I am unhappily predicting a Greek-style tragedy for Johnny Football/Manziel, the extraordinary Texas A&M quarterback who beat the national champions Alabama last year and went on to win the Heisman trophy as a freshman. Today, after a tempestuous summer where he was investigated by the NCAA, he faces the Crimson Tide once again.
Manziel’s crime was signing autographs for pay. He dodged the bullet, however, because no one stepped forward to testify. As a result, the NCAA has had to drop charges. Lest autograph signing sound like a small thing, Jonathan Chait notes that, if student athletes are allowed sign autographs for money, then alumni and others will start using autographs as a backdoor means of funneling thousands of dollars to them.
In addition to breaking NCAA rules, Manziel also doesn’t seem to be handling his newfound fame well. Texas (along with other states) worships those who excel in football, but there is a danger that Manziel’s elevation will feed into already sizable ego and prove to be his undoing–just as Oedipus, once made king of Thebes, is prepared to run roughshod over anyone who stands in his way? Will we find ourselves in a few years time shaking our heads like the chorus at the end of Oedipus Rex?
You residents of Thebes, our native land,
look on this man, this Oedipus, the one
who understood that celebrated riddle.
He was the most powerful of men.
All citizens who witnessed this man’s wealth
were envious. Now what a surging tide
of terrible disaster sweeps around him.
Or do we have here a Faustus situation. Just as Faustus is not content with being the scientific equivalent of a Heisman trophy winner but wants even more, will Manziel demand even more adulation?
Till swoln with cunning, of a self-conceit,
His waxen wings did mount above his reach,
And, melting, heavens conspir’d his overthrow…
Marlowe’s play concludes with the chorus echoing the Oedipus chorus:
Cut is the branch that might have grown full straight…
I hope, both Manziel and for football fans everywhere, that he finds a way to balance his extraordinary self-confidence with some humility. Otherwise he may gain wisdom only at the price paid by many of the tragic heroes from the Athenian stage.