Joe Mixon’s NFL career officially began on Friday night.
And so did the Cincinnati Bengals’ future of answering questions about Mixon’s past.
The Bengals selected the Oklahoma running back in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft, the No. 48 overall pick, and then proceeded to do what they could to spin the message that it’ll all work out just fine.
“We’ve done such a lot of work regarding Joe Mixon, throughout the entire process this year and based on all the time, all the research, we felt that we can continue to move forward,” Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said in a press conference.
Mixon punched a woman in July 2014, setting in motion a series of events that included his season-long suspension as an OU freshman, criminal charges, an Oklahoma Supreme Court decision on the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters lawsuit to release the surveillance video, a civil suit, and, of course, the eventual public release of the video showing Mixon slugging Mia Molitor in the face and knocking her unconscious inside a Norman restaurant.
Molitor and Mixon settled their civil suit last week.
Which brings us to the NFL Draft.
The consensus is that Mixon’s athletic talent is worthy of selection in the first round. But because of the punch — or maybe because of the video — and the supposed sanctity of the draft’s first round, Mixon slid into the second round.
But no further.
“Joe’s situation kind of came to a settlement in all ways this week, which also led us to feel better about the opportunity here to move forward,” Lewis said. “We have done all our due diligence we could do, time spent interviewing people, everybody around him, everybody around his background, people that have coached at Oklahoma with insight regarding him and how he has carried himself since that day.”
Lewis kept referring to July 25, 2014, as “one day.” Whether you cheer for Mixon or revile him, that will be the Bengals’ message going forward — that Mixon made one mistake long ago and hasn’t really had a misstep since (the OU parking ticket that got him suspended for a game last fall notwithstanding, of course).
“I think for me personally,” Lewis said, “and I think for everybody, No. 1, I think, is him understanding the magnitude of what occurred and as he moves forward in his NFL career what he can do to continue to distance himself from that one day.”
That might not be so easy.
The Cincinnati Enquirer published Ohio Domestic Violence Network executive director Nancy Neylon’s sentiments, and she voiced legitimate concerns.
“To me it speaks to the lack of commitment to addressing violence off the field,” Neylon wrote in an e-mail to The Enquirer. “Of course I would want to know what kind of vetting was (done) on this specific issue with this player. But it does say there is little value for or sensitivity to women in general on the Bengals.”
Patrick Crowley, a former Enquirer reporter who founded a Cincinnati public relations firm, also emailed the newspaper.
“The question the team must consider is whether drafting Mixon is worth the PR nightmare,” Crowley said in the email. “Because it will be a nightmare; this will be a story not just in Cincinnati, but throughout the league and in every city and in every stadium the team visits. It won’t be, ‘the Bengals are coming to town.’ It will be, ‘the Bengals and Joe Mixon, who beats up women, are coming to town.’
“… In the minds of many people, including women — a large fan base of the NFL and the team itself — this guy should be in jail, not playing football.”
It’s no surprise that the Bengals were one of just a handful of teams who were reportedly even considering drafting Mixon. In Bengals parlance, Mixon’s incident may be considered on the tame side.
Adam “Pacman” Jones became a notorious character for his numerous arrests that included a season-long suspension in 2007. Then there’s the late Chris Henry, who was suspended for only half the ’07 season after four arrests in 14 months. During one particularly bad nine-month stretch, nine Bengals were arrested.
Cincinnati and Paul Brown Stadium became a haven for criminals and miscreants. Snatching up a dynamic talent like Mixon for what he did? In the Bengals’ way of thinking, that’s no risk at all.
“I’m so excited I can hardly stand myself,” offensive coordinator Ken Zampese said in the press conference when asked to describe Mixon’s football skills. “This guy can flat go. Very, very good football player. Strong, explosive, change of direction, feel and instincts, catches the ball, can move around in different places on the field, interviewed football IQ very well, protections, explained his offense well. I think he has a very, very bright future.”
No worries, then.
“I had a pretty good feeling it would be Cincinnati,” Mixon said in an OU press release. “When I had met with them in person (both in Norman and in Cincinnati), they were very straight up about everything. During the interview process, I think they had a really good feeling about me and it seemed like they would do whatever they could to work things out. The owner felt comfortable with me, the GM felt comfortable with me and so did the coaches. Now it’s time to help the players get comfortable and make this thing happen.”
To his credit, the Bengals’ head coach expressed disgust at what he saw in the Mixon video.
“I don’t know who isn’t disgusted at what they saw,” Lewis said. “But that’s one day in the young man’s life. He’s had to live that since then. He will continue to have to live that. And he gets an opportunity move forward and write a script from there on.”
Mixon said in a conference call with Ohio media that the incident changed him. That may be true. But how?
Does this change elicit hope that Mixon is a different man, a better man today than he was then? Or, does it sound an alarm that young Mixon once thought that punching a woman half his size was really no big deal but now realizes he can get in pretty bad trouble for it?
“It changed me a lot as a person, the way you think, the way you carry yourself, go about things,” Mixon said Friday. “The way Oklahoma helped me, I can’t thank them enough either. I’m going to continue to keep doing the right thing around the community on and off the field and I’m going to prove to them why they kept me. And leaving from Oklahoma, I still have their name at the end of the day. I came through there and I’m going to do whatever I can to make them proud and make them happy, and I’m looking forward to doing that with the Cincinnati Bengals as well.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard every weekday on The Franchise in Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. with co-host Lauren Rew. In Oklahoma City, catch him Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings at 10:25 and every Friday afternoon at 4:05. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page.