It is not easy to be a fan of the Cincinnati Bengals right now.
I woke up Saturday morning, a second draft day with two picks having taken place overnight, what players had been added to the roster? Then I read the story and my heart sank.
Joe Mixon is a name notorious to many, and had been one of the major discussion points leading up to the draft. There were other players in the draft with a recent history of violence, including a player selected in the first round who has recently been accused of rape, but with the surveillance video of the Mixon assault having been leaked, the evidence was there for all to see and Mixon was the first name discussed with major off-field issues.
For the record I have not watched the video, much like the Ray Rice video I don’t feel the need to witness one of the worse days the victim will ever have to face. In the particular case of Mixon, after exchanging words with Amelia Molitor, Molitor shoved and then slapped Mixon who responded by punching her in the face. Molitor fell to the floor, her face slamming into a table on the way past, leaving her with four facial fractures, including a broken jaw.
Unlike Ray Rice, who at age twenty-seven was coming towards the end of his running back career when he was suspended for the season, Mixon is a talented running back who is under twenty-one and enters the league ready to play, and so the Bengals decided that with the 48th pick of the draft, that he was worth the risk.
Male violence is sadly all too common, and is a societal problem not just one for NFL players. Overwhelmingly violence towards women and girls is carried out by men, and whilst men can be victims of domestic violence and women can be perpetrators, most violence – whether against women or men is perpetrated by men.
There is an argument for second chances, and for not only punishment but for rehabilitation. Mixon received a one-year deferred sentence and was ordered to undergo counselling along with 100 hours of community service. The assault occurred in 2014, and Mixon was suspended from football for the following year.
I’m not an expert on the sentencing of violent crimes, and not sure there is a definite correlation between circumstances and punishment, nor do I particularly like judges to be forced to give out specific sentences under restricted guidelines. To me the separation of powers that should be a part of well-structured democracy means that judges should have the freedom to interpret the law as best they can. However, I can’t help but feel that a sentence such as the one Mixon received is in part due to his status as a well know promising football player.
Still he has complied with the restrictions and by all accounts is still undergoing counselling and in his first interview as a Bengal has talked about controlling situations he places himself in and controlling his responses.
In the face of this it is worth noting that Mixon had a confrontation with a parking attendant after received a parking citation in 2016 where he ripped up the citations and threw them in the face of the attendant before inching forward with his vehicle to intimidate the office. This was on university property and he was suspended for a game.
On the other hand, he has recently settled a civil case brought by Molitor and they met to express their regrets. That said, Molitor is still dealing with the after affects of the assault, the psychological remaining long after the body has healed, and it is hard to see how the video being so widely distributed can do anything other than pick at the scars left behind. This is the legacy of violence even before social media and mass video made such moments so much harder to escape.
You can see how the Bengals are approaching the pick of Mixon from this article where you will see some familiar information.
We’ve had various NFL draft commentators talk about Mixon’s talent and referencing his off-field issues but not engage about them.
We’ve heard that only four teams were prepared to pick Mixon, although there are plenty of other players with violent incidents in the draft, and many of them were picked. There just wasn’t video evidence.
The NFL’s punishment for Mixon was to ban him from their combine event, which is a glorified prospect sports day in coverage, but for the team is mostly about getting to interview prospects, take accurate measurements, and carry out their own health checks.
I will refrain from my usual detailed criticism of Roger Goodell’s approach to discipline, and simply say that this so called punishment only really means that teams will have to go to a player’s pro day held at the university, and so this is not so much a punishment as a way for the NFL to not have to deal with such a player being at their combine event, by not having him be there. For the record, all thirty-two teams had a scout at Joe Mixon’s college pro day.
The sad fact is that this is not going away, and nor is the dilemma surrounding it. The Kansas City Chiefs faced this exact situation last year when they selected Tyreek Hill last year in the fifth round and he played excellently for them. Mina Kimes wrote an excellent piece entitled The uncomfortable reality of Tyreek Hill’s success and I’d highly encourage you to read it if you are not already familiar with it.
In fact go read it – it covers everything that is difficult about this topic, and then come back here.
Joe Mixon hasn’t even played a down for the Bengals and I know that I don’ want them to have picked him. The hard headed say that if you are going to pick such a player, then you might as well make sure you get the player you want and not worry about where he is picked. You have already made that decision. It’s just hard to apply the usual draft equation in this situation. The discussion of risk vs talent is simply not appropriate and I think I would feel like this if Mixon had been picked up as an undrafted free agent.
We can probably agree that there is no simple solution to this, and that we should keep having these conversations and that we should feel uncomfortable. Hell it should make us angry.
I’m disappointed that the Bengals picked Joe Mixon. I cannot see a world where I’m actively cheering on the player when I know what he has done. There have already been calls for a boycott of Bengals games in local papers, and to donate money to charity instead, certainly the money I was thinking of spending on a new jersey will go to a charity in the UK. I’m not pulling away from the Bengals as a team, I feel that would be cheating, I’ll watch every snap as usual and I will document what happens. I’ll be evaluating Mixon the player and how he acts. I will be just as conflicted. The joy has gone and may well never come back.
In finishing up I keep coming back to something I read whilst preparing to write this blog post. The Counting Dead Women Campaign is the work of Karen Ingala Smith, and is focussed on the documenting of male violence against women. One final piece of homework for you, read If we’re serious about ending men’s violence against women and girls, we need to listen to feminists, then find one to listen to.