A man holds up a package of “Skittles” candy in front of a photograph of slain 17-year-old Trayvon Martin on the steps of City Hall in New York, March 28, 2012. (REUTERS/Mike Segar)
“He ate Skittles, drank beer and won the Heisman.”—Paul Manziel, father of Johnny Manziel
“Johnny Manziel ate Skittles, drank beer, won the Heisman. Trayvon Martin ate Skittles, drank ice tea, got murdered. #Truth”—Charlton Jimerson a k a cjimerson25; former Major League Baseball Player
No two people could conceivably be more different than Johnny Manziel and Trayvon Martin. But despite the chasms that separate them of race, class, fame and, of course, the very gift of life, they’re united in cruel irony. They’re united in the ways this country seems to take a particularly savage joy in eating its young. We don’t treasure our youth. We criminalize them. We exploit them. We deify them. And then we dispose of them. Each young man has a narrative that tells this story.
Manziel, the Texas A&M quarterback, became at age 19 the first freshman college football player in history to win the Heisman Trophy. Trayvon Martin at age 17 was stalked and killed by George Zimmerman for being one of those “punks” and having the misfortune of walking in his deadly line of vision. Johnny Manziel has every twenty-first-century privilege to an almost comical degree. He’s a young, white quarterback in Texas who hails from a wealthy oil family. Think about that quintet: fame, money, youth, whiteness and football. In this culture, that amounts to royalty. Tom Wolfe wouldn’t have the stones to create such a satirical archetype. Trayvon Martin had none of these things, other than his youth, and ended up dead as a result.
And yet, while their differences say a great deal about this country, their sole similarity, symbolized by that shared love of Skittles, tells a story all its own. For those who haven’t been following the Johnny Manziel off-season soap opera—recounted brilliantly in Wright Thompson’s detailed piece in ESPN the Magazine—the young man with everything seems to be losing his grip one inebriated tantrum at a time. He’s being torn to bits by the media for basically being an all-too-typical over-privileged 20-year-old. He gets drunk. He gets in bar fights. He has a temper. He gets arrested. Being wealthy and white provides space for Manziel to be all these things without ending up like Oscar Grant. But being a typical over-privileged 20-year-old and a college football cash cow has created an entirely different set of pressures.