Like most female reporters, my inbox and Twitter mentions are a cesspool immediately after I write a piece that criticizes a male athlete guilty of a heinous crime against a woman. Such was the case last week, when I blasted Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, athletic director Joe Castiglione and school president David Boren for their decision to allow five-star running back Joe Mixon to suit up for the Sooners despite watching the stomach-churning video of Mixon punching a fellow Oklahoma student, Amelia Molitor, in an off-campus incident almost three years ago.
You’ve probably seen the video by now, but if not, a brief recap: Mixon, Molitor and her friend exchange words, Molitor shoves Mixon, and he responds by dropping her with one punch. Molitor’s head hits a table on her way down. She breaks four bones in her face, has to have her jaw wired shut for a while and has no feeling on the left side of her face for six months.
The responses in my inbox were varied. Some thanked me for standing up for women without a voice. Others accused me of writing clickbait. One guy admitted, “Yeah, I’m a misogynist!” which just reaffirmed that everything he had said before that was worthless. Many were misspelled (really, why don’t more people know the difference between “your” and “you’re”?) Then, I came across a very thoughtful email from a father of three, whose children are all athletes.
This man and his children discussed the video at the dinner table, with varying reactions. One child asked how anyone in power decides on an appropriate punishment. Another wanted to know why the NCAA didn’t have a blanket policy for how to deal with violent athletes. The oldest kid wondered where the forgiveness is in this mess? And that prompted this question from the father:
When are we going to raise the level of discussion? he asked. When are we going to talk about the bigger picture and try to come up with a solution?
It’s a great question and one I’ve thought about a lot. Here’s my bigger picture takeaway, aside from the fact that violence against women is a serious problem in our society, a problem we knew about long before this incident:
The three most powerful men on Oklahoma’s campus didn’t just fail Molitor. They’ve failed Joe Mixon, too.
I’ve never said Mixon should be barred from playing football forever. I’ve never said lock him up and throw away the key. What I have said is that while I believe in second chances, I don’t believe those should always come at the highest level. Playing Division I football is a privilege, and we know this because when a team plays poorly or overlooks an opponent or acts lazy and/or entitled, coaches stomp into press conferences and slam their fists on the table and give us a bunch of coachspeak about exactly that. What had Mixon done to earn that privilege?
I believe what Mixon did is redeemable. De’Andre Johnson is proof of that.
A former Florida State quarterback, Johnson was booted from the team in July 2015 after video surfaced of him striking a woman in a Tallahassee bar. Johnson appeared on television within a week next to his mother and publicly apologized to the victim. In response to a question about whether it was true the woman had used a racial slur and put her hands on him first, Johnson told Good Morning America, "It doesn't matter. What matters is I shouldn't have raised my hand to her. I should've walked away."
See, Joe, it’s not that hard to apologize.
Johnson enrolled at East Mississippi Community College, the school known as “Last Chance U,” and recently signed a letter of intent to play at Florida Atlantic under new coach Lane Kiffin. If he’s good enough, he’ll still get his shot at the NFL.
Mixon could learn from all this. But he has to want to learn—and Oklahoma has to want to teach him.
When coaches go recruiting, they sit in the homes of mothers and fathers across the country and promise parents and guardians that if they entrust their child to this or that particular team, not only will they help him or her develop into a great athlete, but also a great human being. They’ll turn him into a man, or woman, too.
It’s safe to assume Stoops, who has a track record of success, made a similar promise to Mixon’s family. Has he followed through on those actions? Besides suspending Mixon for a year, during which time Mixon was still on scholarship, what has Stoops done to help mold Mixon into an adult, to teach him about how actions have consequences? Oklahoma has dodged questions about the Mixon situation for three seasons, though offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley said earlier this fall he anticipates Mixon will be a team captain one day. Teammates have said that behind closed doors, Mixon is one of the most popular players in the locker room, a guy other players rally around.
But this doesn’t square with Mixon’s public image, partially because there’s been no transparency about the expectations or requirements laid out before Mixon since announcing he would remain with the program. Did Oklahoma provide additional therapy, in addition to the cognitive behavior counseling Mixon was ordered to undergo as a part of a plea agreement? Demand that he attend anger management classes? Encourage him to go speak or volunteer at domestic violence shelters? Give him a zero-tolerance policy?
The answer to the last question is clearly no, given what happened on Nov. 1. That’s the day Mixon ripped up a parking ticket and threw it at the attendant, hitting her in the face. According to the police report, after Mixon threw his ticket at the attendant and swore at her, he got in his car and "inched at the officer with vehicle in drive to intimidate the officer with vehicle.”
This doesn’t sound like the actions of someone who has changed after being given a chance at redemption. And it certainly doesn’t sound like someone who deserves the benefit of the doubt.
Save for last year’s disastrous showing at the Orange Bowl’s media day, when Mixon came across as smug and not at all remorseful, he has not spoken with reporters. Castiglione claimed at the Orange Bowl that Mixon’s silence was the choice of his lawyers. This is a pitifully thin argument. The university signs Mixon’s scholarship papers and therefore the university and its decision-makers have power, not Mixon’s attorneys. If Castiglione wanted Mixon to take questions, he could make him do it. But instead the media, which has the power to communicate to fans what type of people play for the Sooners and which typically loves a comeback story, has had no other opportunity to speak with Mixon.
Early this fall, I approached Oklahoma and offered it a chance to let Mixon write a first-person piece on why the public should consider him a good person, a claim he made at the Orange Bowl. I said a sit-down video interview accompanying the written piece would go a long way, too. Stoops, through an Oklahoma spokesman, declined.
So, like most people who are not directly associated with the Sooners football team, I know three things about Joe Mixon: 1.) He punched a woman and broke her jaw 2.) He is an extremely good football player. 3.) He is not respectful to parking attendants.
Is the university really comfortable with letting this be the full narrative arc of one of its stars?
Mixon has never stood in front of a microphone and apologized directly to Molitor, her family, the school he represents or the fanbase. He has issued a written statement with an apology, but fans deserve to hear directly from him, the words from his mouth on camera.
Meanwhile, Mixon’s lawyers continue to be a public relations nightmare in their own right. On Tuesday, video of Mixon’s 2014 interview with police was released. Besides admitting that Molitor never directed a racial slur at Mixon, a narrative his camp had let linger for almost three years, the video shows one of Mixon’s lawyers, Kevin Finlay, attempting to justify Mixon’s actions by explaining to police that everyone knows about “the drunk chick in college.”
This is more than just victim blaming. This is opening a door into dangerous stereotyping. How would Mixon and his legal team feel if Molitor said his actions were “typical of an angry black man”? I’m guessing they’d be furious. Both are examples of outdated, pathetic, lazy stereotypes. And both have no place here.
Finlay attempted to explain away that comment Tuesday on Outside the Lines but did a poor job and did so in front of an Oklahoma athletics backdrop. This is all making me wonder if Oklahoma is using the same PR firm as Baylor.
By all accounts Mixon, a first-round NFL talent, is off to the pros after this season, which will conclude Jan. 2 when the Sooners play in the Sugar Bowl. Some NFL team will take a chance on him, violent past be damned. But is Mixon really leaving Oklahoma a better, more mature man than when he entered? Are we sure he’s not going to have another incident in the future?
More importantly, does Oklahoma even care?