NFL:Browns QB Johnny Manziel Benched; Why his drinking matters

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Cleveland Browns Quarterback Johnny Manziel was named starting QB for the rest of the season headed into their bye week, after playing QB roulette for half the season with dismal results.  However, during a bye week vacation, Manziel’s veritable shots heard ’round the world has caused him to be demoted to 3rd string QB, behind now-starter Josh McCown and 2nd String Austin Davis.  The move has NFL football fans asking why such an innocuous video of a night out has cost the 2nd year QB his job.  After all, Manziel just went out to have some drinks.   What’s the big deal?

In a vaccuum, Manziel’s actions were not a big deal.  He is of legal age to drink.  He was doing nothing illegal.  He was just being a young man out, having fun.  In a league where much larger offenses have been committed by the Ravens and Cowboys players other players still active in the NFL, why is Manziel getting punished with such a demotion for simply being a man about town? What’s wrong with a few drinks?

A lot, if you’re an alcoholic.  But we can’t do more than speculate on that.

What we do know is that it has become pretty clear Manziel has a difficulty choosing between being a starting QB in the NFL and his nights out drinking.  This difficulty is negatively affecting his job and future with the Cleveland Browns organization, and maybe the NFL.  While we cannot state outright that he is suffering from alcoholism or has a drinking problem, we can look at his behavior and say rather comfortably that it is symptomatic of someone with a substance abuse problem.

Most notably being that his drinking has cost him his job.

If you’re like me, this story touches a nerve.  You may know a person struggling with substance abuse.  You may be in recovery for it.  You may have been personally affected by it.  If you’re like me and many other people in the world, this story brings unpleasant memories.  That’s because of what substance abuse does not only to the abuser but those surrounding that abuser.  Friends, family, loved ones, partners, co-workers, and the list goes on – all are negatively affected by a person’s substance abuse problem, and it’s a horrible thing to witness.

But what does that really have to do with football and the Browns organization?  If he’s getting out on the field and performing, then why can’t they just leave him alone and let Johnny Football do Johnny Football?  Why did Manziel lose his job?  Even if he does have a substance abuse problem?  Even if he is the dreaded “A” word, why should this matter on the field?  It’s his life and his right, and nobody has the business telling him what he can and cannot do, much less what he can and cannot drink.

Most people asking these questions don’t know how right they are.  Manziel is a grown man.  He is free to make these choices.  There is no law against him drinking, and it is nobody’s business or right to tell him what he can and cannot drink.  It doesn’t matter how gut-wrenching it is to watch him throw his life away because of an addiction: that’s his right.  However, when his personal life negatively affects his professional career, his employers have the right to respond.  They cannot order him not to drink, but they can certainly order him off the field.

The decision announced by Cleveland Browns Head Coach Mike Pettine was not because of a simple incident.  This incident was one of many behavioral incidents, if you will, by Johnny Manziel that has plagued the team since the NFL 2014 Draft.  In fact, his party image garnered attention well before the 2014 draft.  Manziel’s party nature flooded social media, and was one of a few aspects that brought him into the limelight.  Manziel even spoke to this attention to his lifestyle, inferring he was leaving that life behind when he entered the NFL.

Promises, promises.

The night of the NFL 2014 draft, the Cleveland Browns chose Johnny Manziel with their 2nd pick in the 1st round, 22nd overall.  Manziel celebratated after the draft with champagne and celebrities until the early morning.  A month later, he was out partying in Vegas during the off-season.  The next month, floating around on a swan with champagne.  Soon after, we were gifted with the money phone incident.  After a couple of wild months, Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslan urged Manziel to tone it down, and on the same day, Manziel spoke to the media at an event about how he was not going to change.

Shots fired.

One week later, Manziel’s mug makes the social media rounds again, this time rolling up a dollar and appearing to be engaging in in the process of doing blow.  I mean, come on – we know.  This prompts the Browns organization to have a sit down with Manziel the day before training camp began and have a little “come to Jesus” talk with him.  His professional career was about to start, and it was time to do that promised reigning in.  College was over, and he was hitting the pros – a privilege and dream that so few athletes are able to realize.

