Was it the passage of time that sharpened Bob Stoops’ sensibilities?
Or was it the sea of public discord after watching video of Joe Mixon’s fateful punch?
Stoops called an impromptu press conference after Wednesday’s Sugar Bowl practice and spent nearly 30 minutes taking questions — not about the Sooners’ upcoming game or their Jan. 2 return to New Orleans or Auburn’s running game or any such silly thing.
Instead, he offered an opening statement, then fielded nothing but queries about Mixon and last week’s video release of Mixon’s 2014 punch that crushed Amelia Molitor’s face and got him suspended for his freshman season.
Most intriguing, Stoops essentially went off script by admitting he was wrong to let Mixon return to the program, that Mixon’s punishment probably wasn’t severe enough and that if Mixon’s punch had been thrown last week instead of in 2014, he would no longer be a Sooner.
“I think that is fair to say,” Stoops said. “Yes, I do believe I would have (dismissed Mixon).
“Any more, if there’s any cloud whatsoever or possibility that this may have happened, we’re going in a different direction.”
“Two-and-a-half years later, it’s fair to say (a five-month suspension) isn’t enough,” Stoops said. “That’s positive in that that’s the way things have gone in the last two-and-a-half years; the only thing acceptable anymore is dismissal. We didn’t go that route.”
Debate it for yourself: has Stoops come to his senses in realizing that if one of his players ever delivers a punch like Mixon did to a woman’s face, that player absolutely loses the privilege of being a member of his football team? Or has Stoops simply recognized that a cultural shift has taken place that now allows no quarter for such offenses?
Stoops isn’t Art Briles. He’s not tone deaf to the pitchforks and torches outside his gate. Whatever his motivation, give him a sliver of credit for recognizing that his previous stance was inappropriate.
After all, it’s not very often that Bob Stoops admits to being wrong.
“Now, 2 ½ years later, dismissal is really the only thing that is possible,” Stoops said. “A young guy having an opportunity to rehabilitate and to have some kind of discipline and come back from it is really not there anymore. Hopefully that message goes down even to the high school level, that these things are just unacceptable to any degree and there’s no recovering.
“Again, 2 ½ years ago and going through all this, I think what was taken into consideration were all the factors leading up to it — the entire altercation,” Stoops continued, a reference to Molitor pushing and then slapping Mixon before Mixon’s punch. “(I) thought we had a significant penalty and a strong penalty. Now it isn’t enough. These individuals cannot have a second chance. It’s just not acceptable and they know it anymore and they’ve been told, enough. We have more meetings and things of that nature that instruct and let them know what appropriate behavior is and isn’t, and what the consequences are.”
Stoops said Mixon was granted a full, unconditional release if he had chosen to transfer to another school. Stoops also said the decision to suspend Mixon with plenty disciplinary stipulations was “immediate and significant and strong.” Stoops also said his reaction to watching the video 2 ½ years ago was “horrible. I hated it. I hated it as much as anybody else.”
Apparently, he didn’t hate it that much. Not if he watched it and concluded it was OK for Mixon to come back.
Stoops said the decision to not kick Mixon off the team, made in concert with athletic director Joe Castiglione and president David Boren after OU’s power trio watch the video together, ultimately was on his own recommendation.
That decision forever and irreparably damages Stoops’ legacy at Oklahoma.
He owns a national championship and has won 10 conference titles and has authored more coaching victories than college football immortals Bud Wilkinson and Barry Switzer. He also visits sick children in the hospital and praises veterans and has raised two twin sons and a daughter.
But just like Switzer’s ignominious exit in 1989 amid a football program run amok with felons, Stoops’ decision to try to redeem Mixon from his vicious act of violence rather than immediately cutting him loose left a stain on a proud program and sullied Stoops’ many good deeds and memorable accomplishments.
It also sent the wrong message — to his players, and to his own children. To the boys: if you’re a fabulously talented football player who savagely punches a woman half your size, you can still play for me. And to the girls: if one of my players punches you and he can help me win football games, well, sorry.
“Fault me (for) believing that an 18-year-old without a prior violent situation whatsoever (who), in an altercation, had a wrong and horrible response … that he might have an opportunity moving forward to redeem himself, improve from it, grow from it and someday possibly be forgiven,” Stoops said. “That was the intention. If I’m at fault — it’s hard to give up on these young men (who), I go in their homes and talk to their families and talk about their opportunities to grow at Oklahoma.
“For those that find that unacceptable, I apologize to those people. But I feel like Joe has moved ahead in a very positive way, and believe he’s really grown and matured for it.”
OU’s parking attendants may feel differently.
Stoops had an opportunity then to do the right thing and disassociate himself and his program from Mixon, but he chose instead to let Mixon stay.
Surely he comprehends now, after 2 ½ years of reflection, after 29 months of watching in his mind’s eye as Molitor falls unconscious to the floor, that a significant percentage of the population now sees him as an enabler of violence against women.
“Well, again, hopefully not,” he said, “but in the end, I’m sure to some degree, it does, and I regret that. But in the end, at the time, we felt it was significant, strong punishment. And again, some people that have seen the entire thing, at that time, agreed. And others didn’t. I understand that, and I always knew that that was something that everybody would debate.”
Here’s a sad and immutable truth: the outcry opposing violence against women simply wasn’t loud enough in 2014. Remember, earlier that year, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Ravens running back Ray Rice two games — two games! — for doing the exact same thing to his then-fiance.
It was Goodell’s lowest moment in a career filled with ridiculousness, an abomination of leadership and a gross miscarriage of justice.
But surveillance video from a hotel elevator eventually went public, and what had been a relatively a low rumble became a shout: violence against women is unacceptable, and those who perpetrate it and still assume they’re untouchable because they’re good at playing a child’s game must be punished.
Rice’s suspension became indefinite. It was eventually lifted, but he hasn’t come close to a football field ever since.
Mixon, meanwhile, has helped the Sooners win 21 games and two of Stoops’ 10 conference championships by rushing 281 times for 1,936 yards, by catching 60 passes for 805 yards, by returning 27 kicks for 529 yards and by scoring 25 touchdowns.
In the OU media guide, his 2014 season is listed simply as “redshirt.”
Shame on Bob Stoops for watching that video and apparently convincing Boren and Castiglione that Mixon would still look good in a Sooner uniform. And shame on David Boren for his continued silence on the matter. Stoops’ contrition Wednesday should have been accompanied by a large dose of Boren’s remorse. And a little compunction from Castiglione wouldn’t hurt either.
Goodell, in an act of witless wonder, was just fine with a two-game punishment for Rice — before the video went public, anyway. And Stoops, who said “I believe in these young men … maybe to a fault,” watched Mixon’s video and was just fine with a redshirt season for him — probably because the video wasn’t going public.
Now, it seems, Stoops has seen the error of his ways.
“The world is a different place 2 ½ years later,” Stoops said. “And that’s a positive.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard on The Franchise Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. every weekday with co-host Lauren Rew and most mornings on The Franchise in Oklahoma City. Listen on fm107.9, am1270 on the 107.7 Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page.