July 5, 2016

Johnny Needs Jesus

Johnny Manziel’s life reeks of sin.

In case you are not familiar with Johnny Manziel, statistically, Manziel is one of the greatest college football quarterbacks of all time. After earning the starting quarterback job at Texas A&M in the fall of 2012, Manziel went on to have an historic season. Along the way to becoming the only freshman (though a redshirt freshman) ever to win the coveted Heisman Trophy, Manziel broke Archie Manning’s 43-year-old SEC record of most yards total offense in a single game. He became the first SEC player ever to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in a single season.

Among many other notable records, Manziel holds the NCAA FBS (formerly Division I-A) freshman record for total yards offense and rushing yards by a quarterback. In 2012 he was virtually everybody’s First-team All-American. In other words, in the world of college football, “Johnny Football,” as he became known, was a big deal.

Waiving his junior season at Texas A&M, in 2014, Manziel entered the NFL draft. He was drafted 22nd by the Cleveland Browns. In June of 2014, Manziel signed an $8.25 million contract that included a $4.3 million signing bonus. With millions in disposable cash, “Johnny Football” was not “Johnny Be Good.”

In fact, it seems that Manziel has become as famous for his off-the-field antics as he was for what he did on the field. Manziel has fallen so far that he is no longer in the NFL. After two disappointing seasons, Cleveland released him in March of this year. In addition to that, in this year alone Manziel lost the representation of his marketing agency and his endorsement deal with Nike, and he was fired by two NFL agents, including the renowned Drew Rosenhaus. It was the first time in Rosenhaus’s 27-year career that he’s ever fired an NFL player-client.

In a nutshell, what Johnny Manziel has done is party himself into unemployment. There were plenty of signs that Manziel was a bit “out of control” long before the Cleveland Browns invested millions of dollars in him. Just prior to the 2012 season, Manziel was arrested on several misdemeanor charges surrounding a late-night fight in College Station, Texas. Just after his Heisman-winning freshman season, in early 2013, Manziel was dismissed early from the Manning Passing Academy. Manziel said it was because he oversleept after his phone died.

When questioned as to whether alcohol played a role in him oversleeping (Something like, “Were you hungover Johnny?”), Manziel was evasive in his answer. He added, “I’m still a sophomore in college. I’m still going to do things that everybody in college does, and I’m going to continue to enjoy my life.” In other words, Johnny wants to rule his world.

Of the tens of thousands of words spoken and written by sports journalists covering Manziel, how often do you think the first sentence of this piece has been uttered, or even hinted at? Whether his athletic successes or his off-the-field failures, for years now Johnny Manziel’s life has been relentlessly covered by a seemingly ever-present media. Though it seems obvious to most everyone that Johnny Manziel “needs help,” that he needs to “make changes” in his life — quite unsurprisingly — virtually no one in today’s media is pointing toward what Mr. Manziel really needs.

As my wife Michelle and I were engaged to be married, we went through several sessions of excellent pre-marital counseling. I say “excellent” because of the efforts of our licensed professional counselor, and the fact that the counseling was done from a Christian worldview. Any other form of counseling is a waste of time.

There’s one thing in particular from the sessions that I’ve never forgotten. Our counselor pointed out to each of us that we would inevitably, at some point in our marriage, discover things in the other that we would not like. He looked at Michelle and said, “You can’t change him.” He then turned to me and said, “You can’t change her.” The reason: there’s only one agent for real change in anyone’s life, and that is Jesus Christ.

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind, but now I see.” Powerfully describing how the grace of God changes us, Amazing Grace is probably the most famous hymn in history. It’s appeared on over 11,000 albums. Amazing Grace was written by John Newton. By his late teenage years Newton became eager to escape the constraints of his mother’s religion (she was a Puritan and died when John was seven), and rule his world. Along this destructive path, Newton embraced “freethinking principles,” and became “arrogant, insubordinate,” and “lived with moral abandon.” Describing himself, Newton wrote, “I sinned with a high hand,” later adding, “and I made it my study to tempt and seduce others.” In other words, his life “reeked of sin.”

Newton’s story as a repentant slave trader who became a powerful force in the abolition movement is well known. On the change that Christ made in his life, Newton declared, “I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.”

Newton’s declaration “I am not what I used to be,” represents well the metamorphosis, the “new birth” that all who accept Christ experience. As Jesus told the Pharisee Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

Just days ago, Johnny Manziel’s father, Paul Manziel, spoke out about his son’s destructive path. “He’s a druggie. It’s not a secret that he’s a druggie,” Paul Manziel said in a recent phone interview. Paul added, “I don’t know what to say other than my son is a druggie and he needs help. He just hasn’t [sought] it yet. Hopefully he doesn’t die before he comes to his senses. That’s about all you can say. I don’t know what else to say.”

When discussing the intervention efforts the family has made thus far on Johnny’s behalf, Paul declared that “the system failed. I had him in rehab and he escaped and the doctors let him go, and that is a whole other story. So I mean I had him [in rehab] and the system failed. It didn’t work.

"He has more money than me, so he can outrun me. Like I said, there are two things that are going to happen: He’s either going to die, or he’s going to figure out that he needs help. It’s one of the two. But we’ve done everything that we can do. Life goes on. You can’t just chase somebody that’s not willing to listen. The story is not going to change. It’s the same…We’re so far past what everybody thinks we are past. People are ignorant. It’s just a horrible story. That’s all there is to it.”

Paul added that he hoped Johnny “goes to jail” because, right now, “that would be the best place for him.” (I’ve heard those exact words spoken about a member of my own family.) Paul Manziel concluded, “I’m done. I’m done talking about it. I’m doing my job, and I’m going to move on. If I have to bury him, I’ll bury him. That’s the fact. So if not, if he calls me and needs help, I’ll go get him. Until then, he’s on his own. I’ve done everything I can do.”

How sad. I know well the brokenness and hopelessness of which Paul Manziel speaks. I know all too well what substance addiction can do to a family. My uncle Mack, my mother’s brother, literally drank himself to death, dying at the age of 40 of cirrhosis of the liver. Uncle Mack’s death is far from the only substance-related tragedy we’ve experienced.

My beloved father-in-law was hit and killed last year by a cocaine-addicted man with a rap sheet as long as my arm. Our family will suffer the consequences of that man’s addiction for the rest of our lives. Read my wife’s account of our journey here.

Nevertheless, our family has kept hope and has seen miracles (and still hoping for more) because of the power of Christ. I don’t mean to imply here that the Manziel family has not turned to Christ during this crisis; maybe it has. If not, I say, run! Run now to the only real hope any of us has. If the Manziels are already looking to Christ, then I say, stay strong, cling to your faith, endure, and pray. Pray that Johnny will have divine encounters that will point him to the truth. No matter how far someone has fallen, no matter how many financial resources they have, they can’t “outrun” God.

Copyright 2016, Trevor Grant Thomas

At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason: www.trevorgrantthomas.com. Trevor and his wife Michelle are the authors of: “Debt Free Living in a Debt Filled World.” You can email him at 
[email protected].

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