Saturday's game was business as usual for Johnny Manziel:
- He stepped on the field and proved that he was far and away the best player on it.
- He provided fodder to further the media's narrative, and they ran with it.
- The Texas A&M Athletic Department hid him away.
It's a tried and true public relations tactic. Starve the media for information long enough, and they'll eventually move on to something else. It's done by organizations across the country every day. Often, it works. But for Texas A&M, it's time to try a new tactic. The "Johnny Football" legend that was once a novelty and a media curiosity has turned into a feeding frenzy, one that no amount of "no comment"s will eliminate. The Johnny narrative is beyond starvation. As it was put so eloquently by Wright Thompson in "The Trouble with Johnny Football":
All his exploits, on and off the field, have spawned a mania, one that no longer even needs his presence to exist.
Stories are being told. Facts are being interpreted. Personas are being decided. Unfortunately, Johnny himself isn't in on the conversation.
To be fair, silence made sense when the NCAA investigation was ongoing. In a world of lawyers, statutes and technicalities, one poorly-phrased statement can do you in. The potential negatives are so great that they outweigh any possible good that come from a public statement. But that investigation is now over, and barring new evidence or Johnny saying, "Yeah, I took money in exchange for autographs," it's not coming back. The court of NCAA eligibility may have adjourned, but the court of public opinion rages on, and it's time to put our star witness on the stand.
The battle Johnny and A&M now face is not one of facts and financials, but perception. Fair or not, silence is interpreted as an admission that the allegations against Johnny are true. So if the decision to silence him is a matter of risk-reward, where is the risk? What could Johnny possibly say to worsen his image beyond what ESPN and other major media outlets already put forth?
There's a version of Johnny that the general public hasn't seen. Partially because it doesn't fit with his media-fueled persona, but perhaps also because Texas A&M hasn't made a strong enough effort to tell it. Aggie fan and friend of GBH Decade Plan recently created a Tumblr site, "The Johnny We Know," to show the kind, compassionate and genuine side of Manziel. It's a side we have rarely (if ever) seen in mainstream media. And while the media's opinion of Manziel will always be a mixed bag, there's opportunity to introduce some gray into the black-and-white picture they've painted. Heck, if we could just come around to Wright Thompson's point of view, I think we'd be in good shape.
"He's basically a really good dude. I know that's not super-scientific, but you would like him."
On Saturday's College Gameday, fans across the country chopped onions as they watched a 6 minute feature about A.J. McCarron's special bond with a young fan. It was a well-done story that gives you a lot of respect for McCarron. But how many of those fans know that Manziel has a similarly strong bond with Charlie Dina, a young Aggie fan with Neuroblastoma? It's a story that's worth telling, and one that would make many question the assumptions they've made about our polarizing signal-caller.
No matter the perceived shortcomings in Johnny's judgment, one thing he's never been is a bad interview. He's come across as sincere and engaging in virtually every interview he's given. Just like on the football field, when the bright lights come on, Johnny's at his best. It's time he be allowed to speak for himself; to repair his own image, and hopefully Texas A&M's in the process.