Sports stardom a risky journey

Once upon a time, it was Johnny Manziel. Now, it’s Ja Morant. Here’s hoping Connor Bedard won’t fall victim to the same traps.

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Ja Morant has been caught on video holding a gun twice since March. The first time likely cost him a spot on one of the three All-NBA teams — and $40 million.

Ja Morant has been caught on video holding a gun twice since March. The first time likely cost him a spot on one of the three All-NBA teams — and $40 million.

Harry How/Getty Images

I visited Texas A&M in the fall of 2016, and inside the massive glassed-in front hall of the athletic department was a virtual shrine to former Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel.

You remember ‘‘Johnny Football,’’ don’t you?

He was the once-in-a-generation scrambling, passing, genius quarterback who knew no bounds. As a redshirt freshman in 2012, he stunningly led Texas A&M past No. 1 Alabama in an upset for the ages. For the season, he had 5,120 yards in total offense and obliterated a ton of Southeastern Conference records.

He won the Davey O’Brien Award as the best quarterback in college football and the Heisman Trophy, the first time any freshman had done that.

The Browns selected Manziel in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. He played little and poorly that season, but he promised to get his act together and be better in the future.

Then the videos popped up.

There he was dancing, drinking, hanging out in Vegas, holding cash like a gangster, surrounded by his partying boys. Then came the arrest for domestic violence. After two seasons, Manziel was out of the NFL, never to play there again.

Flash forward to Grizzlies star Ja Morant.

The incredibly fast and talented guard came into the NBA with great promise, the second player taken in the 2019 draft. The springy blur of a man seemed to have nothing but blue skies ahead of him and quickly became a highlight reel of dribble fakes and dunks.

Then came the videos.

The first one appeared in March and showed him clubbing with his buddies, holding a gun. He was suspended by the NBA for eight games because of it, came back and said he had changed.

‘‘I just gotta be better, you know, with my decision-making,’’ he said, chastened. ‘‘That’s pretty much it.’’

Then another video recently popped up, this time with Morant in a car with pals, NBA YoungBoy blaring in the background and Morant once again holding a gun. It’s just for a flash, but it’s a gun in his left hand.

Could it be a toy gun? Sure. Does anybody think it is? No.

Morant now is suspended indefinitely by the Grizzlies. It’s worth noting that the first suspension cost him more than $650,000 in lost salary. It’s also possible — quite likely, even — that the initial suspension cost him a spot on one of the three All-NBA teams this year, which in turn cost him $40 million in lost super-max wages.

It also should be noted that Morant, 23, signed a five-year, $194 million guaranteed contract before this season. That is such a ridiculous amount of money to give a young man — to give anyone, actually — that it’s quite possible Morant doesn’t care about anything.

If he doesn’t care, his career might be over. Who knows when an adolescent grows into a man?

Which brings us to Canadian hockey phenom Connor Bedard. The kid is only 17 — and looks it — but he is, as the saying goes, ‘‘a generational talent.’’ This has been declared for a couple of years, perhaps as early as when he was 15 and playing with the Canadian under-18 team in the world junior championships and scored the only hat trick ever by a 15-year-old.

He finished his low-level stuff by being named MVP of the 2023 world juniors. There appears to be nothing this kid can’t do on the ice.

He might be a mix of Wayne Gretzky, Patrick Kane and Connor McDavid. He has been declared a player who will save a franchise, a fan base and even the NHL itself with his ice sense, vision and shot that explodes from a stick torqued beyond all reason.

And the Blackhawks all but surely will select him with the first pick in the upcoming NHL Draft.

The hope here is that Bedard sees what can happen to the young and mystically gifted when they run adrift, when they become overwhelmed and lost.

Bedard seems to have a solid, caring family behind him, and that’s good news. He surely will need mental-health help from them. Imagine, this phenom can’t even legally drink a beer with his soon-to-be Hawks pals for four more years.

Which makes me think of ‘‘Johnny Football’’ again. He was cut by the Browns six months before I visited College Station, Texas, but his shrine was there. I wonder whether it is today.

And if it is, I wonder whether Texas A&M has put a cautionary sign on it, warning young viewers of dangers ahead.

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