America's Tendency to Transform Athletes into Villians: Johnny Manziel

05/07/2015 12:23 pm ET | Updated May 07, 2016
Grant Halverson via Getty Images

In today's world, information can be shared in a matter of seconds and while the ability to report important news to citizens of America is beneficial in many ways, technological advancements have also made it easier for opinions to be spread rapidly. And often times, this turns into a rather unfortunate and troubling dilemma. Everyone has smart phones and other gadgets to transmit and receive information on, and because of this, the amount of content being produced by reporters as well as regular people with no media credentials is in constant demand. Stories about people in the public eye spread out across the internet like a wildfire even when the story is really not a noteworthy at all.

Athletes, being some of the most public figures in society, are regularly discussed, but what is being said about them, a lot of the time, does not relate to their accomplishments or failures on the playing field. While subjects such as criminal investigations about the athletes in question and other negative misconduct deserve to be reported on, athletes that are making an attempt to get their personal affairs in order do not deserve to be turned into villains. With that being said, the court of public opinion is out, and Johnny Manziel is an awful human being and does not deserve anything good in his life. See how ridiculous that sounds? Scroll down to the comments on an ESPN article about Manziel and you will find comments in that vein and much, much worse.

By now, everyone who pays even a slight amount of attention to sports or popular culture in general knows who Johnny Manziel is, and most likely, they do not have positive things to say about him. A look at his accomplishments on the field shows that he has been very successful at a young age. He became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy in 2012, the most prestigious honor in college football and possibly all of sports. He holds dozens of records and awards earned throughout his college career at Texas A&M before being drafted by the Cleveland Browns with the 22nd pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.

But like every major celebrity, he has a part of his Wikipedia page dedicated to his "Personal life and controversies," as well as thousands of scathing articles about his character and likely millions of tweets degrading him from people who have likely never met, and never will meet him. Manziel's character has been in question since he was in college and as the spotlight has grown larger, the amount of people willing to spew venom and hate towards the young athlete has increased exponentially. Johnny has made some mistakes, there is no disputing that fact. In 2012, he was arrested on misdemeanor charges stemming from a late night incident reported as a fight, in which he was charged with disorderly conduct, failure to identify and possessing a fake license. In 2013, he was the subject of criticism for leaving a football camp early headed by the Manning brothers for allegedly oversleeping. Controversy struck when he tweeted about wanting to leave college after frustration from a parking ticket. He also was kicked out of a fraternity party on campus that year. He was briefly investigated for a large amount of signed memorabilia when he was still maintained amateur status which is against NCAA rules. Throughout the past several years, he has been photographed in bars partying a lot, and even rumored to be doing illicit drugs in a bathroom.

All of this led to his rather poor rookie season in which he completed just 18 of 35 passes before his season ended with a hamstring injury. He was fined by the Browns at the end of the season for oversleeping and missing treatment for his injury. After the season, he faced scrutiny for reportedly not being fully dedicated to the team by the media, the fans and even some of his teammates.

Then it came out earlier this year that Johnny had checked himself into rehab, reportedly for alcohol. The cries of how terrible he is grew louder. Sports fans called him a bust, a punk, not worthy of the NFL. He stayed in rehab for over two months, much longer than the standard 28 days at the facility.

His teammates are praising his newfound work ethic and dedication. Manziel has even moved out of his downtown apartment into a more calming suburb golf course community on the west side of Cleveland. He appears to be taking the right steps to become a better football player, and more importantly a better individual. He gave a heartfelt apology to the fans, his teammates, and to the people closest to him. All is well, right? Not according to the outlandish court of public opinion.

Let's take a look back at his past indiscretions. Johnny Manziel is just 22 years old. He won the Heisman when he was only 19 years old, the same age that he was caught with a fake ID and was charged with disorderly conduct. Visit a college campus and see how many fake IDs are floating around, how many drunken mistakes thousands of college students make on a weekly basis. He was 20 when he overslept for the Manning football camp. Does anyone know exactly what caused Manziel to oversleep? Have any of his detractors ever overslept before? Do you wish that millions of people wanted your signature on a football? If you were a young athlete on a thriving campus, would you go out and party with admirers and celebrities alike and enjoy yourself? Would you know what to do when handed millions of dollars and an NFL franchise at the age of 21?

The answer to all of those questions is incredibly obvious. The real problem lies in the fact that not only have people criticized this young man for his mistakes made during his development period as a person, not as a quarterback, but they have taken shots at him for trying to better himself. Only brave and strong people admit they have problems and address them. The fact that Manziel has tried to work on these issues at such a young age is a remarkable accomplishment. Media members and fans are still willing to count him out due to his past "mistakes." What happened to second chances? He certainly deserves more than what he has been given. In the grand scheme of things, Manziel has not done anything to warrant such venomous hatred. It is okay not to like him as a player and to doubt his abilities at being an NFL quarterback, but to knock his character is completely absurd. People can say that he has asked for it, but that is simply not true. We as a nation, put athletes on a pedestal. We make them famous by being interested in them, and just because we gave Manziel that fame, it does not give us the right to criticize him whenever we feel like it. He is not perfect, but neither is anyone criticizing him, and the criticizing his character makes you worse than him by default.

The bottom line is that professional athletes are beautiful yet flawed individuals just like you and me. Manziel is 22 years old. Would you want everyone knowing all of the stupid things you did when you were that young? It is easy to judge when it is someone else's life, especially someone who is far more successful and wealthy than most people could ever dream to be. If he plays a bad game, by all means, criticize him, that is your right as a fan, but if he does something that millions of people have done before him, barring any serious illegal activities, judging him and tearing him apart is truly baffling. So when you read the next story designed to entice you to form negative opinions about his character, think for a moment, and then if you actually have any amount of empathy or understanding for your fellow humans, choose to say something constructive, or say nothing at all. Is that not the golden rule that we as humans should live by, after all?