A Reason to Applaud Johnny Manziel

I’m not going to lie. I never thought I’d write a blog with this title. I’ve been annoyed by Johnny Manziel through his college career and into the NFL. His “signature” money sign that he uses even before establishing any credibility as a pro player bothers me. His overconfident attitude in a game that demands respect is insulting. I could go on and on with a list of things about him that are all over social media, but my view on Johnny Football immediately changed when I saw he entered rehab. Here’s why.

As a guy who has bipolar disorder with anger control problems, psychotic features and a history of alcohol abuse, I admire Johnny’s latest choice because it’s a decision that a lot of men aren’t making. Forty three million Americans experienced a mental health disorder in 2012. Forty three million and that doesn’t include substance use disorders. Shockingly only 13.4 percent got any mental health treatment. The suicide rate in men ages 25 to 64 has increased 28 percent in the last decade. Men abuse substances more than women and we experience more antisocial behavior. The kicker? Men are less likely to seek help.

Bruce Feldman from Fox Sports wrote that Johnny’s greatest strength is also his greatest weakness. He quoted an NFL scout who said Manziel believes he is truly unstoppable and can get out of anything. Someone as competitive as Manziel who has been rewarded on the field for flying by the seat of his pants is naturally going to have a hard time learning consequences. That kind of reckless behavior is common in a 22-year-old. Our brains don’t fully mature until age 25. The decisions an average young male makes before that age can be extremely impulsive. The NCAA estimates that only 10 percent of student athletes seek mental health services. Let’s not forget that Manziel would still be in college and it’s easy to assume the rate of professional athletes seeking help is similar or lower.

Today, we’re striving for better. Bring Change 2 Mind recently started a campaign targeted specifically at getting men to seek help and encouraged them to be #StrongerThanStigma. Their PSAs feature another well-known NFL player, Brandon Marshall, who has shared his story with borderline personality disorder to empower others to get the help they need. Wayne Brady, Edmonton Oilers goalie Ben Scrivensand Passion Pit lead singer Michael Angelakos detail their own personal journeys with mental health. Manziel’s agent put out a statement that said he is entering rehab in order to improve himself. Hopefully, this is his focus and not just a media talking point. Focusing on men being strong enough to seek help is a necessary message.

The sports world is obsessed with strength. Most men have it drilled into them at a young age that showing emotions is a sign of weakness and we should just suck it up. Nothing could be further from the truth. It takes more courage to admit something is wrong and deal with it than it does to hide it. We’ve celebrated people like Kevin Durant for his positive emotions. We don’t have a problem with athletes crying after they lose or win a big game. Accepting their mental health concerns is the next step.

When someone as loved as Robin Williams takes his own life we ask how could this happen? We spend weeks and months analyzing what went wrong. That’s why it’s important for us to celebrate and encourage men or anyone who makes a decision to get help before it’s too late. It takes more strength to admit something is wrong and deal with it than it does to hide it.

The choices young men make before their brains mature can last a lifetime. The coping mechanisms they create to handle their emotions at a young age can be repeated for life. However, we can learn new ways to cope at any age. That’s why it’s vital to educate as many people as possible about their mental health and equip them with the tools they need to address challenges.

I may not be a big fan of Johnny Manziel on the field, but I am cheering for everything he is going through right now off the field.

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