Another day, another absurd to-do centered around Johnny Manziel and emanating from social media. A fabricated image of Texas A&M Aggies quarterback and 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Manziel kissing his coveted bronze statue — complete with a blunt — made the rounds on Monday. Its veracity was quickly debunked by Manziel himself.
Nary a week passes when the A&M star’s name isn’t generating some kind of buzz. Sometimes its warranted. Moments like Monday’s Photoshop, it’s not. In either case, Johnny Manziel is in demand.
Don’t mistake this for another entry in the litany of leave Johnny alone! blog posts — nor is this a tut-tutting of the 20-year-old behaving like…well, a 20-year-old. And this certainly isn’t a bro-tastic virtual fist-bump.
A phenomenon of our time is evident in every thoroughly examined Manziel tweet. We live in an time when TV shows and books are developed from Twitter accounts. YouTube launches careers. The Rich Kids of Instagram are famous for photographing bar tabs. Combine the growing proliferation of online celebrity with genuine celebrity as Manziel has, and the result is combustible.
Were Andy Warhol alive and at all interested in college football, is there any doubt Johnny Manziel would be his favorite player?
Heisman Trophy winners are big deals — at least, in the world of football. Some go on to achieve a greater level of fame in the NFL, where there public reach is extended to the largest viewing audience in the country. The best example currently is 2007 Heisman recipient Tim Tebow, whose notoriety transcends bench-warming. He’s among sports’ most recognizable faces. But when Tebow was playing for the Florida Gators, his celebrity remained confined largely to the college football-following world.
When the season concluded and Manziel shared Instagram photos that caused a stir, I wrote that his new found stardom was both blessing and curse. That was three months ago. Manziel has appeared on television in a football capacity once, during the Aggies’ spring game on April 13, yet his public profile has grown exponentially.
Johnny Manziel has played all of one collegiate football season. He can’t appear on television commercials. He’s only been allowed to speak with media since late November. And yet, his level of fame transcends football in a manner reserved for the most half-dozen-or-so recognized professionals.
Celebrity gossip outlets track Manziel’s moves as they would a Kardashian or chart-topping musician. Manziel isn’t a chart-topping musician, of course; he just takes personal advice from them when they hang out. Whether it’s Drake or LeBron James, Manziel keeps exclusive company. His is a college experience that would make the exploits of the Delta Brothers at Faber College seem mundane.
And from there stems the unprecedented attention Manziel commands. He is the quintessential athlete for the social media age. Online connectivity helped previous Heisman winner Robert Griffin III to college football’s most vaunted individual award. Social media certainly helped Manziel’s candidacy, as well. Even more than Griffin before him, Manziel became a mythical figure in the blogosphere, on Twitter and Facebook leading up to the Heisman vote.
It was more than bringing attention to the Louisiana Tech game, or fueling exuberance after the Alabama upset. He was a persona.
Before A&M coach Kevin Sumlin lifted the moratorium on Manziel speaking with media, all that existed of his public persona was a summer mugshot and Halloween photos with a costumed Manziel flanked by coeds: sex and violence, the vices that fuel American entertainment.
In the months since, the curtain is pulled back on Manziel — but only insomuch as can be conveyed through 140 characters and filtered smartphone images.