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Did Johnny Manziel flip off or flame out?

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Johnny Manziel did it again, preempting the prime time analysis of the Cleveland Browns’ preseason loss to the Washington Redskins (24-23) on Aug. 18, 2014, with his (latest) act of immaturity. ESPN posted the news story “Johnny Manziel flips bird to sideline” about Manziel making an obscene gesture to the Washington Redskin bench. It’s time to turn the television cameras off this young man and turn the attention, time, energy–and endorsements–onto professional football players whose behavior is, dare we say, professional?

ESPN’s Mark Schlereth called it right when he said that, courtesy of the “gesture” shown over and over and over after the game, “the NFL will review the tape and Manziel will be subject to an $11,025 fine,” which might be discounted to $6,200 for a first offense if he appeals. No problem, it’s only money and it’s a good thing Manziel has that money phone, so he won’t have to stop by the ATM on the way.

Tonight, the best player on the field for Cleveland was South Carolina product, Connor Shaw, who threw for 123 yards and a touchdown. Brian Hoyer pretty much choked during the game but that’s understandable, when you’re a guy who shows up (on time) for practices, having studied the playbook and having played for the Browns before, yet you don’t get five seconds of attention, focus or media because you’ve been preempted by the nation’s latest spokesmodel for “MusclePharm.” But then, who cares how Hoyer does, right?

Once again, tonight, Manziel managed to redirect the entire media focus away from the team, shifted on, well, him again. It’s 24-7 Johnny Manziel coverage, and let’s count up the thousands of t-shirts purchased by parents for their children and worn by kids under 12 years old. How long will it be before they start “flipping off” their opposing bench’s teammates, whether it’s Pop Warner ball or a college player who idolizes this guy as their hero?

When Coach Mike Pettine was asked about “the gesture,” he replied in a manner worthy of an Emmy nod for best supporting actor in an unaware role. In the post-game media coverage, Pettine said: “I was surprised when I heard about it because, other than that, I thought he was composed.”

One fellow showing great class and dignity was the Washington Redskins’ Heisman Trophy winner, Robert Griffin III, who was asked for his reaction to Manziel’s gesture. Griffin, also known as RGIII offered: “Man you know he’s just a dynamic player, he’s just like every other quarterback in the NFL; we all just have to work to get better. I just look forward to seeing him as he grows.” That is the difference between a humble winner and a sore loser. Griffin wasn’t his team’s star only tonight, but he understood the meaning of the word “team” and was excited for the “team win.” You can’t teach ‘class’ in the classroom..

Then it was time for Johnny to speak with the media. Reporters let him talk a little about his playing. He stumbled and mumbled around with his requisite mumbles and “aahmms” as his go-to word between erudite thoughts. “I just need to get out and throw the dang ball.” Then it was time for “the big question” about the gesture.

His answer? “You know I get words exchanged with me throughout the game, week after week. It happens every game.” Gee, Johnny, this is only the second game. Could be a dangerous trend there. It has to be so tough when the opponents do your little “money” symbol as a taunt. Sounds pretty pressure-packed.

Manziel said, “I should have been smarter. I need to be smarter about that. There’s always words exchanged on the football field… For me since my name has grown bigger and people know who I am, it just goes on…I just need to let it slide off my back.”

He continued, “I feel like I did a good job of holding my composure throughout the night, and …it’s not a big deal to me. I need to compose myself better. It was just a gesture.” Just a gesture? Really. Even NFL players nicknamed “Mean,” “Bruiser,” “Refrigerator,” “Crusher” and other monikers haven’t managed that “just a gesture” toward their opponents.

It’s not done in the NFL, it’s not done in college sports, and if you have a lick of sense as a country boy, you know not to do it when kids are watching at home. But, that’s all going to be brushed and tossed away by all those spin doctors and wizards who all just want this to go away.

