The game of American football has played a large role in my life. It shaped most of my youth, the effort I exerted to remain competitive in it having governed the way I ate, the way I behaved, and, to some extent, even the way I studied. The game gave me quite a bit, and I’m thankful for it.

Having been away from it for a couple of years now, however, I’ve come to adopt a more critical view of the game. American Football is one of the most difficult and exploitative games you can play. Almost no sport asks more of you and gives you less in return.

The recent case of Johnny “Football” Manziel has highlighted this reality for me.

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For those unaware of his identity, Johnny Manziel (nickname “Johnny Football”) is a quarterback who plays for Texas A&M University. He has only played for one full season, but it was a good one. He broke a number of records and became the first freshman ever to win the Heisman Trophy, college football’s most coveted award. At the age of 20 he is arguably college football’s biggest star right now, and is certainly one of the most recognizable athletes across the country.

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Now, Manziel has created his share of controversy. His persona comes across as that of the cocky alpha-male athlete. He’s good at what he does and he also comes from an affluent family. He has regularly sparred with twitter followers critical of his celebrity and he has not been afraid to share his more controversial opinions.

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He was arrested in 2012 for disorderly conduct.

He’s been known to crash frat parties at rival schools and has been thrown out unceremoniously:

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And he’s been caught with a bong:
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None of these incidents, however, carry the potential to do him in quite like this one:

The NCAA is investigating whether Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel was paid for signing hundreds of autographs on photos and sports memorabilia in January, “Outside the Lines” has learned. Two sources tell “Outside the Lines” that the Texas A&M quarterback agreed to sign memorabilia in exchange for a five-figure flat fee during his trip to Miami for the Discover BCS National Championship. Both sources said they witnessed the signing, though neither saw the actual exchange of money.
If the NCAA investigation finds that Manziel has violated NCAA Bylaw 12.5.2.1 — accepting money for promoting or advertising the commercial sale of a product or service — he could be ruled ineligible.

Here is where the exploitative nature of American football’s college game becomes quite evident.
Johnny Manziel is under threat of suspension now for allegedly profiting from his notoriety and image. The odd thing, however, is that the NCAA and his own university have profited extensively from his notoriety and image.

How much profit, you ask? Try $37 million as far as Texas A&M University is concerned:

If it’s true that athletics is the window to the world from which a university is seen, Texas A&M University is providing a great view.
The university recently retained the services of a renowned sports and sponsorship evaluation company to measure the media exposure generated by the football team’s historic finish and quarterback Johnny Manziel winning the 2012 Heisman Trophy. Research conducted by Joyce Julius & Associates shows that the redshirt freshman winning the prestigious trophy produced more than 1.8 million media impressions, which translates into $37 million in media exposure for Texas A&M.
Media impressions, the company officials explain, include news mentions from print, television and internet sources. The figures do not reflect increases from merchandise sales, ticket requests or donations to the school, all of which historically have risen dramatically at schools that have produced a Heisman Trophy winner. The Collegiate Licensing Company has calculated a five-year average growth in sales and royalties of 27.5 percent based on the past five Heisman winners.

Johnny Football is making a lot of money for a lot of people. His university is raking in the cash. The NCAA is raking in the cash. Networks that broadcast the games he plays in (which draw viewers in large part because of him) are raking in the cash. Manufacturers and retailers of Manziel merchandise are raking in the cash. Advertisers are raking in the cash.

In short: Johnny Football’s ability is making a lot of people rich, and he’s bringing that money in the hard way.

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American Football is the most dangerous major team sport out there. American football players at the professional level have shorter careers, lower earnings and higher rates of violent injury than those in any other major team sport. Unlike other sports where one can go pro as a teen, American Football players are forced into three years of competition at the “amateur” collegiate level, where violent injury is more common than in any other NCAA sport:

In 1982, the NCAA began collecting standardized injury and exposure data for collegiate sports through its Injury Surveillance System (ISS). This special issue reviews 182 000 injuries and slightly more than 1 million exposure records captured over a 16-year time period (1988–1989 through 2003–2004). Game and practice injuries that required medical attention and resulted in at least 1 day of time loss were included. An exposure was defined as 1 athlete participating in 1 practice or game and is expressed as an athlete-exposure (A-E).
…Football had the highest injury rates for both practices (9.6 injuries per 1000 A-Es) and games (35.9 injuries per 1000 A-Es)

From regular head injuries/concussions to busted knees, annihilated shoulders and everything in between, college football demands a very high price from those who seek to compete. Any player like Johnny Manziel, who sees the field extensively and is exposed to violent collisions on a regular basis, is putting a lot on the line.

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Given the risk he’s taking and the money he’s making for everyone else while doing it, you’d figure that he could perhaps earn a little money for his troubles. You’d think wrong.

The light that shines on many college football stars often blinds us to the true nature of their reality. Yes, they get full scholarships. Yes, their facilities are often quite nice. Yes, they get a lot of notoriety and plenty of female attention. But at the end of the day, they’re not coming out on top. At the end of the day, even the greatest college football star is nothing more than a pack mule designed to be ridden into the ground for profit.

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He will make far more for the NCAA, his school and other interested parties than he will ever see in scholarship aid or in the equipment gifted to him, he will take a very significant risk to his own wellbeing (involving plenty of violent injury and a lot of pain) in order to generate that cash and he will not be allowed to benefit himself. If he’s lucky, he’ll manage to make it to the NFL where he will in all likelihood have a very short career in which he won’t make nearly enough to cover the many health issues that decades spent playing football at a high level will create for him. He will then be rewarded for his excellence (having made it to the NFL) with an early grave:

Of all the football statistics you’ll read in your time on Earth, none will be as shocking as this one: According to a 2006 report in the St. Petersburg Times, for every season a player spends on an NFL roster, his life expectancy decreases by almost three years.
Read that again.
The average American male lives to be almost 75. According to the Times report, an NFL player, whose career lasts roughly four years on average, lives to be 55. The more years a player spends in the NFL, the more games and practices he survives, the quicker he dies.

Johnny Football, for all of the celebrity now surrounding him and the despite all of the accolades he’s received, is just another pack mule. He broke the rules by attempting to do what everyone else was doing: make money off of his notoriety, image and ability. That isn’t an American football player’s place. His mission is to make money for everyone else, regardless of the physical cost of doing so. That’s the reality.

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The NCAA and its supporters should quit sugarcoating the one-sided nature of this system and this game with bullshit about “student athletes,” “amateurism,” and “passion for the game,” and simply call it as it is.

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