Johnny Manziel, as far as any of us know right now, may or may not have signed a hell of a lot of memorabilia in exchange for money.
If he didn’t — Manziel has apparently relayed as much, and on numerous occasions, to Texas A&M before — then this will turn into another story that appears to vilify the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, whose exposure has exploded to phenomenal heights over the past several months.
If he did and he’s caught, then his eligibility for part or all of the 2013 season would come into serious question. All for doing what he should be allowed to do no matter how well-off he and his family are: profit off his name and signature.
Plenty of other people are allowed to profit off Manziel’s talent and hard work. When an A&M fan purchases a No. 2 jersey, they’re choosing Manziel over any other number available because of what he’s done. Whichever company made that jersey sees the revenue, while Manziel doesn’t see a dime. When EA Sports and Collegiate Licensing Company work together to create a Texas A&M quarterback who’s six feet tall, 200 pounds and rates among the best players in the country for their video game franchise, they eventually profit off a replicated, digital Manziel. When a television company broadcasts an A&M game, they’ll profit off the excitement that Manziel brings to a football field.
Even a random Joe Fan tried to profit off Manziel’s “Johnny Football” persona before Manziel’s LLC, JMAN2 Enterprises, stepped in earlier this year.
It’s a horrific model, and if the Ed O’Bannon plaintiffs get their way, active student-athlete in men’s basketball and football will one day be allowed to receive a cut every time someone else uses their name, image or likeness.
But, as of right now, NCAA rules dictate that an athlete can’t receive extra benefits or profit off their name. And I’m certain Manziel’s well aware of those rules.
So if the NCAA exercises its resources and finds Manziel was paid in exchange for signing some pictures or helmets, well, he has to accept not only whatever inevitable suspension he’ll receive, but own that he knowingly broke the rules no matter how asinine they are. Don’t think it’s a slam dunk that Manziel could cheat the system and work through his parents or friends, either. Although parents don’t have to cooperate with the NCAA like Manziel does as a current student-athlete, if the NCAA finds that Manziel’s parents or a friend received benefits on his behalf, the NCAA could enforce the Cam Newton rule, which expands the circle of who’s responsible in such an instance.
Manziel is, by all accounts, an engaging and likable guy. But he doesn’t cater to anyone’s standards, and he doesn’t apologize for it. Those are qualities that actually make Manziel fun to follow and, from a personal standpoint, easy to root for. It’s also what gets him in trouble from time to time. Most of that trouble is harmless and has no direct influence on how he interacts with his teammates and coaches or prepares for a game. But accepting money for autographs would be an obviously different situation.
Where a suspension for doing so could hurt Manziel the most is his future in the NFL. Pro clubs don’t necessarily care that Manziel (allegedly) profited from his name, just like they don’t care that he vents over Twitter about a parking ticket or gets kicked out of a frat party. Rather, they care about how he improves his game and his potential value to the organization.
The primary knocks on Manziel are his size and the fact that he’s only played one year in college. There’s plenty of intrigue about Manziel as a pro prospect, but simply put, there just aren’t a lot of reps of him to scout. If Manziel misses a considerable amount of time in 2013, and there aren’t many people lately who feel Manziel plans on staying in College Station past that point, then he hasn’t done much to help his draft stock. In that case, he may have to come back for 2014.
It would be an ironic result for a player whose identity is so awesomely anti-NCAA.