A year ago, Johnny Manziel didn’t deserve to play in the NFL, the CFL, or even Arena Football.
Today, maybe he does.
Manziel is no longer dominating headlines for being sued or settling domestic assault cases. This year, Manziel has only been in the news for tweeting at Donald Trump, or plotting a comeback, or wanting to coach in college, which are small potatoes compared to his prior offenses.
More recently, Manziel has come up because of his attempts to play in the Canadian Football League.
When Manziel was consistently in the headlines for all the wrong reasons, the former Heisman Trophy winner didn’t deserve a chance to play professional football. But a lot has changed over the last 12 months. Manziel is no longer doing the same stupid things that got him into trouble, and is instead attempting to keep his head on straight.
That’s what led Manziel to meet with the CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie on Wednesday. Back in September, the two discussed the possibility of Manziel playing for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, who have the exclusive rights to Manziel north of the border.
After word came out that Manziel seemed to be close to a deal with Hamilton, Ambrosie denied Manziel the chance to play until further review.
The “further review” is still ongoing and that’s what led the two to meet on Wednesday.
“He represented himself incredibly well [in the meeting],” Ambrosie told ESPN. “He was thoughtful. I found him to be authentic and sincere. I also felt like he seems to have come to a good place in his life. He was talking a lot about his family. Now, I should say that’s part of the problem. My bias is towards family. So when I’m with somebody in there talking about my family, immediately I feel good about the conversation.”
I really want to believe that Manziel actually was authentic and sincere with Ambrosie. The former QB does seem to have turned the page on his life, given that he’s no longer a staple on TMZ’s front page. That’s quite a start for a man who once had to participate in the NFL’s substance abuse program.
“That’s exactly why we feel for any player who has had some trouble in their past. It’s important to not let the lay people be the only part of the decision-making process,” Ambrosie added on. “That’s why we’ve implemented a process where we’ll lean very heavily on experts who have training and skill that will allow them to really understand where somebody is in their personal journey and be able to give me wise counsel.”
According to ESPN, the meeting between Ambrosie and Manziel is only the first step. From there, Manziel will speak with investigators about his past, including a 2016 domestic violence charge that was later dismissed.
“If we reach a point where we make an announcement that someone can play,” Ambrosie said, “we want to be able to look to the community and say to them that we’ve done our work, that we have not skipped a step.”
I think that quote from Ambrosie sticks out, because the way that the CFL is handling Manziel is completely different than the NFL handled the Ezekiel Elliott case. That battle turned into a disaster from a PR standpoint for the league, and Roger Goodell never seemed to be as sincere in his statements as Ambrosie is. Then again, Ambrosie’s CFL empire isn’t nearly as vast as Goodell’s NFL empire, and he doesn’t have to fight on as many fronts like Goodell does.
But the stage shouldn’t matter really. The NFL should always follow through on due process in the way that the CFL is doing with Manziel. Sure, not every case is as cautious as this one, but it’s still worlds away from the way the NFL handled Elliott, Josh Brown, and Ray Rice.
Manziel really does seem like he has turned his life around. Skills-wise, he may not be good enough to play in the NFL, but if he has the ability to play in the CFL, Ambrosie should give him a chance. When the 25-year-old was at his best, he was a joy to watch. If he can keep his head on straight and return to his high level of play, he absolutely should be given the chance to play for Hamilton. And if it doesn’t work out, both sides can move on and close that door forever.