Oct 12, 2013; Oxford, MS, USA; Texas A

Johnny Manziel, Charity, And Uncle Nate's Uncle Joel


Johnny Manziel is a punk.

That’s the narrative we’ve chosen, and we’ll be damned if we let anything interfere with a good story–one of superstar collegiate quarterback gone rogue.

He’s signed autographs for money (maybe). He’s been a regular bar-fly all across the great state of Texas. He’s generally given his critics the big “F You” button and he’s managed to parlay his own pseudo-celebrity into face time with some actual celebrities.

He’s practically a Kardashian.

Halfway into his redshirt sophomore season, that narrative is what shapes Johnny Manziel’s season. Not the fact that Texas A&M is sitting at 5-1 with their lone loss coming to the No. 1-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide–they’re still a legit national title contender, mind you–and not the fact that Johnny might be on track for a statistically comparable season to the one that won him a Heisman Trophy in 2012.

We’re simply sitting here waiting on the wheels to come off.

The bad boy narrative playbook says that it eventually will, and so on an almost weekly basis we wait. We do so with our jaws hanging somewhere between our Adam’s Apple and our clavicle as he makes play after play, but, despite our complete and utter amazement, we wait for Johnny Manziel to fail nonetheless.

That’s because the narrative we’ve picked is one that pushes traffic. However, what we seem to have lost sight of is that the narrative we choose doesn’t always match up with reality.

And, even when the proverbial shoe does fit, we often lose grips on the fact that narrative doesn’t always have to apply so unilaterally. In the case of Johnny Manziel, we’re seeing that scenario play out perfectly.

In my own writings and musings, I’ve perpetuated the myth, as well. But, in moments like the ones spent reading the story of Nate Fitch’s uncle, the brother of Johnny Manziel’s personal assistant’s father (wrap your mind around that and make sure it all adds up), you can begin to start to understand the err in your way.

Johnny Manziel may be your typical fun-loving irresponsible kid. He may be a little self-absorbed at times, and all the postulating I’ve done in terms of whether or not I’d draft Johnny Manziel or if his behavior could have some influence on the atmosphere in the Texas A&M locker room (or an entirely fictional rendering of Johnny Manziel as a character in GTA V) still apply. But, we’re way too eager to label this kid as a bad guy.

Deadspin even went as far as to paint him as the bad guy descendant of a long line of bad guys.

It’s hard to see that when you read this story by TexAgs.com’s Olin Buchanan.

The story itself is less about Johnny and more about his personal assistant Nate Fitch and his Uncle Joel, who has cerebral palsy.

Joel Fitch has never taken a step during the 43 years he’s spent on this earth. Cerebral palsy has robbed him of that entirely.

However, despite a prognosis from doctors that claimed Joel would never be able to speak or be self-sufficient, Joel has managed to carve out a pretty amazing existence. He’s a veritable football encyclopedia and he works at a thrift store in his hometown (and Johnny Football’s) of Kerrville, Tx.

He grew up as a fan of the Texas Longhorns, but when his nephew Nate became close friends with Johnny Manziel, Uncle Joel became good friends with Johnny, too. When Johnny went to Texas A&M and Nate followed, Uncle Joel went with in spirit. Now, in place of burnt orange hats and “Hook ‘Em” t-shirts, you’ll find maroon and Gig ‘Em.

This summer when Johnny took the Heisman Trophy back to Kerrville for a celebration, Uncle Joel was on the stage. It was a huge honor for a huge football fan.

However, for as miraculous as Joel Fitch’s life has been, it still comes with its challenges. Joel can’t entirely care for himself, and his parents are now 84 and 72 years old. Taking care of Joel has become difficult on them.

So, some time back, they hired their neighbors to become Joel’s primary caregivers. And, as Joel always seems to do, he developed a very special relationship with one of them.

David Cahela is stated to be in his 20s in Buchanan’s story, and he’s become a “dear friend” of Uncle Joel’s. However, earlier this year, David was diagnosed with lymphoma.

He was treated and the disease was thought to be under control, but it has since resurfaced.

His treatment now requires bone marrow transplants.

Needless to say, the health status of his friend and caretaker has weighed heavily on Joel, who has always put others first despite his condition (as evidenced by the nearly 3,000 hours of community service he reportedly has under his belt). And while David’s health has declined, so too have Joel’s spirits.

That’s when Nate (the personal assistant and yes-man that we don’t really know, yet have been so quick to chastise) stepped in to do something for Uncle Joel. He got Joel tickets to this Saturday’s game against the Auburn Tigers and made arrangements to have Joel brought to College Station.

Of course, it’s hard to imagine that Johnny didn’t have something to do with that. And while that is undoubtedly rampant speculation, it’s only speculation for the sake of saying, if he did, and if that for whatever reason is against some appalling NCAA bylaw, I don’t really give a damn.

And when Johnny scores on Saturday, or throws a touchdown pass, or makes one of those miraculous Johnny Football plays we’ve all become accustomed to, and he makes a motion to wherever Uncle Joel is sitting, I won’t really give a damn about that either.

Because despite the fact that Johnny Manziel has done some things that don’t seem becoming of a Heisman Trophy winner and the potential future of an NFL franchise (I guess we’ve come to expect gentrified Southern gentleman), Johnny Manziel also has shown time and time again that he’s got a huge heart. He continues to give.

He saved a cat trapped on the highway. He’s developed a personal relationship with a six-year old cancer patient who adores him. He brought Uncle Joel, perhaps his biggest fan, up onto that stage with the Heisman in Kerrville.

He gives and he gives and he gives, yet we dote on him giving out a few too many autographs–for (allegedely) taking some money for it–because that’s what advances the narrative. That’s what sells copy and garners traffic.

Johnny Manziel may be cocky. He may be self-absorbed and his behavior may haunt him down the road.

Eventually the wheels may fall off, and, if they do, I’m sure we’ll be right there waiting. But, if we’re going to emphasize the parts where the narrative fits, it’s important, for clarity’s sake, to note where they don’t, as well.

Johnny Manziel may be a lot of things. Turns out charitable happens to be one of them.

Let’s talk about that for awhile. Johnny Manziel, the punk with the heart of gold.

Doesn’t sound right, does it?

Maybe we scrap the narrative for the time being.

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Tags: Johnny Manziel Texas A&M Aggies

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