Johnny Manziel Needs Help Blah Blah Blah

by Alex Kenney

Johnny Manziel isn’t having any fun. Get the inkling that he’s having a blast out of your head. Being accused of trashing a rental property is not fun. Car crashes are not fun. Assault allegations and protective orders are fun in the same way picking a scab or staring at a dead body in a lake is great for passing time.

Manziel spent the weekend at Coachella, which may be fun for most of us. But most of us know how to stop partying. Most of us aren’t running away from real problems and responsibilities.

But wait, you say. Manziel’s just an immature kid doing immature kid stuff, just like we used to do. Remember when Joey Bagochips’ parents left town and we partied all night and wrecked his house? That was fun.

Yeah, and we were 17 when we did that. We woke up feeling like our heads were in a vice clamp, ralphing up our misery by lifting our heads more than three inches off the floor. We were grounded for two weeks and never talked to Joey Bagochips again.

Immature kid stuff is not what Manziel is doing, any more than storming into Coachella with an entourage seemingly in the middle of an endless binge is like having one too many at the Hoedown By the River on Saturday and sleeping it off by Monday. It’s not just an age or intensity difference. From all appearances, the difference is more of a clinical one.

Yes, Manziel is just 23 years old, but that doesn’t mean he’ll grow out of this. Remember your 23-year-old buddy who never realized it was time to cut back? The one who met you for happy hour at Molly McTippy’s and was still there at last call? The one who acted betrayed when you refused the third round of shots? The one you drifted away from when your life stabilized and theirs staggered away?

Did you ever tell your buddy to “seek help”? Maybe, but you more likely said it behind his back. It’s easy to say someone needs help. It’s harder to tell someone they need help. And the hardest thing of all is telling yourself you need help.

The kid just doesn’t get it articles were written long ago and ring false now. Manziel’s story slunk from the sports page to the gossip column at about the same time his behavior slipped from stuff that gets you kicked off a football roster to stuff that gets you kicked out of a punk rock band.

Gossip sites stand sentry at the gates of Manziel’s public perception now, slapping lurid headlines atop images of mangled Mercedes and Coachella selfies. The rest of us — writers, television personalities, agents, players — have begun endlessly singing a chorus of “Johnny should seek help.” But saying Johnny should seek help is as facile as it is true. Manziel should seek help, the Browns should stop losing, all of us should eat healthier, and we should lower our reliance on fossil fuels. If seeking help were as easy as taking an antibiotic, or showing a little willpower, or even a 30-day rehab stint, there would be no such thing as addiction. What we all keep suggesting he do isn’t easy. It’s one of the hardest things in the world.

We don’t think of young twentysomethings blowing off some weekend steam as alcoholics because most of use once were (or still are) twentysomethings who blew off our share of weekend steam. Addiction experts don’t necessarily think everyone who wakes up after dollar draughts night with a headache and some regrets has a serious problem, either. NIAAA reports that 72 percent of individuals go through a “heavy-drinking” phase of life in their late teens and 20s. Most of us grow out of it. The folks in the Young Adult Subtype don’t realize the party is over.

The Manziel story unspooling over the tabloids and social networks is familiar to all of us. It started with a big man on campus having a little too much fun. Some of us acted aghast; others got misty-eyed for the good ol’ days and thanked the heavens there was no Instagram in 1990.

Then came the problems that most young people avoid by growing out of that heavy-drinking phase. A career opportunity gets squandered. Then the first job is lost. Then a fight with a girlfriend ends with a police report. Property damage. People in a position to help throw up their hands and switch off their cell phones. If this type of alcoholic could “just grow up” like the rest of us, a firing or arrest would do the trick. Hundreds of thousands of young people blow through those learning experiences. They are more than immature. They may not need three martinis to get through the afternoon shift, but they are just as dependent on alcohol.

And here’s the worst part. An addict doesn’t want to seek help. An addict doesn’t want to be told to seek help. That’s what “bottoming out” and the language of recovery is all about. The alcoholic really wants to keep going, long past the point at which any healthy person would realize that “partying” is no fun anymore.

It makes our “seek help” message to Manziel ring a little hollow, if not cynical. Thomas Barrabi of Fox Business quoted celebrity crisis expert Jack Deschauer on how Manziel could revive his NFL career:

“The absolute only chance that Johnny Manziel has at a professional football career at this point would be to enter an inpatient rehabilitation program, a serious one, today, and stay there, whether it’s a 30-day or a 90-day, and then complete it.”

Deschauer added that Manziel would then have to remain stone sober for months.

Gritting through a 30-day program might well land Manziel back on a roster or attract a new agent. But if he isn’t ready to change, it will just be window dressing, a quick fix to make sure the money keeps rolling in.

Manziel has to seek help before he can truly get it. That’s the reason our advice sounds so trite and useless.

There’s about a 1 percent chance that Johnny Manziel ever becomes a relevant NFL quarterback. Tim Tebow has a better chance. Trevor Siemian has a much better chance. There may be guys who go undrafted next week who have a better chance.

Which makes me wonder, why am I writing about Manziel in the first place? Maybe we all need to stop rubbernecking. Perhaps celebrity is one more thing Manziel needs to lose before he attains some clarity.

But we also need not write off Manziel, for it’s better to criticize and condemn his behavior than ignore and forget him. He’ll someday realize that the fun ended long ago, and he’ll seek help; not publicist-mandated, career-salvaging help, but the real kind.

But until then, don’t think for a moment that Manziel is having a good time.


Alex is a Xavier University alumnus, Army veteran, statistician, and tennis pro. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee.

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