A Psychologist’s Perspective on Johnny Manziel Pt. 1 – Assessing His Troubles


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.

Johnny Manziel - playing Bengals


Johnny Manziel continues to make headlines for all the wrong reasons.  The Dallas prosecutors presented Manziel’s assault case to a grand jury on Thursday, April 21, and now he has formerly been indicted on a misdemeanor assault with bodily injury charge.  A misdemeanor assault case carries a maximum punishment of one year in jail and a $4,000 fine.   According to CBS DFW, Manziel settled out-of-court with ex-girlfriend Colleen Crowley for an undisclosed amount in a civil settlement.


The NFL will eventually come calling and hand out additional league punishment.  Manziel’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year continued last week with super-agent Drew Rosenhaus dropping Manziel as a client.  Rosenhaus had given his client an ultimatum to enter treatment within five days or be fired.  It is the second time this offseason that Johnny has had his representatives dump him.  The pile on continued when Nike confirmed that the company no longer endorsed Manziel and that his sponsorship with them was terminated after last season.




For several years I worked in an intensive outpatient program (IOP) for addicts who also suffered from serious mental health disorders.  I helped develop both a family program for the addict’s loved ones, and I created an early recovery program for men in recovery.  I worked with many individuals facing legal problems, and I suspect legal charges and NFL discipline against him will finally drive Manziel to enter treatment again.


I worked with many men in treatment who entered programs in order to gain a favorable sentencing, pleas, or probation. However, regardless of the legal outcome, Manziel’s life appears to be spiraling out of control and worrying family, friends, and most of the sports world.  An indictment doesn’t confirm that Johnny’s life is out-of-control.  I think everybody knows at this point that his life is out-of-control.


Manziel - Johnny Manziel & Colleen Crowley



Let’s recap some of Manziel’s escapades:

October 12, 2015 – Manziel and his girlfriend Colleen Crowley were pulled over after an altercation in his vehicle. Crowley told police Manziel “hit me a couple of times” after she threw his wallet out of the car window, a charge he denies. The quarterback admits to drinking earlier in the day but police concluded that he is not intoxicated.


November 23, 2015 – Video surfaced of Manziel holding a bottle of champagne while partying in Austin, Texas during the Browns’ bye week.  Coach Mike Pettine subsequently demoted him to the No. 3 quarterback spot.  Manziel claimed the video was old, but the Browns did not buy his claim and the QB’s integrity was called into question along with how much trust the Browns have in him.

December 6, 2015 – Coach Pettine declared Manziel would start the final four games of the season. The move was interpreted as an audition for the embattled quarterback to observe whether he could demonstrate enough maturity, leadership, and NFL production to warrant a future with Cleveland and the NFL.  Johnny Manziel failed the audition in monumental fashion.


January 3, 2016 – Manziel was spotted in Las Vegas on the weekend of the Browns’ season finale. At the time he was in the NFL’s concussion protocol but missed a mandatory team meeting.  He was not in attendance for the Browns’ season finale against Pittsburgh.  Manziel reportedly wore a blond wig, fake mustache, and glasses, and used “Billy” as his alias.  When it came time to pay the bill, he asked to have it comped because he didn’t have cash and wanted to avoid putting it on his own credit card.  Sources told ESPN that he ended up paying with his own card and signing the check.  Browns coaches were understandably livid but not altogether shocked.


January 30, 2016 – Crowley said Manziel accosted her at a Dallas hotel and later struck her when they drove back to her apartment in Fort Worth. Court documents revealed Crowley claimed Manziel hit her so hard, she temporarily lost hearing in one ear and her attorney claims that Crowley’s eardrum was ruptured as a result of the assault.


February 5, 2016 – Crowley was granted a protective order against Manziel, which Johnny himself signed. It prevents him from seeing her for two years.



March 11, 2016 – Just 22 months after drafting him in the first round to be their franchise quarterback, the Browns cut Manziel. He played 14 games, completed 57% of his passes, and tallied seven touchdowns, seven interceptions, and seven fumbles.


