Johnny Manziel plays like a “black” quarterback. Deep down, a great deal of the animosity that Manziel has provoked has come for this reason, because lots of white people don’t like the way Manziel carries himself both on and off the field. I wrote and talked about this back in September, but most media has been afraid to touch the fault line. Until this morning, when Deion Sanders suplexed the racial fault line on the Tom Joyner Show with guest host Roland Martin. and came out and said, “Oh, please. I love Johnny Football. See, the reason people won’t accept Johnny Football is because Johnny Football has ghetto tendencies. I love Johnny Football,”
Then Prime Time continued, executing a Hulk Hogan leg drop on the racial faul line when he was asked to explain what he meant by “ghetto tendencies.”
“Because he was successful, he made it, and he let you all know he made it, and he was cocky, he was flamboyant, and he let you know.”
Roland Martin, a fellow Johnny Manziel fan, then stepped in and said, “So he was a white Prime Time coming out of college.”
Deion continued, “Thank you. And I love him. I love him. They had the music playing when he came in. Put his whole equipment up, who go out there all do your pro day with all your equipment on? That’s some hula stuff, I love Johnny Football.”
There’s going to be a ton of hoopla surrounding these comments because there’s nothing else going on right now and because Deion mentioned race and quarterbacks in the same breath. (Stop with your Final Four talk. No one cares about the Final Four except when the games are actually being played. And, even then, not really that much.) But the essence of Deion’s comments are true — can you imagine any other quarterback, black or white, showing up for his pro day and rapping along to unedited Drake as he performs for scouts, coaches, and general managers from just about every NFL team? Most guys getting ready for the draft are doing everything they can to avoid upsetting teams; Johnny Manziel put on a damn show.
It was a circus in College Station.
I was there, I loved it, but already you’ve heard NFL coaches complain about the noise and the atmosphere. The noise and the atmosphere! Don’t you coach in front of 80,000 screaming fans? You can’t handle Barbara Bush on a golf cart with her yipping cocker spaniels mixed with a little Drake? While everyone else is trying to be polite and quiet, Manziel is in your face and exuberant. Some old white people, many of whom own NFL teams, likely cringed at the scene, but others loved it. I could definitely picture Jerry Jones, cackling, rubbing his hands together and saying, “God—-, I love this mother——!”
Manziel’s a creative entertainer, a border-defying, cross-pollinating cultural icon. He’s a rich white Texan who identifies more with black culture than with white culture, a polyglot melange in our American mixing bowl, a rap-spewing quarterback who had Aggies in cowboy hats and boot spurs ready to take a bullet for him. But, look out, that still makes some people uncomfortable. As much as America may be a multi-cultural society, we still want to put people in boxes, identify them as one thing or another, create delineated spaces within our culture where some people fit and others don’t.
But you ain’t putting Johnny Manziel in just one box.
Back in the summer Manziel told me that the two quarterbacks he most looked up to were Mike Vick and Vince Young. Look out, cross-racial sports comparison alert. You ever heard a white quarterback point to two black quarterbacks as his inspiration? I haven’t. Beware, you CANNOT compare guys of different races. At least not in the modern football vernacular. White wide receivers have to be hard-working, crafty, possession-types who are great at recognizing zone defenses. Black quarterbacks have to be mobile risk-takers with a flair for the dramatic and inconsistent passers. Of course these stereotypes aren’t entirely accurate, they never were. But God forbid we ever have a black possession receiver with suspect deep speed or a white quarterback blaring rap lyrics, tearing up playbooks, and celebrating touchdowns with money gestures.
It doesn’t fit our preconceived notions.
Deion didn’t address a racial stereotype, he addressed a cross-racial stereotype, something we actually need more of, not less of. That is, the more athletes break the mold of what’s expected of them, the less you can point to any characteristics and align them with any particular race. Deion Sanders said Johnny Manziel’s a white guy who plays like a black guy. Meanwhile, Teddy Bridgewater, the actual black quarterback expected to go in the first round, plays the most like a “white” quarterback of anybody in the draft. He’s a pocket passer who reads his progressions.
Double cross-racial stereotype destroyers in the same draft.
Both at quarterback?!
Ultimately we don’t need black or white quarterbacks, we just need individuals who are comfortable enough in their own skin to embrace who they are regardless of societal expectations. Love him or hate him, Johnny Manziel’s an individual who breaks down boundaries. Now there’s only one question left, can he break up NFL defenses?
I’m betting the answer’s yes.