I live in beautiful Northeast Ohio, which for the most part tends to be known for its swing state status, the home of Rock and Roll (at least the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), and the birthplace of American Football. Yet despite being the cradle of the pigskin, we’re perhaps better known for our crummy football team and the city’s professional sports championship drought. There’s a T-shirt sold here in Cleveland that lists over 2o quarterbacks that the Browns have had since 1999 (that’s a lot!). We go through quarterbacks only slightly faster than we go through our coaches. Here in Cleveland, we pay more former head coaches TO NOT COACH the Browns, than we do TO COACH the Browns. We’ve got to be getting close as a state to changing our motto to: “Next Year…”
Anyway, if you follow the Browns, or even Johnny Manziel, or even let’s say the NFL at all, then you probably have heard about our newest train wreck quarterback. He was a rising star at Texas A&M. They called him Johnny Football. The things he could do running on his feet, scrambling to make plays were fodder for the highlight reels. And then came draft day, and keep in mind that when Kevin Costner made the movie Draft Day–it was set in Cleveland. Draft Day here is like a holiday party where you’ve drunk too much. Everything’s great the day of the party and at the party, but then you wake up the next morning and you’re all hung over. So goes the Draft for Cleveland–everything seems great… and then the season starts and the team figuratively seems to huddle around the toilet occasionally puking all over the place. There’s a reason our football stadium has been dubbed “the factory of sadness.” On Draft Day, two years ago, even though the Johnny Football hype was intense and mock drafts had Johnny being drafted in the top 10, he dropped like a rock. And Cleveland true to form picked up another late first round quarterback. But Johnny was different, he was cocky, he was gonna “wreck the league,” he walked around flashing “show me the money” signs.
But two years later the only thing he’s wrecking is his future and his life. The depths to which Johnny Manziel has gone to feed his addiction, most think its alcohol or drugs, blew up the internet recently. Supposedly benched because of the NFL’s concussion protocol, Johnny Manziel skipped showing up for his concussion evaluation and instead flew to Vegas. But, in order to not be noticed, he donned a blonde wig and sunglasses and went by the name: “Billy” in order to gamble, drink, party. I’m not making this up, it was just too good to be true for all the sports reporters and late night comedy news shows. I don’t know what it is about us human beings and finding satisfaction in watching human train wrecks. I wonder if we find a smug satisfaction in comparing our lives to the absolute mess of train-wrecks and we think, “I may not be famous or making money hand-over-fist like so-and-so, but at least my life or future isn’t like —fill in the blank).”And we feel better than and superior to the train wrecked individual. #winning. But when we do this, are we really, winning?
When I read that Paul Manziel, Johnny’s father, had mentioned that they’d tried to get Johnny to check into and stay in a rehab facility twice over the last week but that Johnny had refused and that his own father felt that unless Johnny can get help he doesn’t think he’ll survive to see is 24th birthday. Johnny Football? #winning?
Ouch, can you imagine reading that coming from your father? The sad thing is that it was pretty obvious that it was said from a place of concern and love for his son. My heart goes out to the Manziel family. How sad to seemingly have all the opportunity in the world, to be a huge sensation with a star rising with an exponential trajectory, only two years later to have completely destroyed his value and reversed his trajectory so that now instead of going nearly straight up, its headed nearly straight down. And that’s just from a career perspective. Based on what Paul Manziel said the family isn’t worried about Johnny’s career in football (which is pretty much over)–they are worried about his life!
So what does the average American feel about this? Does he/she sit back in smug satisfaction over another human being nose diving into the ground? Are we made any more successful, any happier when more people around us fail or make a mess of their lives? No, of course not, it is only in comparison that we feel this way–when we are proud. C.S. Lewis said, “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. … It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest.” When human train wrecks seem to be bent on running their lives into the ground, let’s not jump on their backs in an attempt to lift ourselves higher. This only causes us all to sink deeper together into the mud. Let’s put on our empathy and feel for the sadness and struggle these human beings are enduring and causing.
As we cruise down the highways of life and come upon the wrecks on the side of the road, as we rubberneck and look at the devastation, if we can, let’s do like Meghan Vogel did, a high school runner who when a competitor fell near the end of the race in front of her, stopped and carried her competitor across the finish-line, and if that’s not practical let’s at least extend our hearts out in empathy to feel for the victims of the wrecks — both themselves and their loved ones.
Here’s to hoping that Johnny makes it well beyond his 24th birthday, let’s hope he has many more “Next Years”–just maybe not as our quarterback.