April 6, 2016 – Manziel reportedly caused $32,000 in damages after throwing a wild party at his Los Angeles rental. Speculation has circulated around questionable white powder left on a table and allegedly a bag of magic mushrooms.


April 25, 2016 –Manziel is indicted on a misdemeanor assault with bodily injury charge.  A misdemeanor assault case carries a maximum punishment of one year in jail and a $4,000 fine.


It’s unfortunate that Johnny doesn’t admit his problems and enroll in residential treatment prior to the grand jury decision.  If he enters rehab following an indictment of assault, many people will interpret it as a gesture to help his legal problems rather than a genuine acknowledgment that his life is out of control.


However, in the end, I believe what matters the most is Johnny Manziel getting professional help for all the problems that ail him; most that are a result of his own poor choices.



“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.”  That is the statement that Johnny released shortly after Drew Rosenhaus dropped him.


I will be surprised if Manziel plays a down of football during the 2016 season.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Johnny Manziel has played his last snap under center for the National Football League. The average NFL career length is a mere 3.5 years.  There is no evidence that suggests his professional career will even make it to the league average.  Not only does Manziel have substantial off-the-field problems, but every spring a new crop of promising college quarterbacks become draft-eligible.



Although most of the collegiate QB’s entering the league in 2016 doesn’t have the upside that Manziel had when he entered the league, I’d argue that all of them have less baggage than him.



Lost in all the Johnny drama is my belief that Cleveland was an ideal situation for Manziel, if only he had listened to the right people and committed to addressing his personal demons.  Johnny had the perfect people on his side; Maverick Carter and, more importantly, LeBron James.  Was there anyone more perfect than LeBron who could have modeled to Johnny how to handle fame, expectations, talent, and growth?


LeBron James

The fame and scrutiny that has followed Johnny is nowhere comparable to the pressure and spotlight that has followed LeBron since high school.  Yet you don’t see cellphone pics of LeBron in embarrassing situations.  You never heard stories of out-of-control partying with James.  So why did LeBron succeed where Johnny has repeatedly failed?


As one of his former coaches said:  “When he had LeBron James as a mentor, texting him all the time, hanging out at his house watching football, and Johnny didn’t listen to his advice? That’s when I knew he had a problem.”


When LeBron’s marketing agency LRMR cut ties earlier this year, Maverick Carter, LeBron’s long-time friend and business partner, Maverick Carter, said LeBron and the agency will continue to support Johnny as a friend but added, “because Johnny needs to focus on personal growth… we made the mutual decision that it was best to terminate our business relationship.”



Sports Illustrated writer Emily Kaplan discussed Johnny Manziel with Doug Gottlieb on his radio show back in March.


Kaplan and Gottlieb centered on some issues that I believe are crucial to the demise and downfall of Johnny Manziel.  Despite a successful collegiate career and going high in the NFL Draft, Manziel clearly struggled to adjust to the work ethic and demands that a rookie quarterback faces.  In his mind, Johnny was always the most talented and deserving quarterback on whatever team he was on.  During his entire tenure in Cleveland, Manziel believed the starting job was his and was incredulous when the Browns took any measures that indicated otherwise.  When Johnny agreed to go to rehab, moved to the suburbs and tempering his drinking, he believed he did what the Browns had asked him to do and therefore the starting quarterback job should be his again.


When the Browns’ coach Pettine reinstated Josh McCown after clearing the concussion protocol, it may have been one of the final nails in the coffin for Johnny.  If doing what the Browns demanded of him didn’t guarantee the starting job … well in his mind, what’s the point of continuing to meet their demands and control his drinking?


Especially since Johnny likes alcohol to the point that it can continuously be contributed to his personal and professional problems.


Kaplan traces Manziel’s tendency to shrink in the face of adversity back to his upbringing.  The great-grandson of Bobby Joe Manziel, a former bantamweight boxer from Lebanon who made a fortune after striking oil in 1930s Texas,  Manziel’s own father, John Paul has a net worth of approximately $50 million.  Kaplan believes his families’ wealth and status was a factor.


