It was hard to avoid Tom Brady’s smile last week. The New England Patriots quarterback was soaking in the adulation of a record-equalling fourth Super Bowl ring while debates raged as to whether or not the 37-year-old was the best of all time.
Meanwhile, one potential star who would no doubt aspire to reach Brady’s level, was entering rehab in a bid to salvage a career which, at the age of just 22, already looks like sliding down the wrong road all the way to oblivion.
Johnny Manziel – Johnny Football to his mates (excruciatingly, he’s had the moniker trademarked) – finally did something many wished had happened far sooner in admitting a problem with alcohol and seeked professional help.
Manziel was a child prodigy, a college phenomenon destined for the very top. His performances for Texas A&M will go down in legend – he is one of only three players ever to throw 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 in the same season.
Yet underneath the genius, predictably, lay a demon. And that’s what grates most in this sorry tale.
Partying in Vegas with ‘friends’ like Floyd Mayweather and Justin Bieber were seen by those who know him best as typical Johnny. An MVP when it came to socialising. The good time guy.
In his first season for the Cleveland Browns though, he was anything but a star. The warning signs were shrieking after failing to turn up for physio sessions before the crunch came when he was finally called into action.
The rookie was just that. His appearances were disastrous – barely completing 50 per cent of his passes, averaging a paltry five yards each. He threw two interceptions. Zero touchdowns.
Naturally, the scrutiny and the eyes of the world were burning holes in the back of his head.
The drinking though didn’t stop until it simply got too much.
No-one in Cleveland or beyond has taken any satisfaction in seeing what transpired last week. Yet 18 months ago, his father, Paul, who has refused to speak since his son made the NFL, admitted his problems were worsening.
“I don’t know where the anger comes from,” Paul told ESPN The Magazine. “I don’t think he knows. If it comes from his drinking, or if he’s mad at himself for not being a better person when he fails, when he fails God and his mom and me.”
Being sent home from the Peyton Manning quarterback camp in 2013 after staying up late the night before was another red flag.
So this all begs the question as to why Manziel was not helped by the Browns to deal with his problems before they got out of hand.
As news of Manziel’s treatment broke, another promising career was hurtling off the rails. Wide receiver Josh Gordon was hit with a year suspension following a third failed drug test. The 23-year-old, whose past is littered with recreational drug and drink offences, has been bullish over what he perceives as unfair and constant criticism.
It’s easy to feel some sympathy. These are two young athletes who are in burning gaze of the public eye and clearly unable to deal with the responsibility. Yet there comes a time when they simply have to start acting like adults and appreciate the position they are in.
Gordon was offended when NBA legend Charles Barkley passed judgement on TV.
“Josh Gordon is going to die if he carries on going down this road. These movies always end the same way: badly,” said Barkley.
Gordon, surely advised by his agents, coherently hit back: “I am not someone who deserves to be dissected and analysed like some tragic example of everything that can possibly go wrong for a professional athlete…. If I have a problem it is that I am only 23 years-old – with a lot left to learn.”
The word “if” there is key. There were some heartfelt words. Yet no admission of a character default.
So where are the owners and senior members of the Cleveland Browns staff? Well, general manager Ray Farmer is facing suspension and a huge fine for illegally texting coaching staff on game day.
A fine example to set if ever there was one.
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