Less than 24 hours after the dust settled on this year’s Super Bowl, the NFL was knee deep in yet another domestic violence scandal, this one involving embattled Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel.
Even before he entered the league in 2014, 23-year-old Manziel was a polarizing player. He has been arrested for fights, criticized for excessive partying, checked in and out of rehab facilities and investigated by the NCAA for taking illegal payouts in exchange for autographs. But nothing he has been accused of in the past is as disturbing as the most recent allegations of abuse made by his ex-girlfriend, Colleen Crowley.
In an affidavit first obtained by a NBC 5 affiliate station in Dallas, Crowley accuses Manziel of striking her so hard on Jan. 29 that her eardrum ruptured. Crowley sought a protective order against Manziel, detailing the quarterback’s threats to her life which led to her brandishing a knife just to keep him from entering her apartment. ”I continue to be extremely concerned for my health and well-being,” Crowley wrote in the affidavit. According to NBC 5, Crowley’s attorney, Kathy Kinser said, ”They expect [her ear] to heal but it’ll take a while.”
Last October, Manziel and Crowley were stopped by police in Ohio after a witness reported that he appeared to be driving erratically – and that Crowley had tried to exit the car while they were on the road. They pulled over in a neighborhood, which caused another witness to call the police. The police report found that a domestic argument had transpired between them and that Manziel admitted that both he and his then-girlfriend had been drinking earlier that day.
NBC Sports reports that Dallas police are in the midst of investigating the allegations against Manziel and that the Cleveland Browns have been unable to get in touch with Manziel, but plan to release him from their roster next month.
MSNBC has reached out to Manziel’s attorney Bradley E. Beckworth for a response to the allegations, but has not heard back at this time. Manziel recently told the gossip website TMZ that he was “completely stable” and that the latest incident Crowley described “didn’t happen.”
“I have great things coming ahead,” he said on camera. “I know I’ve been having fun but I just need to get my body right. I’m 100 percent committed to playing football.”
Manziel’s father has publicly lamented the fact that his son has twice refused to check himself into rehabilitation facilities. ”I truly believe if they can’t get him help, he won’t live to see his 24th birthday,” Paul Manziel told The Dallas Morning News. Just last week, Manziel’s agent Erik Burkhardt cut ties with his client. Citing conversations with his doctors and family, he said in a statement “it has become painfully obvious that his future rests solely in his hands.”
Meanwhile, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, infamous for levying harsh suspensions for off-the-field behavior in the past, has been conspicuously silent on the Manziel matter. He was asked specifically about Manziel during the Super Bowl, but Goodell didn’t get into the specifics of his case, and instead underlined reforms the league has recently instituted to highlight awareness and promote the prevention of domestic violence.
“Our personal conduct policy is to try to prevent these incidents from happening. We have invested in education. We have gone through tremendous education with it. Everybody in the NFL. That includes the commissioner. Every player, every coach, every executive, everyone in the league office has gone through extensive education to understand the issues and to understand what to look for, including bystander awareness, so that you can prevent these issues from happening,” he told reporters.
Two years ago, Goodell faced calls for his resignation after he suspended former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice for just two games after striking his then-fiancée in an Atlantic City hotel elevator. Later, when video surfaced of the assault, Goodell retroactively suspended Rice from the NFL indefinitely. That decision was eventually overturned in appeals court, but Rice has yet to be reinstated on a NFL roster.
Goodell has in the past been accused of being especially hard on black players. Some even suggested that this controversial decision to suspend New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for his alleged role in “deflategate” (which was also overturned on appeal) was in part motivated by concerns over the perception of racial bias on his part. Presumably there will be pressure on Goodell to treat Manziel – a white player and the product of a privileged background – with the same severity he has dealt with other athletes in the past.
“Manziel is an alleged domestic abuser and he’s hardly been taken to task for that,” Shana Renee Stephenson, the founder and editor-in-chief of All Sports Everything told MSNBC on Tuesday. “I recently read a piece that described Manziel as a talented but misguided athlete. I chuckled because if Manziel were black, he would not have the privilege of receiving the benefit of the doubt. He’s developing quite the rap sheet but he’s not a thug, an animal, or even a criminal … he’s misguided or troubled. The racial bias is clear.”
As for Goodell, Stephenson believes that “the longer he remains silent, the more he will subject himself to criticism for not only contributing to racial bias, but for also failing to take domestic violence seriously.” In the aftermath of both the Rice and the Greg Hardy controversies, she suggested that this could be a real opportunity for Goodell to show the NFL finally “gets it” on the issue of abuse. But, “so far, he’s failing.”
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Despite a few solid starts, the undersized Manziel has struggled to make much of an impact on the field. He has clashed with the Browns’ coaching staff so often, he was unable to retain a starting role on team’s offense (and was even demoted to third string quarterback) despite being drafted high in the first round. If the Browns do indeed cut him, there have been rumors that the Dallas Cowboys are interested in potentially signing him, even if many pundits think questions over whether Manziel is a danger to himself or others should give them pause.
“Of course he will be back on a squad. Big Ben [Roethlisberger] is on a squad. Time will pass and coaches will act as if there isn’t a woman out there that can no longer hear due to Manziel hitting her,” Kyle D. Johnson, a producer for Bleacher Report, told MSNBC on Tuesday. “I think it goes beyond his friends not being there and him not having a team around him to look out for him. It’s just him. Lessons are there to be learned from and after you failed multiple lessons, it’s time to get left back. Right now, is his time to get left back.”
Johnson points out that this is the second year in the row where anti-domestic violence advertisements ran during the Super Bowl, arguing that it would be hypocritical of Goodell and the league not to intervene in this case. He believes that Manziel’s actions deserve the same level of scrutiny Rice’s received.
“The example should be made out of Manziel because he does not learn,” he said.