Johnny Manziel returns to football for fan-run startup league kicking off in February

Cassandra Negley
·4 min read

When Johnny Manziel was asked in June to characterize his football career, he admitted he thought it was “in the past.” He also added, “probably.”

The former Heisman Trophy winner and first-round NFL draft pick isn’t done yet. He’s agreed to suit up in a startup league, “Fan Controlled Football,” that is scheduled to kick off in February, per ESPN.

Manziel returns for fan-run football league

The league is a 7-on-7 playing format that’s run by fans. They helped design the rules, set the rosters and call the plays. It’s a mix of a traditional football league and esports.

“The more I heard about what this was going to be, the more I felt it was going to be something that was just very fun,” Manziel said, via ESPN. “It's going to be very fan-oriented and something I could get behind without being extremely, extremely, extremely serious, the way that my football career has been in the past.”

There are four teams with celebrity owners including San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman, rapper Quavo, New York Mets pitcher Trevor May, former Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch and Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler.

It’s a six-week schedule based in Atlanta and games are livestreamed on Twitch. It’s a smaller field at 50-by-25 yards with 10-yard end zones. Games are expected to be about an hour long.

Manziel heads to fifth football league

Manziel, 28, was a star at Texas A&M and one of the most well-known and compelling players coming out of college. He was the first freshman to ever win the Heisman in 2012 and was counted on to be the future of the Cleveland Browns franchise after being the No. 22 overall pick in the 2014 draft.

He struggled, both on the field and off, and was eventually cut by the franchise in 2015 after accusations of domestic violence against his ex-girlfriend. Manziel’s NFL playing career was 14 games long. He landed with in the Canadian Football League’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats and then the Montreal Alouettes. Neither was was a success and the league effectively banned him. He also played for The Spring League.

Manziel last played for the Memphis Express of the Alliance of American Football in 2019 before the league suddenly folded. This past June he admitted his football career is “in the past, probably, is the way I’d characterize it.”

Will Manziel stick in new fan-based football structure?

Johnny Manziel will join his fifth football league after a decorated collegiate career. (Wesley Hitt/AAF/Getty Images)
Johnny Manziel will join his fifth football league after a decorated collegiate career. (Wesley Hitt/AAF/Getty Images)

Manziel ended up in the new fan-structured league through a mutual friend, Bob Menery, who co-owns the Zappers franchise with May. Menery set Manziel up with co-founder and CEO Sohrob Farudi.

Farudi told ESPN the league is “built for a guy like” Manziel who has “big, bold personality,” since it will have a heavy emphasis on connecting its fans with its players away from the field.

“He got into these other leagues and, I hate to say this, but it's like the handcuffs were put on,” Farudi said, via ESPN. “You had to act differently. You had to walk and talk differently. He couldn't just be himself. That's where we want to be different as a league. We're really embracing this idea of being more than an athlete. ... We're very comfortable with having players be big personalities off the field and doing what they want to do. For us, it's as much as about the off-field opportunities to connect with the fan base as it is about the football on the field.”

Manziel is based in Scottsdale, Arizona, and has said he’s happier now than when he was on top of the football world. He said in 2018 he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and had abused alcohol. While he wasn’t looking to go back to football, he told ESPN this was a good fit that came along.

“Life gives you opportunities sometimes to do something that you would still like to do if it was in a different capacity," Manziel said, via ESPN. “This has a lot of potential to just be a good time and still be football-centric. They're going to let the people [who] join this league be who they are and have fun with it and be a little bit more free than what football is sometimes. That's definitely what appealed to me. They don't want me to change who I am or anything else. They want to come out, put a good product out and be fun with it.”

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