A Psychologist’s Perspective on Johnny Manziel pt. 2 – Turning His Life Around


Now that Manziel has been indicted on a misdemeanor assault with bodily injury charge, the questions remain; is Johnny Manziel an immature millennial, an entitled athlete, or an out-of-control addict? The most likely answer; all of the above.


In Part 1 of the Psychology of Johnny Manziel, I wrote about the litany of problems the unemployed quarterback has created for himself.


Manuel’s troubles date all the way back to high school and have culminated with an indictment for misdemeanor assault against him that is expected to be formally announced sometime today.  I addressed why Cleveland was an ideal situation for him that he could not capitalize on partly due to his sense of entitlement and failure to mature in most areas of his life.  And Part 1 concluded with examining whether or not Johnny even cares about football anymore; I argue that some of his troubles come from Johnny caring too much about football.


Now that we’re caught up in his troubles, let’s focus on ways Johnny Manziel can begin to turn his life around.


Manziel - Debut for Browns



Manziel has a long road ahead of him to turn his life around, and it won’t be a quick fix.  But like everyone else, Johnny has the opportunity and ability to forge a healthier, better path.  I often speak with both addicts and their families when constructing a treatment plan of action.  Here is what I would recommend to Johnny and those who are helping guide him in these turbulent times:


1. Listen to the right people and cut off “yes” men and enablers

This is one of the biggest differences between Johnny Manziel and LeBron James.  LeBron has been all about building his brand into a global enterprise through professionalism on and off the basketball court.  He has surrounded himself with folks that share that vision for him.  Manziel is rarely alone and has an entourage from Texas.  Friends say his call and FaceTime logs can reach double-digits by mid-afternoon.

Manziel’s own marketing team has attempted to separate him from this group and have frequently mapped out on a whiteboard for Johnny to see, all the times he has gotten in trouble and the people who are consistent with him when such incidents occur.


2. Accept help and address all his problems, issues, and demons

If Johnny has a serious problem with alcohol, he and his life will not improve until that is once again addressed.  On January 28, 2015, Manziel entered Caron Treatment Center. The specific issues were never officially disclosed, but the alcohol problems, possibly drugs as well, has been the most accepted narrative.  A statement issued by his attorney shortly after entering treatment in 2015 stated that rehab was Manziel’s commitment to “be a better family member, friend, and teammate.”


He left rehab in early April, and upon discharge, friends, family, and Browns training staff all saw an improved Manziel.  He looked healthier and appeared more focused in life and in football.


But by the end of the summer, Johnny had fallen back into old habits.  Fast forward to 2016 and things have gotten so bad that Manziel’s own father, John Paul, told the Dallas Morning News that unless Johnny lets go of his partying lifestyle,  “he won’t live to see his 24th birthday.”



3. Commitment to ongoing sobriety


Although Johnny went to rehab in January 2015, by all accounts there has been very little conversation or attention given to ongoing treatment or individual therapy during the period when his life started to once again crumble in his inner circle.  Johnny has yet to demonstrate that he can both accomplish his life goals and consume alcohol.

In fact, I’d argue that the opposite has so far been proven true; Johnny will not fulfill his personal or professional goals as long as he continues to drink alcohol. There may not be daily reports of Manziel in a drunken stupor, but his immature, reckless, or altogether perplexing decisions seem to be stem from his drinking and partying.  Missing work, lying to employers, and spending more time figuring out ways to avoid getting caught are all common signs of an alcoholic or addict.


At one point Johnny was attempting to live dual lives; the athlete and the addict.  Now it appears he’s just living the life of an addict.



4. Commitment to ongoing recovery and professional care

Johnny doesn’t just need to go away and get treatment; he needs ongoing professional help for his problems.  I believe he would need to regularly meet with a licensed professional on a regular basis for help, support, and the development of coping strategies when the partying or the bottle start calling his name. Most people who attend substance abuse treatment are recommended a strong continuum of care to solidify their newfound recovery as they transition back into the demands of daily living outside of a hyper-structured, risk-free environment that treatment provides.

A strong continuing care plan is often the bridge that helps folks take what they’ve learned in residential treatment with them home.  It is often the key to sustaining sobriety and recovery.  Learning coping strategies in the sterilized, risk-free environment that residential treatment provides doesn’t guarantee an addict can or will use those tools when they are back to their old stomping ground.


Johnny’s troubles with alcohol after treatment should have been predicted.  According to a publication from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, up to 90% of alcoholics will experience one or more relapses during the four years that follow treatment.  Other research suggests that only one-third of addicts abstaining from alcohol and drugs will make it past the one year mark.


Manziel - AP at Draft


As a licensed professional counselor that specializes in substance abuse and addiction, Manziel needs to better focus on a strategy upon leaving treatment.  There are common problems that folks face in early recovery that often predict a high risk for relapse.


Johnny would need to organize his life and schedule to be mindful of:


Alcohol or drugs in his home or being readily available – the higher exposure of use, the greater chance Manziel will continue to obsess and fixate on drinking or using drugs.


Spending time with his old using friends and associates – this can be especially difficult for young folks struggling with substance abuse and addiction. Simply put, Johnny needs different associates and friends.


Boredom and loneliness – Idle time, lack of structure, and lack of accountability often result in an unfulfilling new chapter. When sobriety is boring, the pull to relapse becomes all the more powerful.  By all accounts, Johnny is impulsive and in need of constant stimulation.  He will need to try new things, find safer alternatives that provide the adrenaline that alcohol, partying, and playing football provides on a consistent basis.


Anger and irritability – Emotional duress often proceeds impulsive or reactive behaviors. Manziel’s frequent incidents with his ex-girlfriend highlights a potential problem with anger that is only exacerbated by alcohol and/or drugs.


