Johnny Manziel, Depression and The Ignorance of The NFL

I called it just a few weeks ago. Johnny was going to go from bad to worse, and he has depression. I knew it in my bones. Not only from the personal experience that it goes hand-in-hand with substance abuse, but from knowledge of how it affects people like Johnny.

Just looking at the comparison between Texas A&M Johnny and Browns Johnny, you can tell his depression affects him much in the same way it did myself. When in a position of leadership and bearing the weight of responsibility, I shine like a golden God sent to do just that. When I’m idle, and people doubt my abilities to respond well to that pressure, I fall apart. I’m a terrible hurricane out of control of my own emotions because I know that the people around me don’t believe in me when they should. When Manziel was starting QB at his college, he shined and bore the responsibility like a champion. Having entered the NFL it put an incredible pressure on him, especially in the spotlight of fame. Will he turn around the downed Browns? Will he make their team relevant again, or be another First Round Bust?

Well I say to the hierarchy of the Cleveland Browns, if you had simply put faith in your Rookie, he would have done amazing. Johnny is obviously one who, like me, relies on the strength of his teammates support to succeed. If you had believed in him from the start, he may have even carried you to a Playoff game or two. But you showed doubt early and often, and it has nearly killed him.

The on again/off again starting QB role at the beginning of the season brought him down, it was clear. Following that he relapsed into alcohol and god knows what else, causing you to reprimand him and throw him deeper into his depression. By the end of the season, the team had no clear leader at all, and he was left to his own devices. Abandoned like an unwanted puppy who still roams around your locker rooms in a jersey hoping to be needed again. But the hurricane had set in, and it was only the beginning.

But you would probably say “Ben, with all these signs, we would have caught something like that”. No you wouldn’t have. It’s not in your nature.

The NFL clings to its past as much as possible. The attitude of professional sports players is dominated by what it means to be a “Man”, and the one thing that a “Man” isn’t as far as pro-sports goes, is emotional. Get hyped about the game? Sure. Get upset and cry a little when you lose? Fine, but that image will be on every TV screen in the country so the ratings will boost.

Loose your spirit and crumble? You might as well rip up your contract.

You the reader may be thinking “But Ben, surely a multi-million dollar company who’s employees get hit on the head a lot would be well invested in the mental health of the players.”

This is a company who, to this very day, denies that CTE is a major issue. Concussions happen every single day and more and more former players are coming forward speaking about how it has affected them INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO: depression. Depression that was existant not just after their career, but during.

“But Ben, if they were depressed while playing, why didn’t they say anything?”

Because if the NFL truly believed in things like depression and CTE, they would give support for it. But to be able to give proper support, it would involve putting active roster players on the Injured/Injured Reserve list, which can keep players off the field for an extended period of time and damage their careers by hindering their ability to extend their contracts or sign new ones now that they are a “liability”.
If every player in the NFL came forward about their depression and signs of CTE, there would not be enough of them left active to make it financially viable for the NFL to even exist.

The truth is this: The NFL, and other major sports franchises, still hold onto the beliefs that being depressed does not fit the profile of individuals they want representing their sport. They need to be big and strong and emotionally unavailable, unless it’s convenient.

Johnny, you need help, and if the people around you including your bosses and teammates won’t help you, it’s time to move on to people who will. You’re probably a bit of an asshole, everyone is. Maybe you’ve put some of this trauma on yourself, we all do. But the one thing that is always constant, is change.

It’s time to change the NFL. Whether you disagree with the amount of money being tossed around, it’s wildly ridiculous standards for reprimanding players for their actions on/off the field, the fact that it blatantly lies about it’s level of support for breast cancer and Veteran charities, or simply how they treat their players. The NFL once did, and still can, represent something great about humanity and sport. But not if it keeps up these kinds of offenses to basic human rights and dignity.

We expect better, Mr. Goodell. While we recognize you are the head of a private company and can do whatever you damn well please, if you have reached the unfortunate level of only thinking about the numbers and not the people you are affecting, it’s time to step away.

Johnny, Roger, NFL Executives…these issues are real. Step up, or step out.


B.K. Mullen

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