On Joe Mixon, The Reality of Football and The Hypocrisy of Fans

Like It Or Not, Joe Mixon Will Be An NFL Player This Year, Here’s Why He Could Be A Detroit Lion.

The University of Oklahoma held its annual Pro Day on Wednesday and the event is a perennial showcase of some of the top college talent in the nation. The Sooners, one of the most storied programs of all time, are the only school to ever have three players drafted in the top four picks – in 2010, QB Sam Bradford went #1, Gerald McCoy went #3, and Trent Williams went #4. They have the fourth-most drafted players of all-time with 377. Since 2010, they’re tied for fifth in players drafted with Ohio State (38.) I attended school there from 2012-2014, and although I didn’t graduate, I’m still a Sooners fan and I’m proud of the rich football history there. But, this year wasn’t about Bob Stoops’ most recent batch of NFL prospects.

This year, it was The Joe Mixon & Friends Happy Hour.

If you aren’t familiar with Joe Mixon, I’ll tell you a little about who he is. He was the number one ranked running back by Rivals in the 2014 class. He hails from Oakley, California, so his commitment to the Sooners was viewed as a huge coup considering the pipelines that various west coast powerhouses had in his own backyard. He was expected to be an immediate impact at the tailback position as a freshman, but an incident for which he is now infamous for transpired at an off-campus deli during the summer of 2014.

An 18-year-old Joe Mixon struck a female student at Pickleman’s and broke her jaw. The security cameras captured the ordeal, but the footage was never released to the public. He was suspended and took a redshirt year, and accepted a plea deal on a misdemeanor assault charge which included a one year deferred sentence and required 100 hours of community service and anger management courses. Mixon returned in 2015 and was an immediate standout. He and teammate (and fellow draft prospect) Samaje Perine were heralded as the best running back tandem in the country. Many forgot, many forgave. The victim, Amelia Molitor, had pursued other legal recourse and had filed a civil suit against the star running back.

In December 2016, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that the surveillance video become public record. It went viral. Outrage ensued. The graphic video depicts Mixon following Molitor into the establishment, at which point an argument ensued. After a few seconds of arguing, Mixon turned to walk away, Molitor then shoved him. He lunged at her, she slapped him in the face, then he punched her in the face. She fell and her head hit a table. Mixon alleged the argument began when the young male she was with issued a racial slur in the direction of Mixon and his friends, to which Mixon responded with a homophobic slur. These are the facts available to us.

Just a few weeks ago, Mixon was precluded from partaking in the Combine in Indianapolis. Lions GM Bob Quinn said it was ‘disappointing’ that the embattled running back wasn’t invited to the event. Quinn’s message sent a shockwave through the fanbase and incited many of the Lions faithful to uproar. His remarks have been seen as odd, considering he proclaimed just last year that he has a zero tolerance policy against domestic violence and weapons convictions. It’s even more strange when you factor in that Martha Firestone-Ford, the team’s owner, won an award for her zero tolerance stance against domestic violence. Regardless, the Lions were one of four teams to meet with him before his much-anticipated Pro Day.

Except Joe Mixon committed assault, and was never a perpetrator of domestic violence. Mixon never engaged in the systematic intimidation, emotional abuse, and physical violence towards a significant other or a spouse. He’s been called a woman-beater. A thug. A coward. A monster. He’s none of those things. Mixon is a young man who did a bad thing and made a terrible mistake as an 18-year-old. Some point to his 2016 confrontation with a university parking attendant as evidence of character issues, but who’s ever been happy to receive a parking ticket?

I don’t know Mixon personally but I do have several close friends who worked in Headington Hall, the new dorm which houses many student-athletes, including the football players. Mixon was a resident there. He was described as quiet and respectful, a guy who mostly kept to himself and minded his own business. In other words, Mixon doesn’t fit the profile of a loud and arrogant athlete with a bad temper. During his time living at Headington Hall, he frequently visited a pediatric cancer hospital and spent time with the children there. Whether or not that was part of his community service mandate remains to be seen but even then there are less emotionally taxing community service options than comforting kids who may be dying. Essentially, he’s not who people think he is.

