Joe Mixon’s OU football career is in jeopardy before it’s even begun. Perhaps the most ballyhooed OU recruit since Adrian Peterson and Rhett Bomar didn’t even make it to August before drawing the interest of Norman peace officers.
An OU student says Mixon hit her early Friday morning, breaking four bones in her face. Norman police are investigating.
Who knows what happened and what will happen? Maybe Mixon is a thug, and if so, might as well discover it now, although that’s no consolation for the coed. If Mixon slugged a woman, he should be gone, regardless of the district attorney’s ultimate decision.
The patience for assaults on women is growing thin in the athletic arena, hither and yon. The ridiculously lenient NFL suspension of Ray Rice (two games for dragging his then-fiancee out of an elevator by the hair on her head) flamed the topic just a couple of days ago. And Bob Stoops has had to wrestle with the issue repeatedly this calendar year, first with the Frank Shannon sexual assault allegation, followed by OU’s decision to bring in transfer Dorial Green-Beckham, who at Missouri had been accused of pushing a female student down a flight of stairs.
Or maybe Mixon was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, which is not to be confused with bad luck. No matter what happened, Mixon put himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Campus Corner, just after the bars closed, 2:40 a.m.
It’s easy for all of us over 20 to say get your butt home at a reasonable hour.
Nothing good comes from seeking adventure between midnight and dawn. But that’s a lesson many have to learn from experience.
“When you’re 19 or 20 years old, I don’t know what you would say to ’em,” said Trent Smith, an all-Big 12 tight end at OU in 2002. “If you’re that age, and you’re away from home for the first time … I remember what I was like. It was very liberating.”
How do coaches preach against that?
“I don’t know what you do on that,” Smith said. “I’m sure that’s a question every major college football coach has asked himself a million times. I don’t know what you can say to ’em. You can scare ’em. But guys are going to be guys. They’re responsible for their actions. You can’t fix stupid.”
Paul Thompson, who quarterbacked OU to the 2006 Big 12 championship, remembers those times well.
“You get that freedom, you’re on your own for the first time in your life,” Thompson said. “A lot of players will take advantage of that. A lot of people. Students as well. You can now do things you wouldn’t do when you were living with your parents. Whether it’s good or bad, the party doesn’t have to stop when the street lights come on, like it did when you were at home.”
This is not necessarily a football problem or an athletic problem. It’s a student life problem. The only differences are, football players at schools like OU tend to draw attention, especially if alcohol is involved, and if things get wayward, the story makes the newspaper.
But athlete or not, let’s hear no more nonsense that every student walks on the edge, that every student tempts the fates. That’s not true and it’s a cop-out to say so.
There is one difference between the athlete and non-athlete: athletes are repeatedly warned about their fish bowl existence and the possible consequences.
Thompson said OU’s staff had student trainers who hung out with the players socially and would report to coaches if someone flirted with trouble. Stoops annually brings in speakers to talk to his team, including Norman police officials, who talk about driving under the influence, public intoxication, assault circumstances. “He educates players very, very well,” Thompson said. “It’s just a degree of responsibility each player has to have. Sometimes they slip up.”
Thompson, about as straight an arrow as you’ll find, slipped up himself. In 2004, Thompson left a party around midnight, drove home, was pulled over and eventually charged with DUI.
Thompson said his exemplary record to that point kept him from too much hot water.
His team punishment was internal (extra conditioning drills), and Thompson eventually worked his way back into Stoops’ good graces.
“He’s pretty fair when it comes to treating players equally, when it comes to dishing out punishment,” Thompson said. “He let everybody know, we have something we have to live up to and hold as far as representing the university.”
Thompson got wiser. Maybe the Mixon case can at least serve as warning to other athletes. The risk far outweighs the rewards.
Smith said he saw plenty of 3 a.m.’s his first year or two on campus. But eventually, the allure was gone.
“For most (older) guys, they’re getting their degree, thinking about their future, ‘where I’m going to work, how I’m going to make a living,’” Smith said. “Becoming a man. You get interested in other things. Not wanting to go to the frat houses, not wanting to stay out to closing time on Campus Corner.”
But the younger guys are excited at the lack of restraints.
“You get a little bit of freedom, you want to fit in, you want to hang with the crowd, whatever,” Thompson said. “You can get yourself in trouble. Especially if alcohol is involved, incidents are going to take place.”
Smith said one problem is that older players, who have learned a thing or two, and younger players, who haven’t, don’t much mix socially. “I wasn’t real close to any of the young guys in my meeting room,” Smith said. “A lot of the older guys aren’t going the same places the younger guys are.”
It’s a combustible recipe. And coaches have to weigh a variety of factors in trying to mentor, and discipline, the players in their charge.
“I feel bad for coaches, because they are responsible for 105 student-athletes,” Thompson said. “They get a lot of the blame when they get in trouble. But what are your kids doing right now? Most people don’t know what their own two, three kids are doing.”
And so Joe Mixon’s football career, and maybe the course of his life, hangs in the balance after a too-late night on Campus Corner.
“You gotta be smarter than that,” Smith said. “I don’t know what he was doing, I wasn’t there. But Mom always said, ‘Nothing good happens after midnight.’
“The common sense reaction is get your (butt home). What are you doing? I think a normal response of guys like you and like me and any normal person is, what are you doing? You’re being an idiot. You’re blowing it. You’ve got the world on a silver platter and you’re trying to give it away.”
And that comes from a guy who admits he didn’t always get his butt home when he was 19. At best, and there is a lot of room for worse, Joe Mixon was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
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.
Ron Rivers, a former NFL player and Joe Mixon’s coach at Freedom High School in Oakley, Calif., was surprised by the allegations made against Mixon.