[blockquote text=”“Everything was easy for Johnny. He got to go to the best camps and he was always the best player. He never had to really fight for anything. And when he did face adversity, he kind of crumbles.”” text_color=”” width=”” line_height=”undefined” background_color=”” border_color=”” show_quote_icon=”yes” quote_icon_color=”#f7c520″]


Kaplan also brought up his suspension at Texas A&M as a key example.  “After he was arrested it was the summer of 2012.  He was briefly suspended by the school, and instantly Johnny looked into transferring to a junior college because if things aren’t going his way – he’s not used to it and he becomes uncomfortable.  That absolutely has been a trend and definitely stems from his upbringing.” 


Even when Johnny would get into trouble, his family had a peculiar method of trying to right the ship.  The New York Times profiled the father-son duo in 2012, stating “His father made him a deal: he would buy Manziel a new car if he stayed away from alcohol during his junior and senior years in high school, something he miserably failed to accomplish.”  When Manziel got arrested in the summer prior to his redshirt freshmen year, his father intervened and met with Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin to help construct a daily schedule to help Johnny avoid distractions.  During his Heisman winning season in 2012, Manziel’s parent struck another deal that involved a “hot red Camaro” if he acted like a “model citizen.”



Manziel - Johnny having fun

Has Johnny Football played his last NFL game?  Does he even care at this point?

Getting inside of Johnny’s head has been a challenge for his family, girlfriends, and teammates.  It’s difficult to ascertain what currently is going on in the head of Johnny Manziel.  His life appears to have little meaning or purpose to guide and anchor him.  Whatever the questions that remain, one thing is for certain – Johnny’s life and career will not change for the better if he doesn’t start caring more about what’s going on in his life.  Right now, it appears that family, friends, and professional colleagues care more about his life than he does.


Despite setback after setback, Manziel continues to display behaviors that convey little concern or care for what he is doing to his NFL prospects.  He chugs bottles at nightclubs in Miami and West Hollywood.  He visits strip clubs and attends Coachella in the midst of a grand jury investigation and an ultimatum from his former agent, Drew Rosenhaus.   Manziel’s own friends aren’t sure if Johnny wants to play football anymore and don’t recognize the man that is surfacing in TMZ videos leaving clubs.


“If Johnny doesn’t have a carrot dangling in front of him, he resorts to his default,” says a friend. “And his default is not giving a s***.”


I do not believe that Johnny does not care about football or his life.  Rather, I suspect he is trapped in a never-ending guilt à shame à self-pity cycle.  It is a powerful force that exploits the feelings we have about ourselves.  Manziel knows he has made mistakes.  I’m sure he feels guilt for the wrong choices that he’s made and for the people he has hurt.


When the same poor choices are repeated, guilt often jumps to shame.  When someone feels guilty, they acknowledge “I did something wrong.”  When someone is at the shame stage, they confess “there’s something wrong with me.”  The correction is no longer at the behavioral level.  The addict believes there is something fundamentally corrupt and wrong with them.  It’s easier to know how to change behaviors, but how do you change who you are?  Shame is represented as universal, global statements about oneself, not behaviors.



Self-pity often occurs when guilt (my own mistakes) or resentment (other’s mistakes) is translated to exaggerated or self-indulgent levels.  Self-pity is about making you a victim in your own life.  It distorts a person’s perspective on their own life, fixating on all the circumstances and decisions that others have made that’s impacted their life.  Self-pity often leads to inaction, because it focuses on things that cannot be changed.


The problem with Johnny Manziel isn’t that he doesn’t care about football anymore.  I suspect it is the exact opposite; he cares too much about football and not enough about other things or people.  He is a lost man who doesn’t know how to fix what is broken or what he’s broken.



Continue with Part 2 of the Psychology of Johnny Manziel that addresses recommendations for treatment, care, and how Johnny Manziel can turn his life around.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here