Events or occasions that are deemed “special” like parties and holidays – Often in recovery circles, the mantra of early recovery is “change the people, places, and things” that are associated with your addiction. Manziel would greatly benefit from staying away from parties and tempting fate or feeling out-of-place among others who can drink and can control their drinking.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be this way forever, but in early recovery, reducing your exposure to heavy drinking or celebratory drinking is often advised.


5. Accept help:

Upon leaving treatment, Manziel asked his high school offensive coordinator, 55-year-old Julius Scott, to move in with him and serve as something akin to a life coach. The plan was for Scott to monitor and help Manziel in the same way that MLB slugger Josh Hamilton received support and monitoring from his own personal handler, Shayne Kelley.  Hamilton has had his own public bouts with addiction and relapse.

While Scott took his job seriously, Manziel soon found him to be overbearing and stifling.  By the end of last summer, Scott had already been dismissed.  “If he asked me if I thought drinking was a good idea, I would say absolutely not,” said Julius Scott “You’d have to have your head examined if you said, ‘It’s OK to go have a couple.’”   Ryan Leaf, the No. 2 overall pick in the 1998 NFL draft, one pick behind Peyton Manning, stated that “asking for help might be the strongest thing you ever do.”


Accepting help from others requires an acknowledgment that there is a problem in the first place.


And even if he’s ready to admit there is a problem, Johnny needs to allow others to help, guide, support, and challenge him.  This will be tough for Manziel.  It’s incredibly difficult for many athletes and a lot of men.  Early on, many males are socialized to “not admit problems, not talk about problems, and solve your own problems.”  They internalize the message that “real men don’t need help; real men take care of their own problems.”  Manziel will need to dig deep to find the courage to be humble and allow others to help him.


6. Address his anger:

Johnny Manziel appears to be an angry, young man.  Manziel’s entire tenure in Cleveland had to have only fueled and enraged his anger.


A basic definition I use with my clients is that “anger is the emotionsthoughts, and physical tenseness we experience when we believe that something or someone is treating us or someone else unfairly.”  By all accounts, Manziel believes he was unfairly treated in Cleveland, and he is mad as hell.  Johnny Manziel’s anger profile manifests itself in many ways beyond his alleged assault of Colleen Crowley.


Some of the ways Manziel conveys his anger is:

– Impatience

– Withdrawing when displeased

– Annoyed when others don’t meet his needs

– Easily discouraged

– Aggressive

– Blame others for his problems


In addition, there are certain risk factors that often accompany strong levels of anger that Manziel meets, such as:


– Feeling unappreciated or unloved

– Insecurity

– Stubbornness

– Feeling helpless or powerless

– Highly disappointed in life or in relationships

– Stressed

– Struggles with addiction

– Relationship or family problems


Johnny Manziel’s anger and impulsivity have created a pattern of emotionally acting out and reacting to life.  Both are not guided by self-control.  Manziel’s anger needs to be addressed and learned to be controlled.  He is stuck in unhealthy patterns where his reactions are compiling his problems.  His reactions are rarely rational and often do not consider the consequences.  I’d be curious to hear whether or not Johnny Manziel can admit he’s angry, identify what he’s angry about or who he’s angry at, and whether or not he can delay his reactions.


Manziel - Draft & Nike


7. Take responsibility:

Part of managing anger is letting go of frustration and resentment over circumstances that one doesn’t have control over.  Is Johnny tearing himself apart for things he cannot change or influence?  Possibly.  But the other side of the equation is to stop focusing on things you cannot influence and redirect focus back onto what you are accountable and responsible for.  Johnny will need to step up and own what he has done.  His life will not improve if he plays the victim or finds a scapegoat for the mess that is his personal and professional life.


Although not a foregone conclusion, the sad state of Johnny Manziel’s NFL career and personal life was predictable.  Sources within the Browns organization, Texas A&M, along with friends, teammates, and friends all share stories that depict a talented young man who lacked commitment within a larger culture of enablement and entitlement.




According to Kaplan and others, Manziel suffers from a distorted view point of what he’s entitled to based on what he’s accomplished.  In his mind, there have been times when Manziel believes he’s done everything right, everything the coaches have asked of him, and then he expects to be given the world. The problem is that Johnny only does just enough – he gives the minimal effort.  But then he expects a maximum payoff from others, and when he doesn’t get it, he believes he’s been wronged!  Johnny fits the criteria of entitlement – investing very little in one’s life but expecting maximum benefit and rewards from others.  There is a reason “taking responsibility” is not the first step in getting help; the first steps focus on getting help and getting the right people helping Manziel.

It is common for family and friends who have been hurt by the out-of-control actions of someone to naturally want that person to take responsibility and acknowledge what they’ve done to them.  There is a long list of people waiting to hear from Johnny about how he has hurt or wronged them.  But the best strategy for Manziel getting well is to hold off on this step; early on it’ll just feel punitive.  Taking responsibility requires looking at all the missteps Johnny has made and him recognizing that they are primarily of his own doing.  Everything that has transpired thus far suggests Johnny doesn’t handle internal turmoil well.


Start this step too early and Manziel likely will shut down and continue to spiral.  Johnny Manziel needs to get well and be built up before he’ll have the grit and coping skills to examine and learn from his life and mistakes.



Johnny’s public statement after Rosenhaus’ announcement is merely another long list of empty words that continue to ring hollow and untrue.


“I’m hoping to take care of the issues in front of me right now, so I can focus on what I have to do if I want to play in 2016.  I also continue to be thankful to those who really know me and support me.”


If Johnny believes he can turn things around and actually take the field in 2016, he’s just as delusional as ever.  But if he’s willing to step off the gridiron, step into treatment and make a long-term commitment to work on himself, Johnny Manziel may discover something that seems to have eluded him for quite some time – peace with himself.


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