I've not been kind to Johnny Manziel over the last year. Which is probably actually a bit of an understatement. I was, quite honestly, disgusted by him -- along with just about every other blogger/sports personality/public figure out there including his own dad. And yet, when the NCAA announced its joke of a suspension (half of a game) as a result of his dealings with several autograph brokers, I suddenly found myself strangely on the other side.
Who is the real bad guy here? Johnny, for being rich and famous and rubbing that richness and famousness in everyone's face (while also asking for our sympathy), or the NCAA for allowing (dare I say, encouraging) it to occur? And what of Texas A&M, who shamelessly exploited Manziel's image to the tune of a $20,000 table fee at a recent auction for the school?
And so, I was at a crossroads. While it's impossible to like Johnny the person (100% his own doing), the NCAA has made it impossible for the public to root against him. What its doing (and not just to him, but all of its stars) is patently unfair, and it is becoming harder for the NCAA to sweep it under the rug.
And then the game against Rice happened.
When I saw it live, I couldn't believe my eyes. Johnny, after getting tackled on a scramble on his second drive of the day, made what appeared to be (and was) an autograph signing motion at the defender who hit him. Did he really just do that? Could he be so brazen? And add that to the "got money" motion that he and his teammates apparently love doing (since last season), and really he's once again telling his "haters" where they can stick it.
Normally, this would have set off the "I hate you so much" alarm bells in my head, but somehow this felt different. In the aftermath of Manziel's ridiculous suspension, and the 3-lost-scholariships penalty against Oregon, and the non-movement on the Miami scandal, when Johnny acts up I don't see him anymore as the bad guy so much as I do the rebel fighting against the system. And if rooting for him, even in the short term, means rooting against the NCAA? Then I have to be all for it.
Maybe I should be clear about my bias here. I am a USC grad. My opinion of the NCAA, and its archaic rules and its enforcement committee was already low. But all I wanted was some consistency. I know that USC did wrong, but the organization expended a mountain of resources to release that now-infamous violations report -- where was that for Cam Newton? And how could they declare Dez ineligible, but not Manziel? And don't even get me started on the hypocrisy of their website, which until Jay Bilas called them out, connected players' names in their search feature to their respective jerseys at their respective colleges. For example, typing 'Johnny Manziel' into their search box would take you directly to Texas A&M's page and Johnny's obviously connected, but un-branded #2 jersey. Hell, I still have my #15 UH and #5 USC jerseys that I got while I was in school (for Colt and Reggie respectively).
So, as much as I cannot help feeling like Manziel is a turd and a colossal egomaniac, I'm far more disillusioned by the organization that is purportedly in place to protect both his rights as a collegian and as an amateur athlete. There is, as far as I'm concerned, only one amateur in this situation and its definitely not Johnny.