Commentary: The Sad Tale Of NFL Player Johnny Manziel
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Johnny Manziel made a name for himself over the last few years - first as a Heisman Trophy winner back in 2012, then as an NFL quarterback for the Cleveland Browns who was dismal on the field and too much trouble off of it. Now he's a former NFL player, indicted this week on a misdemeanor assault charge. An ex-girlfriend says Manziel hit her and threatened to kill her.
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
There's been a lot of talk online and on sports shows about the downfall of Johnny Football. Commentator Joshua Whitfield has his own take, which first appeared in the Dallas Morning News. Whitfield is a priest at St. Rita's in north Dallas, and he's been watching Manziel play for years.
JOSHUA WHITFIELD: There are several ways to read the story of Johnny Manziel. His is a story of family history and upbringing, of an east Texas Wildcatter, an upbringing by overly driven parents of a child never given a chance to grow up into a man. It's a story of the cult of sports and the cult of the child, woven together and raised almost to the status of religion, a religion of constant, endless, physically harmful year-round sports shoved down the throats of children for the sake of dreams typically shattered by the age of 18. His is a story of addiction and violence, of half-hearted rehab, rolled up $20 bills, misdemeanors and the forebodings of an early death. It's a story of an epidemic of domestic violence that, actually, we tolerate as much as excoriate, our superficially moral protest really more soothing exorcisms of our own consciences than evidence of genuine concern.
His is a story of celebrity and the modern professional athlete, a story of bodies readily available in the arenas and stadiums built with our own adulation and money, whose destruction entertains us as much as anything else does. If we read the story of Johnny Football unaware of these larger contexts, we miss the point. We become mere voyeurs. Morally, we're little better than the ancient Romans in all their brutal, bloody and callous leisure. We must, if we're to be human and moral in all this, see him not just as another offering of entertainment, fodder for another joke or material for nodding, self-righteous commentators like me. We must see Johnny Manziel in human terms - not valued by football but by the measure of his own innate dignity.
In my line of work, I see a lot of bad people, but I've learned not to give up on them. I've seen addicts go clean. I've seen the violent turn peaceful. And I've seen the lecherous become pure. Redemption is a reality. And so there are many ways to read the story of Johnny Football, but this is the most important way. This is no longer a sports story. This is a human story. And in sports, as in life, redemption is a powerful and always possible miracle. It'll make a better story, and it'll make us better, too.
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MCEVERS: That is commentator and football fan Father Joshua Whitfield of St. Rita's Church in north Dallas.
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