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Why running back Joe Mixon is still on my Draft Board

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Domestic violence is too big an issue to condemn a young man for symbolic reasons. His past isn’t the question. Teams need to focus on what it says about his future, and that’s unknown.

NCAA Football: Texas Christian at Oklahoma Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Who is Joe Mixon? He’s a prospect from Oklahoma, one of the top 2-3 running backs in the draft, and the young man who punched a girl in the face. The event happened in 2014, when he was 18 years old. She pushed him in anger. He pushed her back. She slapped him. He punched her. She lay on the ground unconscious for several minutes and suffered multiple fractures.

Both criminal and civil charges ensued, went through the process, and ended. Oklahoma suspended Mixon for the entire year. He returned in 2015, became a star in 2016, and has now entered the NFL draft. His coaches, teammates, and every reporter I’ve found unanimously state that Mixon had no record of doing such a thing before, has never done it again, and has no reputation for being a danger to anyone other than opposing defenses. Then the video was released and the reactions began, with many teams supposedly declaring him “undraftable.”

I think that is unjust. I also think that people are piling on Joe Mixon as a sort of symbol, and that doing so hides the true depth of our problems with domestic violence. I have hesitated to write this article because I don’t look forward to the blowback, but I’ve now become convinced that doing so may help the country more than it’s going to hurt me. Here’s why.

Some Background: I live in Pittsburgh and have two daughters. One is a year older than Joe Mixon and the other a few years younger. I have also earned a reputation on this site for being a little intolerant about people who wink and nod at the dangers of domestic abuse. A few years ago there was a prominent offensive line prospect that many people on this list were hoping to see in the black and gold. That prospect had rumors swirling around to the effect that he treated women with casual, offhand disrespect that bordered on abuse, though he’d (probably) never crossed that line in any spectacular way. I stood up here and said something along these lines: "My daughters and their friends are likely to cross this young man’s path, and I will hold the Rooneys accountable if they fail to know the truth behind those rumors. ‘Offhand’, ‘casual’ and ‘repeated’ violations are a terrible sign...." I didn’t scream “No way!” but I did insist that ‘my’ owners should treat even those rumors as a major red flag that needed full investigation. In fact, I continue to believe those words – “offhand,” “casual,” and “repeated” – indicate a far greater problem than the single event in Mixon’s past.

I am a father, a husband, and a practicing attorney. In those roles I have heard scores of mothers – young and old – talking about both relationship abuse and child abuse. I used to do volunteer PFA (Protection From Abuse) work, in which I still learned more. And I have family, friends and colleagues who are policemen, prosecutors, criminal defense attorneys, family attorneys, and both attorneys and laymen who work in CYS related fields. I also had to study these things in school, where a significant part of 1st year Criminal Law involves stories that get you in real trouble if you try to share them with outsiders.

All of that experience convinces me that violence against those who are smaller and weaker is a normal part of the human experience. Ugly, but normal. And it’s not just men. I see a very strong parallel between what Joe Mixon did, and the young mother who reacts to a tantrum-driven kick in the ankle by belting her 4-year old. That’s just as inexcusable, and just as common – particularly if the mother is anything close to still being 18.

That doesn’t make it right. Not remotely. I could tell you stories… But I won’t. The point is this: A very large percentage of mothers have had a moment when they lost control, hauled off, and whacked their child in a moment of pure anger. The children in question get hurt every single time it happens – the size disparity is simply too great. Kids bounce, thank heaven, but it doesn’t leave them unmarked. In most cases it’s a bloody nose, a black eye, or the sort of bruising that would make you stare in horror. Sometimes that harm chanced to be worse, and the kids ended up with multiple fractures. Sometimes the damage turned out even worse than that and the authorities had to get involved. That’s right - multiple fractures make it onto the radar screen, but the first time they happen isn’t unusual enough to trigger serious red flags.

99.9-something% of the time this experience scarred the young mother worse than it did the kid. "How could I do such a thing! I am a BAD WOMAN!! I’m a monster straight out of the wicked stepmother stories! I deserve to be [fill in the blanked]." And that 99.9-something% of the time, the woman never did it again.

Was she a "bad mother?" In that one instant of time, yes. Of course she was. Anyone who slugs a four year old is a bad mother. Does hurting her beloved child make her a "bad mother" in all the other instants of time that make up a life? Certainly not, no matter the narrative she told herself in the dark of night. This single event makes her a good mother whose dark side slipped the leash, and who learned her limitations the hard way.

Does that viewpoint make me a person who "tolerates child abuse?" It damned well does not! I’m just someone who understands the difference between one instant where the person acted like a child abuser, and the real thing – where it happens over, and over, until the child dies, the mother dies, or the authorities step in. And believe me – those authorities do not lack for work.

