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Berry Tramel

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Did OU fail Joe Mixon?

by Berry Tramel Published: July 28, 2014

 

Brent Clark is a Norman attorney, OU football historian and a former NCAA investigator. He’s also a friend of mine and a close observer of all kinds of things.

Brent sent me an interesting take on the Joe Mixon situation. I thought I would share it. And the title will grab you.

HOW THE UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA FAILED JOE MIXON

1. Assistant coaches — not educators, not students at OU, not members of the Norman community — came to romance Mixon at his home in Oakley, Calif. They did this because it is what they get paid handsomely to do; recruit star athletes. These coaches are judged on only one thing: bringing home the bacon.

2. Researchers say the average person is lied to between 10 and 200 times per day. It’s hard to know how Mixon could accurately judge the liars from the truthers since he wished very much to believe what they were saying and he had no firsthand knowledge of the representations made to him.

3. He visited the OU campus and was given a pre-planned, unrealistic view of life at OU and in Norman.

4. Based upon what he saw, heard and in comparison to other colleges, he chose OU.

5. He reported in early summer to OU where he was immediately judged by other incoming athletes, upper classmen, coaches and most importantly, strength and conditioning coach Jerry Schmidt. What is implied but not stated is: “We’re going to test your manhood to see if you have what it takes to survive and thrive in our sometimes brutal environment.” As we have seen with other young men arriving on campus, the first few months are critical. Young men, feeling the pressure in a strange environment, fall back on what they know —“I’m tougher than you.”

6. Mixon made it known in the several weeks prior to the Pickelman’s incident that he was bored and lonely. This he did by social media and some personal statements. The university certainly knew or should have known the young man’s emotional struggles.

7. OU now employs dozens of young men and women within the athletic department. There is even a player personnel director. Seeing them reminds one of the army of “yes men” following Hollywood studio kingpin Darryl Zanuck around the Fox back lot in the 1940s.

8. In this environment, Mixon found his way, on his birthday — let me repeat, on his 18th birthday — to a sandwich shop on Campus Corner, where he stayed way too late. It appears no one within the athletic department was monitoring the situation enough to make sure that he had a happy and safe birthday among friends. That alone is a tragedy for which the university bears responsibility. In loco parentis still applies to universities who attract students to its campuses. A young girl, a student, at Pickelman’s suffered an injury. Mixon, a student, suffered his own kind of injury.

9. Personal responsibility is something all young people must grow into. The problem signs were there regarding Joe Mixon. And the University of Oklahoma failed him.

Now that’s interesting. Incredibly interesting. And before you ask, “In loco parentis” is Latin for “in place of the parents.”

Here is my response. I don’t think a campus or a university or a football program should take the place of parents. No doubt recruits have an unrealistic view of campus life when they arrive. And probably not just football players.

The point about the summer of tested-manhood is excellent. It’s a recipe for disaster. You go from feted recruit to a virtual boot camp. Emotions are fairly thin by sundown.

As for Mixon’s lamentations on social media, claims of homesickness and such, I wouldn’t read too much into that. There are 100 different degrees of homesickness, from “man, I wish I had a Luigi’s pizza,” to “I can’t stand it anymore, I’m going home.” There was no reason to think Joe Mixon had a serious case of homesickness or any emotional struggles.

There is no doubt that OU employs dozens of people whose job, in some form or another, is to monitor the ballplayers. But at what point must that stop? It seems to me we need less intrusion of athletes’ lives, not more. We don’t need more glorified baby-sitting, we need less.

College is partly about growing up. It’s hard to grow up when you’re being monitored round the clock. I don’t see how a university can be on 24-hour alert.

Did OU bring Joe Mixon to Norman under false pretenses? I would say no. Did OU bring Joe Mixon to Norman under salesmanship pretenses? Sure. Is Mixon responsible for whatever happened? Yes. Are there steps a school can take to instill in its athletes better decision-making? Yes.

But Brent raises some interesting questions about a process that is in constant need of inspection.

 

by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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