During my time at Pencilstorm, I have made no secret about my disdain for the Browns drafting Johnny Manziel. A hefty percentage of this disdain is rooted purely in football deficiencies. He cannot play in structure, has zero playbook experience, is slight in stature and suffers from misguided confidence. With Johnny though, you also get a second list of cons based on personality and off-the-field issues to add to the playing weaknesses.
Somehow, even with this laundry list of negatives he has garnered the adoration of a large percentage of Browns fans (jersey sales don't lie). I, for one, am wildly confused by this phenomenon.
So in the midst of this confusion, I took time to ponder, "What if Johnny looked different?" I'm not talking about him inking a deal with pro activ, I'm talking about his race. What if Johnny maintained his baggage but was African-American? Would Cleveland fans still ignore and justify his negatives? Would they still have celebrated his arrival with such crazed anticipation?
To make things interesting, I'm going to actually assign a specific person that he could assume the body of. Imagining how Johnny would be received by Browns fans if he had braids or gold teeth would be like shooting fish in a barrel. The Johnny to imagine for the remainder of this diatribe is Braylon Edwards. So take a walk into fantasy land with me as we consider if "Braylon Football" would be wildly popular in Cleveland if the last 16 months of his life maintained this timeline:
August 2013 - A Sports Illustrated article highlights his entitled background and petulant ways.
August 2013- Receives a tickle on the wrist for signing autographs, an offense that cost other players significant playing time and NFL money (including some Buckeyes).
August 2013- Returns from 1st half wrist tickle against Rice, and receives taunting penalties for his, ahem, "lack of on-field sportsmanship."
August - December 2013- Sees his output decline but his draft stock improve due to no other college qb's excelling.
May 2014 - Begins to slide in draft, and in desperation sends a "lets wreck this league" text to a team which happens to catch the fancy of an owner who is of the same cultural and economic background that he is. That owner demands that he be drafted.
Summer 2014 - Even though he his severely handicapped by his lack of playbook experience, he chooses to escape Browns training camp at every opportunity to party. Several saucy pics surface, including one that shows him about to partake in a certain nasal stimulant.
Summer 2014 - During a pre-season game, he decides to greet an opposing team with a single extended finger.
November 2014 - Is involved in a brawl the weekend of a road game.
November 2014 - Reports surface that he free lances in practice and isn't committed to learning the playbook, etc. Cameras catch him arriving at games at the last possible second, even though he is expected to see some playing time.
November 2014 - Enters a game and runs for a T.D. Even though his team is still down by two scores he decides to flash a money sign to the opposing crowd.
December 2014 - In response to being called a midget, he finds a way to compare himself to Super Bowl champion and perennial MVP candidate, Drew Brees. At the time of this comparison, Johnny has 0 NFL wins.
December 2014 - Is flat out embarrassed in his first start.
I'm not a sociologist, but I grew up in Cleveland and have been an avid C town sports fan since I first learned to walk. There is no way I believe that "Braylon Football" would enjoy even a fraction of the popularity that Johnny has had handed to him since he was drafted. As a matter of fact, I assume his first round drafting would have been widely lampooned and questioned. Where Braylon would have been admonished for being irresponsible, Johnny has been applauded for enjoying his youth. Where Braylon would be a team killer, Johnny is seen as a master of improv.
This is simply my opinion, and outside of some "Soul Man/C. Thomas Howell-esque" experiment there will never be any concrete evidence to support my Johnny vs. Braylon Football hypothesis. I also know this opinion may be hard to swallow for some Cleveland sports fans. However, if one is truly honest with themselves and examines the plight of African American qb's cross-referenced with Johnny's history, it's hard not to identify a double standard in the Cleveland-Manziel phenomenon.
The North Coast Posse are Big $ and K-Dubs the Soldier. They cover the Bronwns exclusively for Pencilstorm. Follow them on twitter @northcoastposse.