The incidence of men hitting women is probably close to the incidence of women who hit children, plus a few extra percentage points because you have to add in alcohol (that great accelerant of social conflagrations), testosterone, the immaturity typical of young men, and the fact that much of the one-time hitting by men happens at ages like 17, 18, and 19, while most of the young mothers in question are closer to 25 and 30. That said, the emotional reality is much the same. Most men grow up believing they neither could nor would strike a woman in violent anger, and that anyone who does is some kind of alien. Then it happens - way, WAY more than you think. And when they see what they’ve done, 99.9-something% of those men recoil at horror. "I’m a BAD MAN. I’m a monster just like those guys I read about. I deserve to be [fill in the blanked]." And that 99.9-something% of the time, it never happens again. Follow the exact same chain. That young man committed an intolerable act of domestic abuse – once. That does not make him a "bad man" for all the other instants that make up a life. He may even be a good man if viewed in the longer and larger picture. Acknowledging this does not make me someone who tolerates domestic abuse.

Worried that I’m minimizing the problem? Stop for a moment and run the numbers. There are 100 million adult men in this country. One percent of one percent would total 10,000 men who do what Joe Mixon did – HABITUALLY! Not just once, but over and over again, every other week when they’ve had one drink too many, a bad day at the office, a burnt roast in the oven, or what have you. Worse yet, that number comes from filling in the “something” with the smallest possible number. Make it 99.95% instead of 99.99% and you’re up to 50,000 of the [deleted] SOB’s. Make it 95% and you’re at 5 million. If you had seen the pictures I’ve seen, and heard the stories I’ve heard, you’d also understand that every one of those women would consider themselves lucky beyond belief to only get punched a single time on any given "bad occasion." Your true domestic abuser doesn’t hurry away like Joe Mixon did. He stands over his victim and kicks her a few times for good measure. How dare you just lie there, trying to make me feel guilty! I’ll give you something to really cry about!”

So let’s be entirely clear about this – domestic violence of men against women is a social plague that must not and cannot be ignored if we want to call ourselves a civilized country, and violence against children isn’t that far behind.

I don’t know what that “something” figure actually is. I haven’t looked up the sociological studies. If you have, please share.[FN] The important point is that “99.9-something%” means two things at the same time: (A) true, habitual domestic abuse is a much bigger problem than most people want to believe, but also (B) the guy who hauls off and slugs a woman for the first time is not a "domestic abuser" any more than one pixel makes up a TV screen. He’s a man who did something terrible, not a terrible man. The woman who got hit deserves her justice, and the man deserves his punishment – but just for the one event. It needs to end there.

Is there a chance that the first time offender is a terrible man after all? Of course there is. There was a point in time when every one of the wife beating SOB’s out there had only hit a single woman a single time. The question is whether Joe Mixon is one of those, or one of the 99.9-something%. That is the question I require the NFL teams to explore before bringing this young man into my city. Or yours. Nothing less, and nothing more.

The past is done and over with. Mr. Mixon has paid his price to the criminal authorities, in the civil court, in years of public disgrace, and hopefully in years of self-flagellation. It is not for us to pile on and try to punish him some more. We just need to feel secure that he’s not the sort who will do it again.

This article began in the Comments section of someone else’s piece last week, so I’d like to take some final space to address some points that came up in that discussion.

First, let’s be entirely clear about this: neither I nor anyone else has said it’s okay for any man to hit any woman, even if she slapped him in the face. Just as it’s not “okay” for any woman to hit a child who kicked her in the ankle, or for me to respond to your slap by hitting you in the face with a baseball bat. Yes, the slap makes it easier to understand. We’ve all been young, and we all understand how such a thing could provoke a violent reflex. But the reason why 99.9-something% of the men don’t repeat their sin is because it’s wrong. Men are too much bigger than women to react in such a manner.

Next, there are going to be some younger readers who say, “Wait a second. Women are just as strong as men. Everybody says that. So why are you acting like a man hitting a woman is the same thing as me hitting you with a baseball bat?” If you’re that reader you have no need to feel embarrassed. Over the years I have had to explain to dozens – maybe even hundreds – of young men that women really are that much smaller and more delicate than we are. They’re equally “strong” when it comes to the all-important inner stuff like willpower, endurance, moral courage, and the other things that matter most. But when it comes to Monkey-Big and Monkey-Small? Abso-frickin’-lutely. There may actually a bigger disparity than you with a bat and me without. If it helps, I wouldn’t have believed that either until I actually lived with a woman and got to see it firsthand – and my particular woman is a multilevel black belt in more than one art, so my perspective is artificially skewed in the other direction.

There are also going to be some readers who argue, "You have to have a general disrespect for women to close your fist like Mixon did!" Not so, no more than that young mother has a general disdain for her baby. You can have all the respect and love in the world and one moment of mindless reflex will prove you wrong. Take my word for it: a huge percentage of men (and women) have been forced to learn that the hard way. [See the footnote].

