reputation for being a party boy. That reputation was further enhanced after reports surfaced from the well-known Manning Passing Academy indicating Manziel was sent home/left early after failing to complete all his assignments as a camp counselor.

Manziel said he was wasn't feeling well and either missed and or showed up late to some meetings. Others reported he'd been drinking the night before and was too hung over to participate.

Also last week, Manziel pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge associated with a June 2012 arrest following an off-campus fight.

Facing a media onslaught at the Southeast Conference football media day last week, he denied some of the rumors and admitted some mistakes saying smugly, "I'm still 20 years old, I'm still a sophomore in college, I'm still going to do things that everybody in college does and I'm going to continue to enjoy my life. Hopefully people don't hold me to a higher standard than that."

Granted, it's been almost three decades since I was a 20-year-old knucklehead like Manziel. Back then I thought I knew everything. Now I realize I knew almost nothing, so I'm willing to give him a pass for such immaturity.

Then again, I wonder what happened to expecting a little more from yourself?

Sadly, I know exactly what happened. Not only have many athletes stopped expecting more from themselves, their coaches, administrators and team executives have too.

I realize it's unpopular to say ask such a politically incorrect question, but what happened to higher standards?

Suddenly the least common denominator is an target?

Of course people make mistakes and, of course, they ought to be forgiven. But in no way does forgiving one's mistakes mean erasing one's consequences.

Part of becoming an adult is understanding the difference between a right and a privilege.

There's no doubt Manziel has the right to live his life as a 20-year-old college sophomore, just a regular guy out having a good time, free from media scrutiny. In order to do that, all he has to do is give up the privilege of being a Heisman Trophy-winning, rock-star quarterback.

See, it's impossible to have it both ways. It appears he wants to live his life in a certain way but he doesn't want to take responsibility for it. It appears he has convinced himself he's somehow entitled to play college football and win such a prestigious award without being held to a higher standard.

And don't think this stuff only applies to Heisman Trophy winners playing in the SEC. It applies everywhere.

Whether it's Johnny Football at Texas A&M or athletes, coaches and administrators right here in Utah, if you don't expect more from yourself what are you really saying?

Jim Burton is the Standard-Examiner's sports columnist. He also covers the Utah Jazz and the NBA. He can be reached at 801-625-4265 or at He tweets at


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