By Lindsay Steele
Now Streaming: Untold: Johnny Football (Netflix)
Genre: Sports documentary
Streaming service: Netflix
Rating: TV-MA (language)
Summary: This documentary traces the meteoric rise and precipitous fall of football star Johnny Manziel via interviews with friends, coaches and the fallen star.
Synopsis: “Untold” attempts to explain the actions and decisions that led to Manziel’s personal and professional struggles. The documentary suggests Manziel’s downfall may be due to a sense of entitlement, the people who enabled him, a lack of work ethic, a disinterest in football (resulting in self-sabotage), alcoholism, mental illness and/or substance abuse.
This isn’t a feel-good documentary, even for those who gloat over Manziel’s continued downfall. There is no redemption arc where Manziel gets sober, goes to therapy, rediscovers a passion for football and begins working out again. His parents still worry about him. He still drinks — as evidenced by the gleaming can of Stella Artois in his hand as he lounges in the dappled sunlight of his parents’ ranch. He does not appear to have any immediate goals, though news reports unrelated to the documentary state he is trying to open a sports bar in his old college town.
In a sense, the unfinished ending is representative of what other people dealing with addiction, mental illness, etc., might be experiencing. There is no point in which everything suddenly becomes “okay.” Struggles come and go. Still, the lack of resolve may leave viewers wondering about the documentary’s intentions. Are viewers supposed to feel sorry for Manziel? Are they supposed to feel disappointed with Manziel for sabotaging the kind of life many of us can only dream of? Are viewers who have experienced substance abuse, alcoholism or Bipolar Disorder supposed to relate to Manziel? Or, was the true intention of the documentary to pad Manziel’s depleted bank account?
Our faith teaches us to care about the well-being of others (Matthew 5:43-45). That can be challenging when someone seems to make bad choices repeatedly. If we are to gain any understanding from the documentary, perhaps it is this: we never really know what someone is dealing with or why they make self-destructive choices. Perhaps we do know why and feel frustrated by that person’s reluctance to seek or accept help. Manziel, at the core of the situation, just wants to feel good and the things he thought would make him feel that way didn’t. Haven’t we all felt like that at times — putting our hopes in something that wasn’t good for us or that we thought would satisfy us? Maybe our experiences won’t be nearly as dramatic as Manziel’s but, at some level, I think we can all relate to his struggles.
What does this documentary teach us about drug abuse, addiction and mental illness? What role do you believe these factors played in Manziel’s story?
How did the ending of the documentary make you feel, and why?
What lessons can you take away from this documentary about Manziel?
What is the role of a family in journeying with a loved one experiencing challenges?
(Editor’s note: Lindsay Steele is a reporter for The Catholic Messenger. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org)