Johnny Manziel is scheduled to start a football game Thursday night against the unbeaten Cincinnati Bengals, and in another time and place that would be a fairly exciting development. I always thought that Manziel had the goods to be a highly functional NFL quarterback, that he should play ahead of sub-.500 journeyman Josh McCown, and that he had too much talent to let his everyman size hold him back.
Hey, if you can do what Manziel did against Nick Saban's defense in the SEC, you can do it against anyone, right?
But this faith was tempered by one condition: Manziel finally growing up and carrying himself as a responsible adult. On this front, the quarterback has failed miserably enough to forfeit his right to lead the Cleveland Browns onto the Paul Brown Stadium field.
The NFL is still investigating Manziel's Oct. 12th incident with his girlfriend, Colleen Crowley, one that resulted in police intervention but no arrest. According to the investigative report filed by the Avon Police Department in Ohio, one witness saw Manziel driving his Nissan GT-R 90 miles per hour on the left shoulder of Interstate 90, cutting across lanes of traffic toward an exit ramp, and then apparently wrapping his arm around Crowley's neck and pulling her to keep her from getting out of the passenger-side door of the slowing car.
The report says a second witness told police he saw the couple arguing after the Nissan parked across the street from his home. The report says a third witness saw Manziel pulling on his girlfriend's wrist before the witness stopped her vehicle to assist Crowley, whom the witness described as intoxicated.
Released dash-cam videos captured the responding officers' interviews of the quarterback, his girlfriend and the third witness, Lauren Clarke. In one of those videos, Clarke informed officer Chris Barton that Crowley told her Manziel "was beating the s--- out of her ..."
Though those exact words were not included in the investigative report, Clarke told ESPN.com by phone Wednesday, "Yes, I do remember (Crowley) saying that." Clarke declined to comment on other details of the incident.
Crowley is heard on the videos telling officers that Manziel "hurt me several times" and "hit me a couple of times" and that she was "in fear for my life." Manziel vehemently denied striking his girlfriend, who had thrown his wallet out of the car during their argument. Crowley told officers her boyfriend had pushed her head against a car window, but would later tell them she wasn't afraid of Manziel and didn't think he could cause her harm.
One responding officer observed Crowley as intoxicated and smelled a slight odor of alcohol on Manziel, who said he'd consumed only two drinks hours earlier. The police decided he was unimpaired and did not subject him to a breathalyzer test. In the end, Avon police said they decided against arresting Manziel because of Crowley's intoxication, her inconsistent statements on whether Manziel abused her, and her insistence that no charges be pressed against him. The police also said Crowley's only apparent injury was an abrasion on her left arm consistent with Manziel grabbing her to keep her in the car.
Of course, the NFL learned a harsh lesson in the Ray Rice case that following law enforcement's lead, and listening to pleas for leniency from an alleged victim, can lead to disastrous results. The league met with Manziel last week, and a Wednesday request from ESPN.com to discuss the case was met with this league spokesman's response: "We are not able to discuss any aspects of the investigation while it is ongoing. The review continues."
And the game goes on. Manziel gets to play against Cincinnati in a showcase game when he should be on the bench and off the active roster. The NFL should have measured Crowley's comments to police and subsequent social media posting that "J & I are good" and that "it was just an argument, it was private" within the context of past he-said, she-said-and-then-took-it-back cases of alleged domestic abuse. The league had enough evidence to put the quarterback on the commissioner's exempt list, or paid leave, until Roger Goodell made his decision on a potential suspension, and common sense tells you why.
Manziel has a history of alcohol-fueled incidents dating back to his Texas A&M days, and he was only six months removed from a 10-week stay in an addiction treatment center. At the very least, hours after drinking alcohol, Manziel was recklessly driving a vehicle and endangering other motorists while in a confrontation with a drunk passenger who found that confrontation disturbing enough to try to eject herself from a moving car. Manziel told police that Crowley had said, "I was driving too crazy, trying to injure her and hurt her, which was not the case at all." The quarterback denied any intent to harm but admitted his girlfriend believed he'd put her in danger.
The second witness in the investigative report, Thomas Hill, told ESPN.com by phone that he saw Crowley try to get out of the Nissan after it was parked. "The car door got pushed open by a foot, and then a leg comes out," Hill said. "You kick a door open, the door is going to come back on you. So then I saw two feet push it open ... and the person goes all out except for the left arm, which is pulled back into the car. I knew then it was a woman.
"(Manziel) crawls over the top of her, and this all happens on the passenger side. He gets out first. She gets out. ... He didn't hit her. ... He got out of the car frustrated, and she came out with her arms up in the air and then she walked off."
Sgt. George Ruple, who wrote the investigative report, didn't return a phone message left Wednesday.
It might be OK to physically restrain a woman from getting out of a moving car. But if Hill's eyewitness account is correct -- "I explained it to (the police) like I explained it to you," he told a reporter -- Manziel physically prevented his girlfriend from exiting a parked car, and that is never OK.
"Considering the girlfriend's initial statements and witness statements, the NFL should've brought immediate consequences against Manziel," said Kathy Redmond, founder of the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes. "People will say, 'Well, the woman didn't cooperate.' Well, she did at first. I see it all the time when I talk to victims. It's the roller-coaster back and forth that I have to talk them through. It's not that they're dismissing what happened; they don't want to go through the process.
"Here you had a struggle in a car that's going 90 miles per hour, erratically endangering other people, and the girlfriend says he pushed her head against the glass. If she's trying to get out of the car, what's the endgame there?"
The endgame? Goodell will decide after he's done listening to his senior advisers on domestic violence, including Lisa Friel, the former New York sex crimes prosecutor who interviewed Manziel on Oct. 28, according to Cleveland.com.
But by his own personal conduct policy, Goodell should've already placed the quarterback on the exempt list. That policy states that an arrest and criminal charges aren't requirements for discipline. "The standard of conduct for persons employed in the NFL is considerably higher," it reads.
On the video and eyewitness reports, common sense says Manziel didn't meet that standard. Common sense says someone else should be taking the snaps Thursday night for the Cleveland Browns.