Time For a Reality Check

But let’s set aside who Mixon is as a person and examine the controversy surrounding him. Most of the pearl-clutching and white knight placating that goes on in regards to Mixon is, quite frankly, laughable bullshit. Claims like, “I don’t want my team to draft him,” and, “Morals are more important than winning,” are empty bluster. You want to know how I know that? Because most people are different in public than they are in private. Very few people want others to think they’re seemingly okay with a man punching a woman in the face but whether or not that’s the message being sent is irrelevant. If someone says, “I want Joe Mixon,” some people will interpret it to mean they’re okay with what he did. And that’s a rabbit hole we won’t go down. But consider this: based on anecdotal evidence, about half of Lions fans publicly support the team’s theoretical drafting of Mixon. Ryan Schuiling of Lansing’s 92.1FM conducted a Twitter poll which indicated that, at the time of writing this, only 19% of fans wouldn’t want Mixon on the team.

The bottom line is that people forgive.

The Sooner community was initially outraged by the incident at the time, yet one year later I was one of 80,000-plus fans in Gaylord Memorial Stadium cheering every time Joe Mixon touched the ball.

We’ve been here before…

Tyreek Hill choked and beat his pregnant girlfriend while at Oklahoma State, was kicked off the team, landed at West Alabama and was drafted in the fifth round by the Chiefs last year. People were so upset. Same type of response, just no video. Hill was electric as a gadget player and return man and was selected to the Pro Bowl in his rookie season, which is fan-voted.

Greg Hardy choked, punched, and threw his girlfriend onto a pile of automatic assault weapons. The Dallas Cowboys were still the most profitable franchise in 2015, the lone year he was on the team. It was only after a series of distractions and a pattern of underwhelming production that the organization parted ways with Hardy, who is a locker room cancer and a bona fide psychopath.

This is ultimately my point – many people say they care about incidents like the Mixon assault but in reality, not as much as they say they do. Some probably don’t care at all. Most people value on-field production more than organizational morality. That’s what the money says. In a capitalist society, money talks and bullshit walks. Everyone wants to take a hard line stance against guys like Joe Mixon, but they ultimately don’t, because entertainment is more important to them. Winning is more important to them. Joe Mixon, who has been compared to Le’veon Bell by multiple draft analysts, will help you win and there’s nothing wrong with that. Large men who spend years of their lives violently throwing their bodies and ramming their heads into other large men, shouldn’t even be expected to be sane, much less be role models.

A PR firestorm will inevitably follow Mixon wherever he’s drafted -and with 24 teams reportedly scheduled to meet with him, he will be drafted – but it will inevitably pass if he performs. People simply aren’t willing to boycott the product. So unless somebody stops buying tickets, stops buying merchandise, and stops watching the games, they have absolutely zero license to proclaim that moral resolution is more important than winning football games. I recently got into a Twitter exchange with a fellow Lions fan whom I respect who said to me that, “Morals should matter more than winning.” I disagreed and cited the collective ability of consumers to dictate business practices by refusing to provide a business revenue. He said, “There’s a grey area,” but I don’t think there’s a grey area.

As the CBS Sports Radio program Huge Show proclaimed on Tuesday evening, “The video never goes away. I’ll take 0-16 again with a front office with some character over selling out to try and win.” 0-16 won’t go away until we win, and the video will fade from people’s minds when we win. Winning absolves everything. That’s the reality, like it or not. This gentleman will still watch the team even if they draft Mixon, especially because his livelihood depends on it. He can talk all he wants, but if he continues to support the team, his actions will speak louder than his words.

Some Lions fans could be confronted with a dilemma come draft day: continue to root for their favorite team and root for Joe Mixon in doing so, or find another team. Those fans will have to decide whether winning or morality is more important to them. I know what’s more important to me, and I have a pretty good guess of what’s more important to you, too. And I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t make you a bad person. People don’t always do ‘the right thing,’ and they aren’t perfect. We are all only human, and that includes Joe Mixon.

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