Bob Stoops, the Oklahoma football coach, spent a lot of time on Wednesday -- a lot -- talking about one of his running backs, Joe Mixon. Of course, it is because a video of Mixon punching a young woman named Amelia (Mia) Molitor in 2014 has finally been released.
Stoops and University of Oklahoma president David Boren and athletic director Joe Castiglione first saw the video of what happened between Mixon and Molitor not long after the incident at a place called Pickleman's Café occurred. "Incident" in this case means a blow to Molitor's face that caused four broken bones. Even Ray Rice didn't cause that kind of damage to his then-fiancée, Janay Palmer, earlier the same year.
But in that moment, Pickleman's Café became the elevator in Atlantic City where Rice, in his own damning video, threw that punch and knocked down the woman who is now his wife, and effectively ended his football career with one violent and ugly moment. Mixon's OU football career did not end because of the punch he threw at a woman. He was suspended for a year and then he came back, and when Oklahoma was playing in the College Football Playoff last season, so was he.
Stoops explained on Wednesday why he did what he did, but also said that he would act differently now. He says there should be zero tolerance for an act like Mixon's. Here is just one excerpt from his press conference:
"Two and a half years ago, thought we had a significant penalty, a strong penalty. Now, it isn't enough. These individuals can't have a second chance. Just not acceptable. And they know it anymore, and they've been told enough. We have more meetings and things of that nature that instruct and let them know what appropriate behavior is and isn't and what the consequences are.
"Dismissal is really the only thing that is possible. A young guy having an opportunity to rehabilitate and to have some kind of discipline and come back from it is really not there anymore. Hopefully that message goes down even to the high school level that these things are just unacceptable to any degree and there's no recovering, I guess ... it never has been acceptable. What I'm saying is, there's no recovering from these incidents really anymore."
What is interesting is that I believe Stoops is right and wrong here at the same time. This is no defense or justification of what Mixon did, no act of absolution. His punch was as hideous as Rice's was that night, and seemingly without the added component of alcohol involved. Mixon will always have to live with the decision he made, in the moment, one that involved a violent and senseless act against a woman, whatever defenses we have heard in the past two years from Mixon's legal counsel. And Stoops now has to live with his own decision.
But when he prosecutes himself for saying that "these individuals can't have a second chance," when he prosecutes the second chance he himself decided to give Mixon, I believe he's wrong.
Stoops chose not to hand down the football death penalty that Rice would be given by professional football, a business in which Rice couldn't even get a tryout once the Baltimore Ravens released him, and despite the way he has gone around to schools all around the country as a way of telling young men not to make the mistake he made. Stoops chose differently with Mixon, 18 at the time of the incident, even as he second-guesses his own second chance now.
Here is something else Stoops said:
"In the end, it's easy to just dismiss it or remove a guy and head on down the road, but in the end, too, I may have too strong a commitment to these guys that I recruit. Always have. I believe in them, and I believe at that time that a young 18-year old deserved an opportunity to redeem himself and to improve from it and to someday possibly be forgiven. And if that can't happen, that can't happen. But that was the intent."
Of course, you can come at this from 50 different angles. You can ask yourself if Stoops would have been this forgiving with another 18-year-old who was third or fourth on the depth charts, and couldn't run with a football under his arm the way Mixon can. You can ask why the men in charge of the football program could be as forgiving as they were in a Ray Rice world. You can once again start a conversation about zero tolerance in any case involving domestic violence. But when you do, you have to ask yourself if zero tolerance would be applied in cases like these if they involved school teachers or lawyers or bankers or bus drivers. If Ray Rice were a lawyer, for example, and had done everything to rehabilitate himself the way Rice has over the past two years, would he still not be allowed to practice law?
Mixon, by the way, did himself no favors with his explanation of the incident to police, footage of which was obtained by The Oklahoman:
"The gay dude … he called me something. He was like [slur]. So then I was like, you got me messed up. And then I called him a [slur]. And after that, the girl, she dropped her purse, that's when she came in my face, pushed me, and then my glasses came off, and then, like, I had, like, jumped at her, like, to watch out. And then she came in my face. I put my head down. And she swung on me.
"And after that, like, I was so shocked, because she hit me so hard. It felt like a dude hit me. And after that, like, my face went boom, my reaction was just right there."
Yeah. His reaction was right there. The kind of reaction from men that doesn't seem to change even as the world keeps changing, as the world becomes smarter on this subject, and less tolerant every time we learn of another incident like this. Now we learn all about Joe Mixon, this long after the fact, because of the footage from Pickleman's Café.
Now Bob Stoops, who was the real judge and jury on Mixon at Oklahoma, explains his verdict, and is the one who is getting hit for it. Stoops is right and wrong at the same time about the second chance that was the real verdict on Joe Mixon. But more right.