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The minute Joe Mixon’s name is called at next week’s NFL Draft, the tape will be cued up.
It will show the Oakley native and former Freedom High star breaking off one of his patented long touchdowns en route to setting Oklahoma’s record for all-purpose yards in a season.
And it will show the other footage for which Mixon is known — a July 25, 2014 surveillance video from a cafe in Norman, Okla, when he punched a young woman in the face.
The girl, Amelia Molitor, suffered four facial fractures, including a broken jaw. The assault cost Mixon his freshman year, a punishment coach Bob Stoops later admitted wasn’t severe enough. It’ll cost him money too when the first-round talent likely slides in the draft.
There is no question about the talent, but many questions about the character.
“If he weren’t in any trouble at all, if he were a clean player, I think he would be the second running back picked in the draft,” said Gil Brandt, a SiriusXM NFL analyst and a former long-time talent evaluator for the Dallas Cowboys.
But it’s way more complicated than that. Mixon’s incident was caught on surveillance tape and like Ray Rice before him, the footage is not easily forgotten. Some teams, like the New England Patriots, have said he’s not on their draft board.
The Raiders haven’t commented publicly yet, but may feel the same way — even though running back is among their greatest needs. (John Lynch, the 49ers’ first-year general manager, declined to say whether or not Mixon was on his board). While the Raiders reportedly brought Mixon in for a pre-draft visit, they have an owner in Mark Davis who has been outspoken about a zero tolerance policy against domestic violence.
Tracey Belitnikoff, the daughter of former Raiders great Fred Belitnikoff, was killed in 1999 by her boyfriend. Her death shook the Raiders family and is a large reason why Davis has said in the past he won’t have any patience for players with domestic violence issues.
For his part, former Raiders coach and current ESPN analyst Jon Gruden expects the Raiders would pass.
“I have not met with Mixon.” Gruden said on a media teleconference. “I do not know the exact nature of his case, but based on my history with the Raiders, I would probably say with the knowledge that I have that he would not be on their board.”
But somebody will take Mixon, just like the Kansas City Chiefs grabbed Tyreek Hill in the fifth round last year and landed an All-Pro talent. Hill had pleaded guilty to a 2014 incident in which he strangled and punched his pregnant girlfriend.
When you can play, there’s a risk-reward factor that some team will find acceptable. How big is that risk with Mixon?
Those connected to him hope he’s not judged on that one moment.
“He made a poor decision,” said Kevin Hartwig, Mixon’s football coach at Freedom High. “I definitely don’t condone it. He doesn’t condone that. It just was a reactionary thing for him. It’s not a pattern thing. It was just a bad situation by two teenagers. It’s just hard to define him by that picture.”
The Mixon that Hartwig knows is the one who will see kids on a basketball court and jump in for a pickup game or light up a room with his charisma.
“I think that’s the message and the Joe that people need to see,” Hartwig said. “Unfortunately, they see a clip of a very wrong decision on his part, but there’s more to the story.”
Mixon didn’t get to share his side at the NFL scouting combine, the league’s biggest job interview. He wasn’t invited. That’s one way the league is attempting to punish those who are involved in these types of incidents in college.
His agent, Peter Schaffer, thinks that ended up being a good thing.
“As opposed to the 15 minutes of speed dating that you have at the combine, teams have been able to spend the whole day with him,” Schaffer said Wednesday in an interview on SiriusXM radio. “And teams that have spent the whole day have come away with a great understanding of the young man’s football knowledge, his intellect, his intelligence and his humility. And I think that’s been a blessing for him.”
Some will say Mixon doesn’t deserve that blessing. That his tearful apology in December, almost 2½ years after the incident (he said lawyers advised him against talking earlier), will never be enough.
“I take full responsibility on what happened that night,” Mixon said at his December news conference. “It’s never OK to hit a woman — never. I will preach that to anybody. It’s never OK, and hopefully people around the world can learn from my mistake and I’m willing to teach.”
It hasn’t helped Mixon’s case that last season he earned himself another suspension — this for one game — for an incident with a parking attendant. According to the incident report, he ripped up a citation and threw it back in the attendant’s face.
And then on Wednesday came a quickly recanted report alleging Mixon had hit another girl while in high school. During a videotaped interview with police, Molitor’s attorney read a statement from Anthony Hernandez claiming that, while at Freedom, Mixon had thrown his daughter to the ground and hit her and the school refused to punish him.
As that briefly gathered steam following a story posted on ProFootballTalk.com, Mixon’s lawyer, Blake Johnson, contacted the website and presented them with Hernandez’s recantation which said he was “mistaken about Joe’s involvement.”
“I do not believe Joe ever did anything to hurt my daughter,” Hernandez wrote, according to the clarification Mixon’s attorney provided. Hernandez, who said he would not respond to any further media inquiries, added that Mixon and his daughter remain good friends.
Hartwig was on the phone with one of several NFL teams he’s spoken to in recent weeks when the initial report came across Wednesday morning.
“The guy says, ‘Hey, look what I just read? Is this true?’,” Hartwig said. “I know every football player. I know if they’re tardy, if they fart, I know everything, and nothing like that ever happened.”
Mixon will have to get used to that type of scrutiny because people will be looking and waiting for him to falter.
“Any time something good is going to happen, this is going to come up and that’s where I think he’s at now and he realizes it,” Hartwig said. “He’s doing as well as a 20-year-old can do. He’s got his head up and he’s moving forward and meeting with these teams and they’re getting a chance to really see who he is.”
It’s difficult to gauge exactly how the draft will go for Mixon. He’s met with about a dozen teams. The measurables and accolades — a strong 6-foot-1, 226-pound frame, 4.50 time in the 40-yard dash, 2,331 all-purpose yards at Oklahoma last season and first-team All-Big 12 honors — are there.
“I’m told by people that are supporting the Joe Mixon cause that he’s going in the top 50 of this draft,” said Phil Savage, a former NFL general manager and personnel director who runs the Senior Bowl. “If I were in that chair making the choice, I don’t think I would have a comfort level taking him until at least the third day of the draft.”
Schaffer, Mixon’s agent, isn’t concerned with where his client is taken. He’s eager to see what happens next.
“You cannot allow the draft to define your career,” Schaffer said. “What’s going to define your career is what you do on Sunday for hopefully the next decade. What you do off the field, what you do in the locker room and what you do with your family and your faith.
“Regardless of where you get drafted, you can bitch and moan about it all you want or go out there and prove they were wrong. That’s what going to matter.”