#ComebackSZN

%23ComebackSZN

Kevin Meiselman

Last week, Johnny Manziel earned my respect.

Manziel seemed to have it all. The undersized, yet talented quarterback was the big man on campus at Texas A&M University. A dynamic athlete who could turn a broken play into a highlight, Manziel electrified College Station. He emerged into the national spotlight in 2012, when he led the Aggies to an upset road win against top-ranked Alabama, and later that year, became the first freshman in college football history to win the Heisman Trophy.

He was must-watch national television until his final game in maroon and white, and in the spring of 2014, the Cleveland Browns drafted him with the 22nd overall pick. ‘Johnny Football’ was made for the spotlight, but what he possessed in exuberance, he lacked in humility.

Despite all the dazzle that ‘Money Manziel’ brought to the turf, his off-field antics quickly sent him in a downward spiral. From drunken photos to a fight outside a bar, Manziel couldn’t avoid the headlines, for all the wrong reasons. He hadn’t made his NFL debut yet and had already been fined twice by the Browns, once for showing up late to a team meeting and the other for flipping off the Washington Redskins bench during a preseason game.

By the end of his rookie year, Manziel played just five games and was underwhelming to say the least. Whether or not he had the physical ability to stay in the NFL remained to be seen, but one thing was for certain; if he didn’t grow up, he would never make it in the pros.

After a two month stint in rehab during the offseason, Manziel released a public statement thanking family, friends, teammates and the Cleveland Browns organization for their patience, understanding and support. It didn’t take long, however, for the new ‘Johnny Football’ to find trouble. Shortly after being named starter for the remainder of the season, TMZ Sports captured video footage of him partying in Austin, Texas on the bye week. He was immediately demoted to third string.

The Browns gave Manziel one more shot and allowed him to start the final four games of the season, but once again, he threw it away with more foolish behavior, like showing up drunk to the team facility.

In the spring of 2016, the Cleveland Browns cut Manziel. He also lost his agent and his last remaining sponsors. He had several run-ins with the law in the following months, and his pro football career had all but ended.

It was easy to view Manziel as an arrogant, obnoxious and immature wasted talent who could never get his act together. I won’t lie, that’s exactly how I felt. About a month ago, when I heard he was making a comeback for the Canadian Football League (CFL), I could not have cared less. How could I even take this guy seriously anymore?

Well on Monday morning of last week, when Manziel appeared on Good Morning America after two years away from football, my perception changed entirely.

“For a while I got so ingrained, caring only about what Johnny wanted, only caring what mattered to me, what made me happy,” Manziel told ABC News in an exclusive interview. “When I look back at it now, even when I thought I was doing what I wanted, I was miserable.”

This isn’t the first time Manziel has admitted his mistakes, though, so why should we even bother listening?

That sort of skeptical attitude would be totally justifiable if it weren’t for what came next.

“I am taking medication for bipolar,” he said. “I am working to try to make sure I don’t fall back into any type of depression, because I know where that leads me and I know how slippery a slope that is for me.”

For those unfamiliar with what bipolar disorder is and the damage it can actually do to a person, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) defines it as “a mental illness that causes dramatic shifts in a person’s mood, energy and ability to think clearly. People with bipolar experience high and low moods—known as mania and depression—which differ from the typical ups-and-downs most people experience.”

Manziel was self-medicating with alcohol because he thought it would get him out of his depression, but acknowledged that it only made things worse. He has now been sober for five months.

“You are left staring at the ceiling by yourself, and in that depression and back in that hole, that dark hole of sitting in a room by yourself, super depressed, thinking about all the mistakes you made in your life,” he added. “What did that get me? Where did that get me except out of the NFL? Where did that get me? Disgraced?”

Looking back at Manziel’s history, I can see how his bipolar diagnosis factors in to his questionable decision making and off-field shenanigans. Individuals with bipolar disorder are prone to addiction, which, in part, explains Manziel’s use of alcohol for self-medication. About 56 percent of individuals with bipolar who participated in a national study had experienced drug or alcohol addiction during their lifetime, according to statistics presented by the American Journal of Managed Care. Impulsive and risky behavior, or acting without a view of the bigger picture is also common in bipolar individuals, and surely that was a weakness of his. Manziel’s diagnosis does not excuse his actions, but it’s a significant factor nonetheless.

After Manziel went public, I had a feeling that insensitive comments were going to be made. Although I found countless heartwarming and sympathetic tweets, several disturbed me to say the least. He was labeled an alcoholic and a nut job, and was mocked for having depression and accused of spewing BS.

Look, I don’t know the people on the other side of the screen, but the beliefs are there, and that is unacceptable. This goes beyond Manziel striving for a comeback. Clearly there is still a lack of compassion and support for mental health as a whole. Not everyone has to be a proponent or activist for mental health awareness, but anybody can improve an understanding of mental health issues with effort and patience.

Manziel’s story is a reminder that we as a society must look out for one another, and to view people with a perspective that goes beyond initial judgment and what is seen on the surface.

Manziel seemed to have it all, and on the surface he sure did, but the paparazzi didn’t capture the times he stared at the ceiling, depressed, thinking about his mistakes, dreaming of a chance to lace up his cleats and play football again.

That’s why I’ll be rooting for Johnny Manziel.