Let’s ask one question: how many times does this guy have to sit in front of television cameras and tell Jon Gruden that he doesn’t have to worry about his ‘offseason stuff’ when he’s in the NFL, that it won’t be a distraction (Las Vegas, champagne, swan, swimming pool, money phone, Drake, Wiz Khalifa) and then Gruden said, “I’m worried.” Gruden doesn’t worry for nothing usually.

Continuing in the talk with the media, Manziel then he wiped his forehead in front of the media “barbeque cookoff,” because all those darned bright lights were blaring on him, as he was again the media focus. So he talked about football, paraphrasing:

“I feel like I need every practice that we have, and I’ve only had the (playbook) for 3-4 months of my life. These are the best football players on the face of the Earth. I need to do better. I am continuing to learn things as I go.”

Hello, how much time have you really had the playbook and read it in between all the other distractions? What did you learn last week, exactly?

No other rookie player in the NFL today has had the audacity, the temerity, and the boldly presumptive gall to get on national television and whine that it’s only been a few months since he’s had the playbook. As Bill Engvall would say, “There’s your sign.”

Here’s the simple way for the Cleveland Browns to get their money’s worth off their 22nd overall pick in the NFL draft: let the players in the locker room each speak with him, one on one at a time, about how long and how hard they’ve worked to make the grade to be signed and committed to play for the Cleveland Browns, the team this wunderkind is supposed to be leading.

They can remind the “highly endorsed” draftee that there are young teenagers who get up at 6 am or earlier every morning and ask their parents to drive them to some makeshift, ersatz football fields so they can try for a spot on their high school teams, to make the cut to play varsity, to maybe earn a scholarship to college, for a chance to try out for the pros. NFL players are supposed to be role models.

It’s not “just a gesture,” Johnny. It’s your ego overriding your brain. It’s not all about you out there. There are people who are trying to raise families, have a career, keep a career and put something into 401k accounts because there’s a limited amount of time your body can take abuse before you lose the full range of motion if you play offense or defense.

Cleveland had a better player on the field tonight who went almost overlooked, except for his play. Tonight Connor Shaw, the “winningest quarterback in South Carolina school history,” showed more composure, focus, and ability, out on the football field than #2. Connor Shaw earned the right to be there another week. But he didn’t get any tv time. No, sir. But his teammates congratulated him, and he returned their congratulations. That’s what you do when you’re a team player. Your eyes are focused on one another as a team.

The 24/7 news cycle has rewarded, highlighted, and encouraged every single misstep, misdeed, and missed play in its focus on the guy who says “since his name has grown bigger and people know who he is…” Do you notice how there’s not one mention of his team, his fellow players, his coaches, his staff who shine his shoes and wash his jersey and make sure he has a berth in the locker room? Not one.

No one has been able to calm the storm because no one has cared enough about him to make him try to become part of the team. That’s what happens when you “phone it in” for training camp, when you tweet or Instagram a picture of your playbook on your iPad, as you’re on the plane back from Vegas, throwing it in the faces of every one of his teammates who did the uncanny thing of staying in camp and working out and working on their skills to earn the spot and the right to keep their spot on the roster.

They were also the ones who read their e-mails and got to the team meeting on time. The point is not that Manziel and a few rookies didn’t read their e-mails and arrived late because they weren’t aware of the time change. It’s a clear sign that there was not one senior player as a mentor to those who were late, to make sure they knew about the time change. You see, in the real world of professional sports, where there are teams to consider, it’s like a big family that helps look out for each other. Not one guy checked to see whether or not the rookie knew about the meeting time change?

Wonder how Nike and Snickers are going to feel about their high-dollar investment come Tuesday morning’s think-tank sessions? Is he really “their guy, the new big dog in the dawg pound”? It’s just a gesture, or so he said. The Aggies want so much to be proud of "their" guy. For now, he's just embarrassing to many. Others will defend him no matter what because he once attended Texas A&M for three years, with some "other people" who now also play in the NFL. Will there be an official apology issued? Time will tell. One can only hope someone can get his attention and turn his big ego into big plays and teach him how to join his team so that he can one day lead it. How about that Connor Shaw; was he great tonight or what?

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