Growing up a wrestling fan, I always rooted for the heels (wrestling parlance for "villains").
While my friends patriotically thanked their maker that Hulk Hogan saved us all from the Iron Sheik's reign of terror in early 1984, I was rooting for "Rowdy" Roddy Piper to hit Jimmy Snuka with another coconut.
While my friends who partook in the genre were "training, saying their prayers and eating their vitamins, brother," I was happily extolling the virtues of "just when they think they got the answers, I change the questions."
Roddy Piper, Ric Flair, Randy Savage. Those were my guys. To hell with the babyfaces!
Maybe this is why I like Johnny Manziel so much.
Saturday afternoon, A&M's mercurial Heisman Trophy winner returned to the gridiron thirty game minutes later than (most of) the rest of his teammates, having served the glorified slap on the wrist the NCAA dropped on him last week for violating "the spirit of NCAA bylaw 188.8.131.52," whatever the hell that means.
In plain English, the NCAA and the school agreed to put Manziel in timeout for thirty minutes
because they needed to save face when they couldn't find a paper trail for the money he got paid for blatantly signing thousands of items over a several week period earlier this year, items that he had to know were going to be put up for sale by brokers, and for doing nothing to prevent said brokers, the ones who organized the signing sessions, from selling the items.
However, by the time the Aggies were finished fending off the pesky Rice Owls at Kyle Field by a final score of 52-31, Manziel found himself right back where he started the day -- in timeout.
That's because in between his snap-to-whistle exploits, which were All-American caliber as usual, Manziel was showing off the other, more infamous side of "Johnny Football," the side that chirps, yaps, talks, makes Drake hand gestures, points at the scoreboard, and informs opponents that he will not sign for them.
The snap-to-whistle side of Johnny Football put up 24 points in about 20 minutes. The brash, cocky, quasi-trolly side got his team a 15 yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct after the Aggies final touchdown of the game, and got himself benched by head coach Kevin Sumlin because of it.
I'll let you guess which part everyone in the free world wanted to dissect after the game. Hey, look, has Johnny Manziel been selfish and stupid at times throughout the offseason? Yes. Does he actually and ironically invite some of the very scrutiny he wishes would go away? Um..Twitter, Instagram, YES. Would I want my kids woofing and acting the way he does on the field? Probably not.
But good lord, the opening of the self-righteous floodgates that Manziel's behavior triggered on radio, on television, and in social media was positively out of control. ESPN, in particular, was treating Manziel's antics Saturday as if he was the one hiding the weapons of mass destruction.
A couple of the prime examples:
A woefully rambling Trevor Matich of ESPN (I know, I know..."Who?") hyperbolized that Manziel is "shaping up to be the most selfish, unstable knucklehead in recent memory." Presumably, while consumed with preparing diligently for the college football season, Matich has missed all of the recent Aaron Hernandez coverage.
Mark May (he's baaack!) managed to take Manziel's "walking slowly next to Kevin Sumlin after the penalty and not making eye contact" and magically turn it into allegations of Manziel's blatant disrespect for his coach and his team, disrespect that he surmised would tear at the A&M locker room (and possibly lead to the downfall of capitalism as we know it!).
May actually screamed multiple times into the camera about the possibility of Manziel's doing something similar against Alabama or LSU as if he'd actually already done it.
Of course, later in the program, May briefly chuckled and joked about Bobby Petrino (a guy whose off the field exploits actually did destroy a program) getting another chance at head coaching because all he does is win.
Apparently, in May's world, adultery and shitting on state mandated hiring practices are just quirky little side bars.
But don't you DARE point at the scoreboard!
ESPN fueled the rage on Sportscenter by chopping up all of the angry, middle aged to old man, "get off my lawn" soundbites from various on-air personalities and pasting them into a progressively boiling, two minute sequence, complete with dramatic, angry music underneath. By the time the whole thing was done playing, it was a giant snowball of Manziel hate careening wildly down the hill.
And at the bottom of that hill is Sunday morning, where Twitter, newspapers, websites, and the very television shows that created the fallout assess the fallout.
And that's when I decided to at least try to stop being one of the sheep.
Rather than let my anger over May's anger fester into even more anger (so much anger!), I decided to accept the broader view of what exactly was going on with the Manziel coverage, and realize that when it comes to ESPN I'm not reacting to journalism, I'm consuming entertainment.
At their core, ESPN is a business, an entertainment business, one that needs eyeballs and web hits to sustain its multibillion dollar business model. Taking a virtual jabroni of a non-story (like a Manziel taunting penalty) and perpetuating and pushing it all the way into the main event on Sportscenter is what ESPN does better than any entertainment outlet in the history of media.
Johnny Manziel's not the first player to taunt an opponent, he's just the most famous, and the best thing for business is to make him this season's monster heel.
You see, to ESPN (and unwittingly to most of us), Johnny Manziel is just a television character. The main character in the 2013 season of the award winning drama called College Football, right? I mean, unless you actually know Johnny Manziel personally, that's really all he is.
He's a character on one of your favorite TV shows.
ESPN knows this, so they take all of his God given ability to play football and promote that so you'll watch the games. Then they take all of his God given flaws, like his temper and his narcissism, and promote those (under a guise of tearing them down) so you'll tune into everything else (First Take, Outside the Lines, Sportscenter, etc.).
Management at ESPN, they want you to hate Johnny Manziel. Make no mistake, while Matich and May and their ilk blindly beg Johnny to stop, the higher ups with ESPN (and CBS and FOX) hope "evil Johnny Football" never goes away.
(By the way, while the ESPN narrative on "Johnny Football" is largely a "work," the preachy anger of middle aged clods like Matich and May is a thousand percent real. They're not in on the "work." I truly believe they really are hoping Johnny "sees the light." So really, they're each no less a character in this drama than Manziel. They're sheep like the rest of us, their anger merely utilized by their employer as kindling on the manipulative fire.)
Recognizing that you're being worked by the machine is the first step in being able to assess it rationally. Too many Aggies take the anti-Manziel coverage personally, the same way too many anti-Aggies are goaded into taking Johnny Manziel's actions way too seriously, both of which mean that ESPN is massively succeeding in its Manziel storytelling, even if the accuracy of its actual Manziel analysis is for shit.
For those of you still trying to wrap your brain around all of this, just think back to the last two years of the Tim Tebow coverage we've gotten, and then flip that whole thing on its head.
Tebow was pushed like a huge NFL success, even though he actually succeeded very little in the NFL. Manziel is being pushed as an anti-establishment, potentially program-killing villain, even though he's done what exactly? Signed some autographs and been a bit of a social media whore? Talked some shit to a couple guys on Rice? Really?
In short, Tebow is to savior as Manziel is to satan.
In reality, neither is even close to the truth. You're just being inundated with coverage that says it is.
As I finish up this piece early Sunday morning, there they are again, the Sports Reporters. This week it's Bryan Burwell, Bob Ryan, and some little dude named Pablo telling me why green beans are good for me, and Johnny Manziel is poison.
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The only problem is that I've always rooted for the bad guys, the anti-heroes. I loved Tony Soprano. I love Walter White. Omar Little is one of my all-time favorites, too.
Try as you might, ESPN, you can't make me hate Johnny Football. If you're trying to get me to watch, it's working. If you're trying to convert me to Mark May's way of thinking, you're failing.
Somehow, ESPN, I think you're ok with this, as long as I watch.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 Yahoo! Sports Radio from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and nationally on the Yahoo! Sports Radio network Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon CST. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.