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Bengals owner writes letter defending drafting of Joe Mixon

What do you do with Joe Mixon? Oklahoma's -- and college football's -- existential question for the past three years became the NFL's this spring as the lightning rod Sooners running back went pro. The league itself didn't have a great answer, straddling a half-measured line between full acceptance and Taking A Stand.

Mixon was not invited to the NFL Combine in February but treated as a regular player thereafter. He was ultimately selected with the 48th overall pick by the Cincinnati Bengals, the fourth of 26 running backs taken throughout last weekend.

Bengals owner Mike Brown penned an open letter defending the pick to the Cincinnati Enquirer. We've printed it below, with discussion points afterward.

In the NFL draft last Friday, the Cincinnati Bengals selected a very talented football player who did a terrible thing his freshman year at college.

The player — Joe Mixon — is a top level football player by everyone's account. Joe's regrettable deed was that he struck a young woman, another student, shortly after arriving on campus in Norman, Oklahoma, three years ago.

Joe and this young woman recently met in person, came to terms with the incident, and they agreed to resolve their differences so they could move forward with their lives. While the circumstances that led up to the incident are unclear — what is clear is that it is unacceptable for a man to strike a woman.

Since the incident three years ago, Joe was suspended by the football team, pleaded guilty in court, and accepted the consequences of his actions. He later went on to become a good citizen in Norman, a popular teammate, a player respected by his coaches, and one of the most talented players in college football.

The Bengals take pride in our hometown and want to provide winning football on the field and successful players off the field. That is the reason we drafted Joe — he is a rare football talent, and his conduct over the past three years leads us to believe he can help us win football games and also become a productive member of this community.

In making our decision, we took a risk. In this case, the risk has an upside as well as a downside. We believe Joe has put this behind him and that he can turn into the player and community member that creates a plus for Cincinnati. We are going to do everything in our power to make this happen. Our hope is that time will prove that this opportunity is deserved, and perhaps — if given a chance — Joe can write a chapter in Cincinnati sports history that both he and Cincinnati can be proud of.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Mike Brown, President

I'm going to now reprint the letter with emphasis added.

In the NFL draft last Friday, the Cincinnati Bengals selected a very talented football player who did a terrible thing his freshman year at college.

The player — Joe Mixon — is a top level football player by everyone's account. Joe's regrettable deed was that he struck a young woman, another student, shortly after arriving on campus in Norman, Oklahoma, three years ago.

Joe and this young woman recently met in person, came to terms with the incident, and they agreed to resolve their differences so they could move forward with their lives. While the circumstances that led up to the incident are unclear — what is clear is that it is unacceptable for a man to strike a woman.

Since the incident three years ago, Joe was suspended by the football team, pleaded guilty in court, and accepted the consequences of his actions. He later went on to become a good citizen in Norman, a popular teammate, a player respected by his coaches, and one of the most talented players in college football.

The Bengals take pride in our hometown and want to provide winning football on the field and successful players off the field. That is the reason we drafted Joe — he is a rare football talent, and his conduct over the past three years leads us to believe he can help us win football games and also become a productive member of this community.

In making our decision, we took a risk. In this case, the risk has an upside as well as a downside. We believe Joe has put this behind him and that he can turn into the player and community member that creates a plus for Cincinnati. We are going to do everything in our power to make this happen. Our hope is that time will prove that this opportunity is deserved, and perhaps — if given a chance — Joe can write a chapter in Cincinnati sports history that both he and Cincinnati can be proud of.

It's easy to write the bolded off as cynicism, but it's true. Mixon was a 5-star prospect out of high school. How patient do you think Bob Stoops would have been with him in 2014 had Mixon been a 3-star?

Similarly, Mixon's singular talent is what got him into the NFL. Had he been the 22nd-most talented back in the 2017 Draft class, he probably wouldn't have been drafted at all. But he was the fourth. (This isn't unique to football, by the way. It's a law of society. Robert Downey, Jr., snorted himself out of Hollywood twenty years ago, but now he's one of the most bankable stars in entertainment because he can act like... well, like Robert Downey, Jr.)

Bengals fans can be understandably frustrated their team took a player caught on video striking a woman, but how many would understand if Mixon scored a game winning touchdown for the Steelers that knocked Cincinnati out of the playoffs?

Second, it's worth noting that, from a legal and civil perspective, the Mixon case is over. He served no jail time for punching Amelia Molitor; the two sides have settled their civil case and met in person. At what point do we as a society accept the past for what it is and allow perpetrators to pursue a living in a profession willing to employ them?

The most prominent victim advocate in football today, Brenda Tracy, advocates a 1-strike policy for all domestic violence. “What would happen if every player from junior high on up knew if he hit a woman he wouldn’t play football, wouldn’t go to his dream college?" she asked a room full of coaches at the AFCA Convention in January.

Hitting women is abhorrent and indefensible, and if someone wants to draw a line there -- you can't play on my team or in my league -- it's hard to argue otherwise. Playing football is a privilege, say coaches of players who treat football like it's not a privilege.

But does casting aside people who make singular -- abhorrent, indefensible, but singular -- mistakes serve society's interests? Are we a society of punishment or rehabilitation? If it's the latter, does it help society's ends to surround Mixon with positive role models in coaches and teammates, with structure and accountability, and with clear incentives for positive behavior? Or is it not society's job to rehabilitate men who hit women?

I don't know the answers to these questions. I doubt Mike Brown does either. But I hope we collectively find one in the coming years, and I think the Mixon case will be instructive in getting there.