I love Johnny Manziel. I loved him when he burst onto the scene at Texas A&M as a redshirt freshman. I loved his heroics, his swagger, and the wild recklessness with which he played and won. He had flair and style that no other college quarterback in my memory had—and he knew it. I even thought his taunts and demonstrative personality were a fun part of his presentation, like a garnish on the plate of his enormous talent.
But beneath the carefree personality and recklessness that made him such a star and such a polarizing figure was a personal lack of control. It peeked its head up now and again. He crossed some lines. He partied and got himself in some trouble. It never stopped him from succeeding on the field and often seemed like the fuel for his success, but it was tenuous. It wasn’t until his rookie year in the NFL playing for the Cleveland Browns this fall that he really seemed to careen out of control. His play was horrific. Stories abounded of his partying and even arriving for games and practices hung over. ESPN’s Skip Bayless, not known for his timidity or accuracy, publicly called Manziel a liar and an alcoholic.
What was especially concerning for fans like me wasn’t just that Manziel was risking his future as a football player but that he also seemed to have no control over his life at all.
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On Monday, news broke that Manziel is checking himself into rehab. A spokesperson said Manziel’s aim is to “improve in order to be a better family member, friend, and teammate.” Such a voluntary and drastic step is unprecedented for a young, high-profile athlete, but it’s hard to imagine a better one to take. This just may be the first chapter of Manziel’s redemption. We can hope.
Repentance is when a person sees his sin, admits it, and turns from it—often with much assistance—to take a path that honors God. What Manziel is doing can’t rightly be called repentance, at least not without knowledge of his heart, but it can point those of us who do follow Jesus in that direction.
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