Other Voices

Like Manziel, we all need an identity outside of sports

Former Texas A&M and Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel watches a Texas Rangers game last year.
Former Texas A&M and Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel watches a Texas Rangers game last year. Star-Telegram

We are all Johnny Football.

I could hear your indignation as you read that, but let me explain.

I am a former professional football coach who has seen the game at three levels: high school, college and the National Football League. And I teach a university class that includes most of the freshmen student-athletes.

I preach the same thing I once preached to players at the professional level: personal responsibility.

Johnny Manziel was indicted Tuesday on domestic violence charges. If he is found guilty of the misdemeanor assault charge levied by a Dallas grand jury, he deserves the full weight of the law.

We have created an environment that strips premiere athletes of perspective and accountability.

We want our touchdowns, and we want them now. We crave wins and despise losses.

What we have deemed soft skills, the ability to cope with adversity, empathize and lead with integrity, is now second on our depth chart for life.

Consider this: Of the 10 largest stadiums in the world, eight are American college football stadiums.

The combined capacity of those stadiums stands at roughly 830,000. Rest assured, we will top the 1 million mark as rival schools continue to double down in the infinite game of “construction dare.”

And the schools have the money to do it. The 128 teams of the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) have a combined value of $20 billion.

These holy sites serve as a home to our irrational exuberance. Unfortunately, they are also the trading floor for lucrative capital markets also known as college football.

According to the NCAA, 52 percent of the young men who play college football believe they will reach a professional roster. The reality is that only 1.6 percent of them will.

And before we make a collective nod of disapproval, a study conducted by Harvard and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that 26 percent of all parents hope their children become professional athletes.

Now, combine that anticipation with the college football recruiting process and the result is a tropical storm of delusion.

Last year, Rivals.com took the unprecedented step of posting the profiles of sixth-graders.

The quest to herd the nation’s most talented players onto the football rosters of premiere college teams has created a race to the bottom.

Even some coaches are playing a part. College coaches are flying helicopters over target high schools (Kevin Sumlin of Texas A&M), climbing trees and inviting themselves over for sleepovers (Jim Harbaugh of Michigan).

While players are eviscerated for dancing in the endzone, their head coaches “dab” (a dance craze) in locker rooms, fully aware that the team’s social media coordinator will promptly post the content on social media.

After all, “hip” coaches are good for business.

We should not be surprised when a system that crowned its first freshman Heisman Trophy winner at age 20 falls from grace.

In a society that pays more attention to falling 40-yard-dash times than rising SAT scores, it is time for us to encourage athletes to create an identity outside of their sport.

The truth is that at some point, the ball will go flat for every player. And when it does, he will be left to pick up the pieces.

Manziel released a statement after being indicted saying, “I’m hoping to take care of the issues in front of me right now, so I can focus on what I have to do if I want to play in 2016.”

Unfortunately for Johnny Football and the rest of us, the delusion continues.

Daron K. Roberts is the founding director of the Center for Sports Leadership and Innovation at The University of Texas at Austin.

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