Marshall Basketball? Henderson, Much Like Manziel, Continues To Find TroublePosted by BHayes on July 16th, 2013
Bennet Hayes is an RTC columnist. He can be reached @HoopsTraveler.
Whether you are a member of the media and present by necessity, or if you are simply a fan sitting on your couch after midnight (that witching hour when ESPNews suddenly equates to programming gold), you have all been dragged through that same presser. The one where the coach tells you about how happy he is despite the loss, “because his guys competed for 40 minutes.” The one where the winning coach still isn’t that happy, because “this game was just another one on the schedule.” And yes, here comes the moment when both coaches admit to knowing they “can’t get too up or down about tonight” because the college basketball season is most surely a marathon, not a sprint. Coachspeak is everywhere these days, and with the mounting media attention on even the smallest of college programs, it’s difficult to blame coaches and players for sticking to this unoriginal script. They may be boring us as fans and media, but they become sure to avoid the negative PR that can accompany even the smallest of verbal missteps. So what happens when we find a coach or player who doesn’t seem to have received this most banal of memos? We pay attention. And right now, there are no two college athletes (in their respective sports) that we pay attention to more than Johnny “Football” Manziel and Marshall Henderson.
The tales of Manziel and Henderson are far from identical, but both are prominent college athletes who have drizzled a little extra flavor on their public personas (both on and off the field/court). Each has experienced the boon in media attention, fans, and Twitter followers that comes with not only being a standout on the court, but a colorful personality off it. However, armed with the nation’s collective eye, both have also felt the flip side of the fame – the inevitable backlash that comes when you take that reckless behavior a step too far. Manziel’s discretions have been less serious than those of Henderson, particularly in the eyes of the law, but his most recent blunder— leaving the Manning passing camp early due to alleged misbehavior — has had no problems finding every major news outlet. Henderson’s trouble-making at Ole Miss had largely been limited to brash behavior on the court and some equally unfiltered commentary off of it (#whitegirlwednesday) — that is, until he was indefinitely suspended last week after being arrested for cocaine and marijuana possession.
We relished their cocksure personalities when we deemed their eccentricities harmless, but suddenly both Manziel and Henderson’s recklessness has drawn our ire. Lines have surely been crossed by both and accountability has to exist for each of them, but how much of the current troubles of these two stars can actually be traced back to us? Manziel didn’t truly become “Johnny Football” (despite the nickname’s birth coming back in his high school days) until after Kevin Sumlin let him loose to the media in December. Sure, he happened to win some prestigious award in the days that followed and there had been a few Halloween pictures (who doesn’t love Scooby Doo?) surfacing in the days before he became a public figure, but is it a coincidence that Manziel has created a stir more than a few times in the past seven months? Similarly, Henderson lived in a cloak of anonymity for much of his first season at Ole Miss. It wasn’t until late January and his aggressive taunting of the Auburn student section that the Ole Miss chucker, err, sharpshooter, began registering on the casual fan’s radar, and it probably took an improbable March run by Ole Miss to firmly plant Henderson in the crosshairs of fans across the country. Here again, can it really be mere coincidence that Henderson’s antics (the mock Gator chomp, omnipresent “Landshark,” an appearance at a Kansas City bar hours after an NCAA Tournament victory) only ratcheted up as the media attention surrounding him and his team grew? People had started to pay attention because they wanted to see Marshall be Marshall, and Henderson, confidence brimming, was more than happy to oblige.
Let’s make one point clear: Being an attention-grabbing personality in the college sports world is not mutually exclusive to being a law-abiding, rule-following college student and teammate. That being said, can the transgressions of Manziel and Henderson really be all that shocking in today’s media climate? Did we really expect 20-22 year old college kids, already de facto kings on campus, to slow down when each envelope-pushing act only brightens the spotlight on their throne? Why would Henderson censor those 140 characters when he can literally sit and watch the followers accumulate after every brash tweet? Is the 20-year old Manziel going to attempt to limit his celebrity after watching everybody and their mother report that he was hanging out with LeBron? Good luck finding a college student who wouldn’t want to count King James as a friend, let alone have him publicly comparing them to Superman.
Even with the Manning camp debacle currently swirling around him, Manziel should be fine. There is almost no chance he won’t be where he belongs come September – under center for the Aggies, an entire college football season ahead of him. The same cannot be said for college basketball’s favorite villain. Potential legal troubles and that indefinite suspension are both severe obstacles to Henderson ever wearing an Ole Miss uniform again. If he does make it back in time to throw up a landshark or two, we (and he) all know there will be no shortage of attention paid. And while Marshall may still be allowed to be Marshall on the court (his shot selection is Andy Kennedy’s problem, not ours), the ultimate challenge for Henderson will be to better handle the attention (and his Twitter handle) off it. At this point, his college basketball career most surely depends on it.