Then there’s this one: “Are you really arguing that Ray Rice didn’t get what he deserved?” If you were around here when all that went down, you’ll know the answer. I do not believe that Ray Rice deserved a lifetime ban from the NFL. Nor do I think he got one. Rice was nearing the end of his career anyway. The suspension he received took him past the point in time when he could still make a team. It was a lifetime ban by accident, not intent.

“So you’re basically saying that all men get a one-time ‘Get Out Of Jail Free’ card, aren’t you?” Oh, please. Of course not. You do the crime, you do the time, and you also pay the fine. That is exactly what happened to Joe Mixon, and it’s exactly what ought to happen to everyone. The only variable is how much harm resulted from the particular punch. I’m not giving anyone a free ride, I’m just insisting that first-timers pale into insignificance next to the real problem. And I’m going on to say that since Joe Mixon is, so far, a one-timer only, his video-caught sin should have very little impact on his draft stock or his future unless he’s going to be a repeat offender. Neither you nor I have any grounds for making that judgment.

Finally, there’s the biggest of all the objections. “I have never hit a woman. Never! And neither I nor anyone I know ever would. There’s no way it’s anything like as common as you’re suggesting.” If that is true about you, then congratulations. Maybe you’ve just been lucky, or maybe you are one of those souls who’s less aggressive than the general population. But as for the people you know... You’re wrong. The odds are overwhelming. What you’re missing are the potent reasons why you would never hear about such a thing if it happened.

You have to understand that everybody – everybody – has a reason to hide the truth about how common this kind of thing is. The men who hurt a girl by accident don’t want to talk about it, and the girls have nothing to say either. Accidents happen. Neither wants anything more than to put the whole mess behind them.

The men who hurt a girl in a momentary spasm of rage certainly don’t want to talk about it, and the girls are going to be satisfied if the lesson has been learned – especially if they feel even the slightest guilt for helping to provoke it. Again, neither wants anything more than to put the whole mess behind them and work on the relationship.

As for the men who feel it’s okay to hurt girls... Well, they prefer to hide that fact and the women question are literally and legitimately scared for their lives. None of them are talking either.

As for the women who get out, they are now Exes, and we all know how much we discount stories from that direction.

The only people with any motive to talk about these situations are the public safety crowd, and those who live in a comfortable world have every reason to discount our reports too. There are always going to be extremists, after all, and they probably have some political agenda...

I consider myself part of that public safety crowd. I’ve spent the time to write this piece because it may just help the cause a little.

The bottom line is this: Men who hit women need to pay the price. But overpunishing the everyday, one-time offender will not help with that. It is more likely to get in the way of achieving true justice because it creates a false equivalence between an 18 year old kid who made one horrible mistake, and a 35 year old serial abuser who does far worse on a biweekly basis. Punishing Joe Mixon in the draft does no “draw a line in the sand”. It’s just a cheap way to feel righteous, while coincidentally sweeping the real problems under the rug. Again.

So is Joe Mixon part of the 99.9-something% who did a terrible act at age 18, learned his lesson! and deserves to be treated as a tiny blip on the radar screen of true domestic violence? Or is Joe Mixon one of the other sort – a monster in the making who was miraculously caught on film the first time out? In that case he’d have no part being in a civilized society and I can only hope he gets caught just as quickly when the next event occurs. And it will, because the repeat offenders don’t stop regardless of where they work. That’s not Ray Rice – it’s Aaron Hernandez. And there is a big, BIG difference between the two.

This is why Mixon remains on my Board. He’s earned a massive red flag that requires careful and professional investigation. He has not done something that should control the rest of his life, stop him from working in his chosen field, or even becoming a professional football player that earns gobs and gobs of money.

P.S. This isn’t an easy or a casual investigation. You can’t take the word of his friends, teammates, and coaches because men act differently in public than they do in private. You can’t even rely on talking to his girlfriend or his exes, because those are people with a huge amount of bias. This is why I emphasize the words “careful” and “professional”.

[FN] FULL DISCLOSURE: I have been a bit careless with the numbers to illustrate a point. Mrs. P. and I talked this over last night and agreed that the actual incidence of “did you ever, even once” violence is somewhere between a low of 20% and a high of 80%. That’s a lot of ignorance. I didn’t address it in the body of the article because it doesn’t change the basic point. Even 20% translates to one woman in every five belting a small child in a moment of rage, and one man in five attacking a woman with actual violence in his heart. That counts as “common” in my book. I’ve also used extreme numbers for the “did it happen a second time” portion. It may well be 95% instead of 99.9-something%. God forbid, it might even be 80%! I don’t know. But again, the point is the same. One time violence means a huge amount to the people involved, but it is not a reliable basis for condemning the smaller person as a perpetual victim, nor the larger one as a violent aggressor. Doing so is wrong as a matter of fact as well as morals.