Why Johnny Manziel's gesture matters

It’s not fair to make too much out of Johnny Manziel’s gesture to the Washington Redskins' bench.

It’s a gesture many have used.

But it is fair to say it matters, and it should matter. The Cleveland Browns rookie quarterback did what he did in a nationally televised game with many watching to see how he played. Coach Mike Pettine explained why it matters to him.

“It’s extremely disappointing,” Pettine said. “We talk about ‘Play like a Brown.’ We want our guys to act like a Brown. We want to be a first-class organization. We have hundreds, thousands of kids who have come to our training camp practices. That type of behavior is unacceptable.”

Spot on.

Pettine then added something that is obvious about the camera-ready Manziel: “He should know more than anyone that all eyes are on him.”

Manziel will be fined and life will go on. His teammates will rally around him.

But it matters.

And here’s why.

Manziel plays in a city that raised Jesse Owens, who went on to win gold medals in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin in front of Adolf Hitler.

He plays in a city that was home to Larry Doby, the first African-American in the American League who dealt with constant and bitter racism.

He plays in a city that was home to Jim Brown, who overcame racism and spoke out against it throughout his career.

All of them dealt with far more than Manziel does on the field, and they handled it with dignity and pride, not with a junior high gesture.

Manziel is friends with LeBron James, who competes as hard as anyone and has never done anything like that on the basketball court.

Finally, Manziel is teammates with Joe Thomas, who has played every down of every game since he was drafted and made the Pro Bowl every year. He has lived through all the 10-loss seasons, yet he has shown up every season committed and dedicated to the team. He never complains, never makes a show of himself -- despite living through annual shenanigans year after year after year.

Manziel's gesture matters because he couldn’t get through his second preseason game without a classless act. He’s competitive. He has done and said a lot right since he started camp. But that gesture will be among the more remembered things of his first training camp. He can absolutely put it behind him with how he acts in the future, and he deserves that chance.

But it’s not exactly the best way to start a career.

Nor is it the best way to follow those who paved the way for him.