By Michael Parente
Those of you who think Johnny Manziel will get the Terrelle Pryor treatment from NCAA president Mark Emmert for allegedly making money off his own signature are naïve as those who still think only a small handful of baseball players use performance-enhancing drugs.
Manziel, otherwise known as “Johnny Football” by the college football beatniks and sycophants whose hero worship has helped turn your average 20-year-old college student into Scott Disick in shoulder pads, is in hot water for allegedly accepting thousand and thousands of dollars for signing thousands and thousands of pieces of Texas A&M memorabilia during a series of orchestrated signing sessions.
There’s even a video, viewed by ESPN’s Joe Schad, in which Manziel is asked if he’d take additional cash to sign with special inscriptions, to which Manziel declined, indicating he had done so in the past and that it led to questions, a clear admission of wrongdoing if there ever was one.
While many of us agree most of the NCAA’s policies are unnecessary, antiquated, or, in some cases, flat-out senseless, rules are rules, and if Manziel took money to sign memorabilia, he’s as guilty as Pryor was in 2011 – or anyone else from Ohio State, for that matter – for signing autographs in exchange for free tattoos.
Pryor was essentially wiped from the Buckeyes’ memory, banned from all contact with the university’s athletic program and incoming recruits. A year earlier, Georgia wide receiver AJ Green, now a member of the Cincinnati Bengals, received a four-game suspension for selling his jersey to an agent for $1,000.
This week, Manziel is on the cover of Texas Monthly magazine (yes, that’s a real magazine) depicted as Superman leaping out of Texas A&M’s Kyle Stadium with his left fist in the air like the Man of Steel and a football tucked away safely in his right hand. Glad to see Texans once again have their priorities in check. It’s football and abortion above all else, which means business as usual in the Lone Star State. Two spots down on the magazine rack, you’ve got Alex Rodriguez on the cover of Sports Illustrated depicted as baseball’s ultimate pariah, as if he filmed himself slaughtering an entire litter of puppies and posted it on YouTube. While taking steroids. Manziel might as well be a footnote. Only French Montana and Lil’ Wayne have fewer worries than Johnny Football.
While a magazine named Texas Monthly can’t possibly be expected to be the source of objectivity in this matter – or on appropriate language at a Kenny Chesney concert – this is just a small slice of what’s to come as we inch closer to college football’s opening week. Don’t expect the NCAA or Texas A&M to punish Manziel for simply taking part in these shady autograph sessions in the first place, the same way the New England Patriots, for example, punished Aaron Hernandez for his mere involvement in the murder of Odin Lloyd despite the fact Hernandez has yet to have his day in court. And don’t expect the NCAA to keep digging for facts, lest that turn up actual evidence to support Manziel’s guilt and force the NCAA to do the last thing it wants to do, which is punish it’s most marketable star.
Neither Pryor, Green, or anyone else caught breaking the rules in recent years meant as much to the game as Manziel means right now. The NCAA has and always will be about exploiting student-athletes for money – money spent on brand-new stadiums, science centers and refurbished lawns used by the less-athletic students to play ultimate Frisbee or Hacky Sack – without giving so much as a penny to the ones who help add all those zeroes to the trust fund. The school’s booster organization actually sold a table of six at its upcoming Kickoff Dinner for $20,000 because Manziel and former Aggie John David Crow will be sitting there as well. None of that goes to Manziel.
Is it fair? No, but it’s life as we know it in the NCAA, and while sports’ most corrupt, dysfunctional governing body has gone to great lengths to punish third-string linebackers for allowing the coach’s wife to buy them Advil, it won’t so much as bat an eyelash with Manziel’s reputation on the line. There’s too much money at stake.
If the NCAA fails to do something in the wake of these allegations, it loses whatever shred of credibility it has left, and that’s assuming a shred is even an appropriate measure at this point. For an organization that adheres to its dusty rulebook the way religious fanatics take the Bible word-for-word, it has an uncanny knack for feigning ignorance when enforcing the rules suddenly isn’t in its best interest.
Can you imagine Manziel not playing when the Aggies host No. 1-ranked Alabama on Sept. 14? Neither can the NCAA, which is why the Teflon money machine known as Johnny Football will skate like Nancy Kerrigan when it’s all said and done. Give me drug-cheats any day of the week.
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