Saturday, August 3, 2013

Johnny Manziel vs. Marshall Henderson: Who's Headed for the Bigger Crash?

Because college football owns the soul of American sports, Johnny Manziel has been all over the media spectrum over the past eight-to-10 months. The Texas A&M quarterback's historic feat of becoming the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy has placed him in a fishbowl, and the 24/7 news cycle has sired no shortage of onlookers peering through the glass.

College basketball's closest equivalent to Manziel's star quality and tendency to be photographed with alcohol is a top performer for one of A&M's SEC rivals. Ole Miss shooting guard Marshall Henderson drew headlines during the season for his shooting, his trash-talking and yes, a tendency to be photographed with alcohol (or at least looking like he's been in booze's presence in the very recent past).

Henderson has not, however, been the subject of a national debate stoked by the publication of a long-form character study by respected ESPN columnist Wright Thompson. The closest Henderson has come is this public tsk-tsking from the WWL's hoop sultan, Andy Katz.

No one's interviewing Marshall Henderson's parents, primarily because they're not talking. Manziel's parents did, at length. His father talked about helplessness and fear of his son's temper, one that seems to be inherited quite honestly. Johnny Football's mother prayed about Johnny's trip to Toronto with Drake and cried about his getting a tattoo.

Manziel draws sympathy from people who spent their late teens and early 20s doing a fair bit of drinking themselves and only wish they could have added in golf at Pebble Beach and courtside seats at NBA playoff games.

Henderson draws disgust from those wondering how someone with his history of misbehavior is still allowed in college, let alone being one of the faces of a Southeastern Conference athletic program. The "indefinite" suspension under which Henderson currently toils actually has to do with a May traffic stop that unearthed small amounts of cocaine and marijuana in his car.

Manziel has been in front of a judge himself as early as high school, as detailed in this New York Times report from last November. This arrest, fine and community service went unmentioned in the Thompson piece, a more recent fight outside of a College Station bar drawing more notice.

Thompson's employer has concerned itself more with Manziel's delinquency of duty as a counselor at the Manning Passing Academy. That night of partying on Bourbon Street may not bode well for his future professional prospects, as Archie, Peyton and Eli Manning have a few NFL connections.

For his part, at least Manziel has professional prospects at this point. Some NFL mock drafts still have him listed as a top-five selection.

Henderson and "professional prospects" are phrases that cannot share a sentence at present. DraftExpress ranks him No. 63 on its board. Mind you, that's not overall, that's among last season's NCAA JUNIORS. He's considered a slightly less attractive NBA reserve than oft-injured Florida big man Will Yeguete.

That handful of indiscretions should put up a host of red flags in NBA front offices, since a young man who finds unhealthy ways to spend his time when he doesn't draw a pro salary won't suddenly become a yoga-and-wheat-germ choir boy when he signs his contract.

My 104.5 The Zone colleague Clay Travis made an apt comparison between Manziel and Entourage protagonist Vincent Chase on Outkick the Coverage. Manziel, like Chase, has a high-school buddy who helps handle his affairs. Between that and a set of parents who appear both attentive and resourceful, Manziel at least appears to have some semblance of a support system in place.

But just how much support is really on offer here?

Paul Manziel came across in Wright Thompson's piece as concerned, yet ineffectual. Fearful of the late-night phone call that Henderson's parents have already received a time or two. The tough-love parent that sold Johnny's high-school ride after the arrest in the Times article (a car that was bought as a bribe for accomplishing the Herculean task of staying sober for his last two years of high school, no less) was replaced by a ditherer fully aware that he can no longer wield any sort of hammer over his son, let alone his monstrous alter ego.

That support system should serve as something resembling a net as Johnny negotiates the high-wire act that is celebrity in the Twitter age, when every comment, picture and snarky joke can paint one as a moron at best, unemployed occasionally or a bigot at worst.

Come to think of it, Twitter is portrayed as yet another drug that Manziel simply can't seem to kick. A therapist's advice that he quit tweeting goes ignored as Johnny Football's schedule of appearances squeezes Johnny Manziel's therapy sessions off the schedule.

In the piece linked above, Andy Katz notes that Henderson had a similar antipathy toward getting help. Another talented guard who struggled with substance abuse, Chris Herren is that rare person who can speak to Henderson's present experience. Yet, Henderson wasn't terribly interested in hearing what Herren had to say until Ole Miss brought the suspension down.

At this point, very few observers will be surprised if Henderson does something that lands him a jail sentence more serious than his 25 days in 2012. If Manziel is Vinnie Chase, we all appear to be waiting for Henderson to morph into Heisenberg.

It would seem that little could rival the systemic shock of a lengthy prison stay, but Johnny Manziel could find himself stuck in an even worse place: a land of irrelevance and squandered potential, wondering where it all went. Such a place is sad, lonely and sometimes dangerous for an addictive personality.

Henderson knows nothing of the heights Manziel is currently surveying. No matter how hard his landing, Johnny Football may top it. At least the two can commiserate together.

No comments:

Post a Comment