Dear Mrs. Bates,
I was perusing Facebook and your open letter to Johnny Manziel popped up on my newsfeed. I appreciate the sentiment of the letter—I have two kids of my own who are both too young to know or care who Johnny is. I recognize how difficult it is to be the gatekeeper for the influences on our children.
I was 100% with you for much of it. I do want Johnny to be more prudent about what he puts on social media. I also appreciate the story you shared about how you met Johnny when he was in high school. It's understandable why you care about him.
But you and I differ in a few areas and I think it starts with this quote:
But besides the games, unfortunately, we’ve also watched the mistakes in the public eye. How can we miss them? Until recently, you paraded them around on social media as if you felt you were untouchable. And that’s led us, and many other parents I’m sure, to have hard conversations with our son. Conversations that talk about character being more important than fame. Conversations about your true worth not being found in your athletic ability, but in your daily actions that define you as a person. Conversations about the responsibility that comes with success and fame. Conversations about how you are a great athlete, but not a great role model.
I want to preface my next statement. I've said before that as parents, all of us are trying to figure this entire thing out based on how and what we learned as kids. But to me, that conversation that you had to have with your son is better than anything Johnny could ever do or be to your kid. It gave you the opportunity for a teachable moment...a moment where you and your son got to have a deep heart to heart about the way the world is, and how it's not always as we want it to be.
I think the main question at hand is whether or not athletes should be role models. That whether someone who is thrust in to the public eye should live his or her life in a certain way because people are watching. Is someone a leader just because they have followers?
Sometimes I wonder whether we're trying to hold Johnny up to a standard that is simply not who he is. We expect two different things from him. We expect him to be fearless and reckless on the playing field, yet careful and thoughtful off the field in everything he does. I won't mention his age, because frankly I think it's overblown, but I'm in my 30s and still trying to figure out who I am. Were you completely formed emotionally and fully mature when you were 20?
Remember that little eyes are watching you. Kids look up to you. And as a parent, it’s never fun to have to knock a knight off of his horse. I want my son to look up to you as a person who made mistakes, but found redemption. As a person who acknowledged mistakes and righted the ship. As a person who earned respect, not because of athletic ability but because of character in the face of trial. Stop being a lesson in what not to do. And start living your God-given potential. Notice nothing that I’ve said here has anything to do with football? Because IT DOESN’T MATTER! If you don’t live a life of character and fulfill your God-given potential, NONE OF IT matters.
Hmm. You want your son to look up to Johnny. But you don't like who he is. So instead of telling your son not to look up to him, you want Johnny to change and to make your life a bit easier (sorry if that's blunt, but that's how I read this). Secondly, on one hand you say "...as someone who earned respect not because of athletic ability"...then you say "nothing I've said here has anything to do with football."
How did you come to know who Johnny was? Did you know him simply as a kid or as a kid who played football for Tivy High School? You knew him, and came into position to respect him because of his athletic ability. You then placed a set of expectations on him—for him to be as good off the field as he is on the field. That's on you, not on Johnny.
It’s not too late to right the ship. It’s not too late to sit down with your family, your coaches, your teammates be accountable and be the leader you were created to be. There’s a reason you weren’t voted a Team Captain this year. And it has nothing to do with your age.
This is a remarkably presumptuous paragraph. It reads as if you presume to know what Johnny's relationship is like with all the parties that you mentioned—his parents, his coaches, and his teammates. How do you know that he's not accountable to them? Simply because of the small glimpse of his life you get through his actions on the field and his representations in the media? This seems like an an incredibly judgmental paragraph based on limited information. Are you aware of his work with the Dina family? Have you flipped through some of the pictures on the Tumblr site The Johnny We Know? Or does that information simply not suit your narrative?
You have a gift. And for now, you still have this family as fans. And we’re looking hard for reasons to stay fans. And we pray for you. Not because we know you, but because we’ll never understand the pressure you feel or the weight of the responsibility you carry.
You are looking for reasons to remain Manziel fans, and are looking for Johnny to provide those reasons. Perhaps you should reframe the parameters of your fandom instead of relying on someone you have no control over to change. The act of praying for Johnny was perhaps the most important thing in your entire message. Instead of wishing Johnny would change to make your life a bit easier, perhaps you should pray for him to learn and to grow, so that he can make his own life easier.
I hope nothing I said here sounds too harsh...I might be coming from a place of frustration at the unnecessary scrutiny Johnny faces and his portrayal as a villain for doing the same things he's always done. But I simply cannot understand the thought process of folks who form their own perceptions about who Johnny should be, independent of what we know about him, and then are let down when he does not meet our expectations. Johnny has been the same person all this time. That's not a failure on Johnny's part...it's failure on our part as fans. And that failure has led to a significant amount of criticism and angst directed toward a guy whose job as Texas A&M quarterback is to 1) be a good teammate and 2) compete at a high level. That's it.
I wish you the best, and I hope this note comes across in the way I intended...one of conversation and possibly redirection.
Tivy Fight Never Dies. Gig 'em.