If you’re suffering from off-season induced JFF — Johnny Football Fatigue — buckle in. The inanity of coverage on the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel appears to be taking a new and unfortunate twist.
Johnny Manziel is the new Tim Tebow. The preceding sentence has two implications, either of which is true. Tebow left the Florida Gators as one of college football’s all-time premiere quarterbacks. He helped revolutionize the spread offense’s implementation at the college level, won a pair of national championships and a Heisman.
Manziel too has flourished in the spread, while putting his fingerprints on its evolution.
But as Tebow’s star rose, he became the centerpiece of an unsettling campaign. Recognizing that Tebow was an outstanding college player and admirable philanthropist was not enough; a narrative developed that one had to be either a devout supporter, or a vehement opponent. No middle ground here.
It’s hardly an accurate narrative, but the Jason Collins story this week resurfaced the more bitter debate on Tebow’s role in society. It was a contrived debate, shoehorned into the discussion as Tebow name has been frequently over the last few years through no fault of the quarterback himself.
David Jones of The Patriot News wrote an outstanding column on the cause-and-effect of interjecting Tebow into debates so frequently. It’s the byproduct of a circus that was built around Tebow — a circus that one would be naive to believe isn’t impacting Tebow’s current NFL employment.
Now, the head carnival barker has turned his attention to Manziel.
Allow me to clarify something up front. I am not, nor will I at any time in the foreseeable future be a viewer of ESPN First Take. I did not actively seek out the opinion of one Skip Bayless, sports media’s most calculating and prolific troll.
I did, however, fire up the ESPN College Football app on my phone and saw a headline on Manziel, the sport’s most provocative player. ESPN is an easy target because it’s the most prominent entity in sports. However, lost in the frequent criticisms of intentionally inflammatory platforms like First Take is that the network employs a team of great reporters and analysts.
I opened this Manziel headline expecting perhaps a feature story written by one of the aforementioned great reporters, like Brett McMurphy or Ivan Maisel. Perhaps the headline led to a video breakdown featuring Kirk Herbstreit or Desmond Howard. I didn’t read the byline, instead continuing on to text that, while very well written, was more inciting than insightful.
Just a few paragraphs into it was a shoehorned-in passage about Tebow. Wait a second, this feels awfully familiar…
Scanning up to the byline, I read the words “Skip Bayless.”
Logging onto ESPN.com’s college football page this morning to retrace my footsteps on Bayless’ Manziel take, I see more from the maligned talk show host on college football’s most discussed player. And this time, his equally trollish cohort was along for the ride.
No need to watch this video. The landscape doesn’t need more empty shouting. Debate is fine — necessary, even. What fun is it not having some congenial back-and-forth over whether Alabama or Oklahoma State is more deserving of a shot at LSU in the national championship game? But the abilities of Tim Tebow at the pro level don’t need to further the rift in American society. And just-turned-20 Manziel certainly doesn’t need to take up a mantle neither he, nor the current focal point Tebow, asked for.
Political discourse in this country is increasingly mean-spirited, because purposefully divisive narrators led the discussion. “Debate” actually means vilification; you’re either with us or against us, all-in or all-out. No middle ground. Football doesn’t need to be this way.
Johnny Manziel and Tim Tebow are both great college football players. Isn’t that enough? Manziel has also gained a measure of TMZ, social media-age fame, sure. Even that is a bit over-the-top.
The best advice can be gleaned from The Simpsons “Treehouse of Horror VI,” when, as giant advertisements ravaged Springfield Lisa Simpson and Paul Anka sang, “just don’t look.”
I am taking that sage advice. And I’m paying greater attention to bylines.