For 16 years, Theo Fleury was one of the best players in the NHL. In 2009, a few years into retirement, he co-authored “Playing with Fire,” a best-selling autobiography in which he revealed he was sexually abused as a teenager by a former coach. As an adult, Fleury turned to alcohol, drugs and sex to cope with his past.
Fleury, 47, sees himself in a lot of today’s troubled athletes who turn to substance abuse, including Johnny Manziel.
“Unfortunately for a kid like Johnny Manziel, his ego is running his life right now,” Fleury said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “We all know that we have this great saying in the program: ‘We’re egomaniacs with inferiority complexes.’ And you watch this kid and what he’s doing, he’s running his own life and he’s doing what he wants to do and he’s not listening to anybody. Unfortunately, as we both know, if he doesn’t get the help he needs, this is going to end badly.”
Fleury thinks Manziel may have experienced some sort of childhood trauma.
“Well, that’s what I’ve learned from my own experience,” Fleury said. “I had a crazy childhood with both my parents struggling through their own addictions – and that was part of it – and then the sexual abuse happened. I would say somewhere in Johnny’s story, there’s some sort of childhood trauma that happened to him. When childhood trauma happens, we’re left with this emotional pain and these emotional scars that are left behind. Because we don’t have the tools or the maturity or the knowledge, we tend to gravitate toward the dark side of life, which means drugs, alcohol, women, gambling, poor choices, poor behavior.
“I met this lady along my travels who sort of explained to me the science of how my brain works after experiencing trauma,” Fleury continued, “and once that was explained to me, it took away all that shame I’d been carrying around. It took away all the guilt. I had been abandoned in my life, which caused me to feel not good enough most of my life. I think Johnny has a real bad case of not-good-enough right now. He was this incredible college player who was supposed to be a high draft pick. That didn’t happen for him. Then he goes to Cleveland and he’s supposed to be this savior. As we know, most kids that come out of college, especially the size of Johnny Manziel, aren’t going to be impact players until they’ve been around for a long time and learn how to sort of groove in this system.
“As we saw in the Super Bowl this year, defense wins. You have this incredible specimen who’s Cam Newton who basically got shut down by a good defense. Johnny doesn’t have the body or the athleticism of a Cam Newton. So for him to expect to come out of college and be a full-time NFL player is just not possible. So I think all this stuff piled on top of one another creates pressure, and when you’re that young and that immature, it’s too much to handle – so you’re going to gravitate toward the dark side of life.”
Fleury believes Manziel needs to not only get help but also reassess the company he keeps.
“When you have money, you can collect a lot of enablers, and it seems to me there’s a lot of enablers around Johnny Manziel,” Fleury said. “Who knows where this story is going to end, but I don’t think it’s going to end well, the path that he’s on now. We’ve both been there and we’ve both experienced the proverbial rock bottom, so to speak. But I think he’s got a long road ahead of him still.”