So, a few weeks later, Manziel arrived late to training camp along with a few other rookies who apparently misread the schedule, and racks up his first fine in the NFL.  He gets his second fine in the NFL a week later for a middle finger salute against the Redskins in the preseason.  He loses the starting position for the 1st time with the Browns to Brian Hoyer when the 2014 season begins, and saw no playtime until week 13, becoming the last of the 4 top drafted QBs to make his professional debut.  In the interim, all was quiet, except for a late night incident involving police and a fight, just a few short hours before a team charter flight.

Enough, you say?  Nah, we’re just getting started.

In December 2014, Manziel makes another proclamation that his party days are over, and he’s going to take his job seriously in the NFL.  Didn’t we hear that before?  But, just 1 week later, Manziel doesn’t show up for a walk-through meeting and treatment, and Browns security finds Manziel in his home, having overslept, although sources mention he was still drunk when woken up.  This led to a third fine for Manziel, a suspension for fellow teammate Josh Gordan, who was out with Manziel that night, and a very unhappy Cleveland Browns owner and HC.  It also led to Manziel sitting out the final game of his rookie season in the locker room.

Two days later, Manziel apologizes, again, and promises to do better.

The apology, apparently, was not enough for an already fed-up Browns organization, and Manziel announced he would be entering rehab to seek treatment for his problems with alcohol.  This, guys.  This is why it’s such a big deal.  This and the four paragraphs of mainly alcohol-fueled incidents that led to the Browns questioning his future and his seeking treatment.  This is why Manziel is not just another football player out drinking over the weekend.  This is the reason the Browns have grown increasingly wary of their 1st round draft pick and possible future franchise QB.

Ten weeks later, Manziel checked out of rehab, and offered up another apology and promise to do better.  Again.

Manziel starts a second season in the NFL as back-up, with HC Pettine clearly reluctant to play the just back from rehab troublemaker of 2014.  McCown is named starter, and Manziel sees playing time during a few injuries.  At this point and time, Manziel had been given several opportunities to straighten up, had amassed 3 fines in his rookie year, had allowed his drinking to directly affect his job, but he had also received professional help for his issues.  The reluctance to start Manziel is certainly understandable, but the Browns were also giving him another chance.

And then it starts to unravel.  Again.

In October, Manziel and his girlfriend get into a roadside altercation after drinking during the day.  Rumors and reports of an altercation surfaced, and the NFL and Browns investigated.  A few weeks later, he was out partying in College Station, Texas after being named honorary captain of the A&M Football team, although no images of drinking appeared in the media. A week later, Manziel was named starting QB, taking over for the bruised McCown for the remainder of the season, on one condition: stop the partying. It is reported that Pettine cautioned Manziel to behave during the Brown’s bye week, and Manziel assured him he would.

Well, we all know how that worked out. 

Some speculate that Pettine was setting Manziel up to fail.  Others mention it was a test.  I would likely be inclined to be a little bit of both, as the timing (coming off 2 party incidents after a stint in rehab in the off season) seems peculiar.  And if that’s the case, I’m inclined to not blame Pettine for the decision to put Manziel to the test to see if he could finally stick to one of his many promises of commitment to the team and the organization.  The reason and motives don’t matter.  Manziel proved again, and possibly once and for all, that he does not have what it takes to commit himself to the NFL.

Johnny Manziel wasn’t demoted because of a night of drinking.  He was demoted for never taking his job in the NFL seriously, and continuously showing complete disregard for his teammates and team.  He has been given many chances by the Browns organization, and took every single one for granted.  Manziel will likely be released by the Browns in the off-season, unless future actions warrant an immediate release (and I wouldn’t bet against this, as we clearly see a troubled man in the midst of substance abuse), but unless Manziel starts committing to treating his addictions, his NFL future is hazy.  Even in a QB-starved league.