NORMAN — Strange times around Oklahoma football these days.
Unbridled excitement, courtesy of beating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. A bunch of youthful veterans, a quarterback who outdueled A.J. McCarron, a defense Mike Stoops loves and a navigable schedule.
But also in the mix is the Shakespearian tragedy of Joe Mixon, on the heels of Dorial Green-Beckham and Frank Shannon, in an American sports landscape that suddenly is quite ready to shine a bright light on athletes’ violence against women.
It all makes for an odd feeling. Let the games begin, because the Sooners look to be loaded, but because of legal issues, we don’t even know who will be on the roster. Heck, OU has two No. 20s, Mixon and Shannon, in limbo.
The Sooners’ new team leader, quarterback Trevor Knight, offered a glimpse into the weird feeling.
“I hurt for ’em,” Knight said Saturday at OU Media Day, talking of teammates who have encountered trouble. “We all make mistakes. That’s just how you respond to it. Obviously, being an athlete, you have to put yourself on a pedestal and not do some things you shouldn’t and have a conscious mind about that.
“But things are going to happen. I’m not here to bash them or anything like that. I want to be there for them. That’s what everybody on our team is for. So I’m not on one side or the other. I hurt for them and hope they get back.”
Knight offered lots of support but felt compelled to straddle the fence a little and not take sides. That’s what happens when one teammate (Shannon) is accused of sexual assault, another (Green-Beckham) shows up from Missouri having been asked to leave in part because he allegedly pushed a woman down a flight of stairs and another (Mixon) is under police investigation after an altercation on Campus Corner in which a 20-year-old OU coed suffered severe facial injuries. Shannon and DGB are practicing with the Sooners, though the latter hasn’t been granted eligibility for 2014. Mixon is not practicing.
Bob Stoops on Saturday didn’t want to talk about Mixon, OU’s most acclaimed recruit since Adrian Peterson 10 years ago. Stoops didn’t talk about Mixon.
“The Joe Mixon situation that isn’t resolved yet, I’m unable to speak in regard to anything to do with that situation,” Stoops said.
But Stoops has a lot of pride. A lot of pride in his program and a lot of belief in what he does. So we still gathered a little insight into the Mixon situation, which enters its third week with no resolution.
The entire state seems to have engaged in constant debate about what happened in the witching hour of July 25 and what now should happen to the tailback prodigy. Stoops won’t dignify the debate. But know this. He doesn’t take his responsibilities lightly. And that doesn’t mean just his responsibilities to the university.
“You can’t just get rid of kids,” Stoops said the other day. “You can’t throw them away like they’re a commodity. There’s a lot to consider.”
That’s not a sign that Mixon will carry the ball against Texas in nine weeks. It’s merely a sign that Stoops won’t cave in to public sentiment or won’t automatically sacrifice Mixon for the greater good of the Sooners’ image. Of course, some things are out of Stoops’ hands. The Shannon case is a university affair, with a Title IX investigation ongoing. It’s conceivable that Mixon’s case rises above Stoops’ head.
But Stoops stood by his program’s reputation. “I’ve been here 16 years, so there’s a long track record of what we’ve done,” Stoops said.
Of course, it’s Green-Beckham’s fortune — and Mixon’s misfortune — that DGB arrived in Norman before the Pickleman’s incident. Reverse the order, and Green-Beckham might not have been given an OU scholarship. Too much bad press. Even Stoops answers to president David Boren.
But DGB is here, and now it’s Mixon whose future is in limbo.
“Every situation’s different,” Stoops said Saturday, saying there “isn’t any line in the sand.”
Stoops said that he didn’t deliver any different message to his incoming team this season than any other year. “Not in particular, because we cover everything you can cover,” Stoops said. “And we have for going on 16 years.”
Maybe so. But Stoops’ tone and tenor had to be different. Had to be a little more forceful. Even for a coach who does not look upon his players as commodities and for a team that appears championship-caliber, this OU season is off to a start that’s far too uncomfortable.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.
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