The story is not uncommon. A young athlete becomes a national star, and soon drunk with fame, he makes poor decisions off the field. As public pressure mounts, his work ethic slips, his performance fades, and sports fans wonder “what might have been.”
Johnny Manziel appeared to be on this path. His 2012 college season was historically brilliant—3,706 total yards, 26 touchdowns—as he became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, awarded to the most outstanding college football player. But in the offseason, Manziel made headlines for all the wrong reasons—partying, gambling, and fighting. Even Manziel’s parents expressed public concern about their son, and the NCAA handed him a brief suspension for violating NCAA rules.
Yet, as the 2013 college football season approaches its end, Manziel stands out among college players, his performance unfaded. He has led the Texas A&M Aggies to an 8-3 record; has played about as well as he did in his Heisman-winning season; and, perhaps more important, has stayed out of trouble.
“If there’s a better player in college football,” said Louisiana State University coach Les Miles, “I’d like to know who he is.”
Manziel has already thrown more touchdowns and completed a higher percentage of passes this season than he did in 2012. Although he is not considered the favorite, Manziel has a chance to win a second Heisman Trophy—a feat accomplished only by running back Archie Griffin of Ohio State in 1974 and 1975. The last player to have a legitimate shot at winning the Heisman Trophy in back-to-back years was Tim Tebow, who won the award in 2007 and finished third in 2008.
Manziel is expected to enter the NFL draft at the end of the season, but another Heisman Trophy will cement his career as one of the greatest Southeastern Conference quarterbacks ever.
Praying before football games, a somewhat common occurrence at “Bible Belt” public schools, is a violation of student religious freedom, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Yet many football coaches disagree. A recent poll published by the Times Free Press of Chattanooga, Tenn., asked public school football coaches their opinion on sports and religion. All 32 coaches who responded to the poll said they supported team prayer.
“We as coaches fail if we only teach football, so we try to set an example of how a Christian man handles any situation,” said Ridgeland High School coach Mark Mariakis. “I want the kids to remember that example more than anything they learn on the football field.” In response to the poll, the ACLU sent letters to 135 Tennessee school officials, telling schools to quit praying.
“Our experience is that many public school administrators and educators struggle with how the constitutional guarantees of religious freedom apply to prayer during their school-sponsored events,” said Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the ACLU in Tennessee. —Z.A.
Lance Armstrong reached a settlement with Acceptance Insurance just hours before he was scheduled to testify under oath about his use of performance-enhancing drugs. Acceptance Insurance sought to reclaim $3 million in bonuses that the company awarded Armstrong for winning the Tour de France in 1999, 2000, and 2001. The case was settled to “the mutual satisfaction of the parties,” according to Armstrong’s attorney Tim Herman.
Last year, UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) stripped Armstrong of all seven Tour de France victories and banned him for life after compiling evidence of the cyclist’s drug use. The disgraced cyclist is facing at least three other lawsuits in state and federal court. —Z.A.