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Oh my Johnny Football! The dramatic narrative of college football’s prodigal continues. As we’ve discussed before, the majority of the critique against the reigning Heisman trophy winner has to do with his off-the-field antics. This time, however, it’s Manziel’s antics on the field that are coming up for questioning. Due to signing autographs and potentially getting paid for it, Manziel was suspended for the first half of Texas A&M’s season opener. My Twitter feed has been utterly consumed as of late by comments anticipating Manziel’s return–most of which were anything but merciful.

Manziel’s first two quarters of the season were fairly good statistically, throwing 3 touchdown passes. Statistics aren’t what has caused the disdain, though–it’s Manziel’s “inexcusable behavior” that is the topic of conversation. I’m referring to Manziel’s taunting of the players on opposing team. After being tackled by a Rice linebacker, Manziel seemed to gesture to the player that, he’s simply not worthy to have his autograph, which seems to make light of his most recent transgression. Later in the half, Manziel received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, and was pulled from the game for trash-talking another one of Rice’s players. Also, throughout the half, Manziel’s body language consisted of making “money gestures” (rubbing his thumbs and forefingers together) immediately after a successful play, a gesture of defiance and sarcasm at the very least.

Most of the talk about Manziel’s actions this past Saturday has revolved around the elusive topic of character. Football analysts are now discussing the importance of character in Manziel’s world, both for his teammates and coaches at Texas A&M and for his future attempt to make it in the pros: “Will his teammates give up on him?…Will they grow wary of his rebellion/arrogance?…Will NFL coaches and GM’s take a risk on him when the time comes for him to enter the draft?” At some point during the Johnny Football saga, you’ve probably heard these questions or thought of them yourself.

Wright Thompson’s recent piece for ESPN looks closely into the world of Johnny Football and the Manziel family. Thompson highlights Manziel’s love/hate relationship with fame (and the effects it’s having on him psychologically, etc) and also reveals his parents’ concern for their oldest son. The article is worth the read and is certainly the most insightful and gracious piece I’ve read on all things Manziel.

Elbj-jfven after the public got a birds-eye view into the world of Johnny Manziel, it didn’t stop us from critiquing. Thompson’s article was meant to help the sports world understand this kid better, and perhaps have sympathy–no way. As long as Johnny Manziel plays football, I suspect critique will keep him company, for better or worse. If it’s not his actions off-the field, it’s his actions on the field. The law is truly inescapable, and Johnny Football will always be a bandit on the run–or a prodigal flipping it the bird.

Johnny Manziel’s character is questionable, no doubt. If I were his teammate, I’d be worried. If I were his coach, I’d be worried. It makes sense that NFL GM’s would be anxious about him as well. Drafting a player like Manziel is a risk for any franchise. Now we’re getting into familiar territory. It’s a risk, primarily because Manziel’s actions can get in the way of his productivity. If they take a risk on this antinomian prodigal punk, will his “swag” get in the way of his productivity–be it statistically on the field or behind the scenes or in the locker room?

The notion of “risk”, of course, isn’t exclusive to the Manziel case or the sports world at large. It’s in our living rooms and work places–taking a risk on someone is uncomfortable, because there’s no telling what they’ll give us in return. In the work place, we take a risk on a new hire to be productive. In marriage, there’s a risk in vowing to be faithful and loving, and what happens if they fail? When one finds themselves (ourselves!) disappointed with an employee or spouse or friend, it’s likely there is an implicit/explicit demand failing to be met: such is the nature of relationships that are intrinsically conditional. Thankfully, the otherworldly gospel of grace is anything but.