Joe Mixon's Combine Ban Is Just More Misguided, Unproductive NFL 'Discipline'

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterFebruary 23, 2017

NORMAN, OK - NOVEMBER 12:   Running back Joe Mixon #25 of the Oklahoma Sooners warms up before the game against the Baylor Bears November 12, 2016 at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Oklahoma. Oklahoma defeated Baylor 45-24. (Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images) *** local caption *** Joe Mixon;
Brett Deering/Getty Images

Boy, the NFL sure is teaching Joe Mixon a lesson.  

Mixon, perpetrator of a brutal captured-on-video 2014 assault of Oklahoma student Amelia Molitor, was not invited to next week's scouting combine.

In fact, no player with an assault-related charge on his docket is allowed to participate: no Mixon, no dog-abuser Ishmael Zamora of Baylor, no alleged threat-spewing, arrest-resisting Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly.

That'll teach the scoundrels. They won't get to be grilled about their behavior and character by 32 teams in an exhausting marathon of cross-examinations. They won't be able to hold a contentious press conference in front of the entire NFL media. Their responses won't spark sports-talk conversations about their crimes or their worthiness to be cheered as NFL heroes.

Wait...how is banning someone like Mixon from the combine a punishment again?

"The concept is a good idea," one NFL executive told me. "But the inconsistency and execution is horrible and embarrassing."

The inconsistency stems from the simple fact that Mixon will almost definitely be drafted, probably in an early round. If Tyreek Hill's 2016 season is any indicator, Mixon's assault will be brushed aside in favor of Player of the Week honors and cover-boy treatment on the NFL.com website as soon as he starts churning out 100-yard games.

The only meaningful event Mixon and the others are excluded from is the one where they must talk about what they did without hiding behind a highlight reel.

"All the people they are excluding are all going to be in the NFL next year," the executive told me. "So what is the stance? We're not letting them come to the combine, but they are going to play in the league? Think about how irrational that is. ...

"It's like saying: You can't come to the engagement party, but you can come to the wedding."

Mixon even gets to participate in University of Oklahoma's pro day, a decision made by the school, not the NFL. So Mixon will produce 40 times we can insert into our mock drafts, and he'll produce workout videos for the endless loop of predraft talk shows. Scouts will be able to report back to their teams about his exact measurements and results, all of which are expected to be first-round caliber.

Mixon just won't have to explain himself: why he punched Molitor, why he directed an anti-gay slur toward her friend in the moments before the incident, where his moral compass really points or anything else.

Joe Mixon was part of Oklahoma's Sugar Bowl team this past season.
Joe Mixon was part of Oklahoma's Sugar Bowl team this past season.Sean Gardner/Getty Images

The executive I spoke to isn't the only NFL decision-maker with concerns about the NFL's new policy. Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reported that several team employees expressed doubts last week. "Any of these guys with question marks need to be vetted," one insider said.

Teams interested in Mixon or the others can still get the information they need. They can fly top brass to pro days, or they can fly the controversial prospects to team headquarters for private interviews.

There's an argument to be made that forcing potential employers to jump over some minor hurdles to get the information they need is a form of punishment for the players. But we made drafting you less convenient is not exactly bold condemnation of violent behavior by the NFL. Sound policy decisions arise from making access to information easier, not harder.

There's also another side to the exclusion policy.

Former Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns executive Joe Banner agrees with the combine restrictions in principle. "There's nothing wrong with showing these guys there's a consequence to their actions," he said.

But Banner expressed concern about players whose past crimes aren't as severe or graphic as Mixon's 2014 assault. "At some point there is going to be a legitimate argument about where the line is drawn," he said. "We could actually see someone who's not as clear-cut prevented from participating in the future."

Players who make a genuine effort to make amends may also be excluded.

Apr 11, 2015; Tallahassee, FL, USA; Florida State Seminoles quarterback De'Andre Johnson (14) during the spring game at Doak Campbell Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports
Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

Take the case of De'Andre Johnson, currently a quarterback at Florida Atlantic University. Florida State kicked Johnson off the program for punching a woman in 2015. He enrolled at East Mississippi Community College, where he not only played football but made a serious commitment to changing his ways.

"He did anger management," Johnson's father told Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports. "He visited domestic-violence shelters. He did camps with kids and spoke on the campus. He met some nice people in the cafeteria that took him to church. It was very structured. He maintained great grades and he embraced the whole thing."

Johnson resurfaced at FAU thanks in part to a glowing recommendation by EMCC's president. His father said Johnson plans to continue speaking out against violence against women.

Contrast Johnson's story of real consequences and contrition with Oklahoma's coddling of Mixon and Sorry I got caught, please let me play in the bowl game apology two years after the event.

Players like Johnson should have some avenue toward participation in the combine, according to Craig Adamson. Adamson is the provost at the International Institute of Restorative Practices, an organization which advocates for a victim-and-community-centered approach to justice.

"Let's say he went through a restorative process," Adamson said of a prospect like Johnson. "Let's say he did repair the harm, took the steps to make amends, and any treatment that went along with it was meaningful.

"Now, at the combine they say, 'Sorry, but what you did two-and-a-half years ago is still on the record. You can't do any of this.' There needs to be some sort of situational waivers if this is going to be an informed part of the process moving on."

There do not appear to be any exceptions to the new combine policy, which has only been articulated in a series of memos and still isn't particularly clear on the details. If Johnson or any other prospect has a cautionary tale to tell, an emphatic condemnation of his past mistakes to make or a positive message of the value of therapy or counseling to share, we may never hear it at a combine.

Wait: It gets worse. Johnson is a fringe prospect for 2018 precisely because Florida State booted him. Mixon remains a big-name because Oklahoma protected him. Combine-exclusion hurts fringe prospects much more than it hurts big-program studs. The new policy rewards players for their part in staying quiet.

Horrible and embarrassing.

The combine ban flies in the face of what both NFL execs and social-justice experts wish to see from prospects with violent incidents on their blotter. The exec I spoke to wants to see the players do "real stuff" to atone for their mistakes, as opposed to "window-dressing bullcrap."

Adamson's restorative justice approach carries similar expectations: Punishment may be a necessary step, but it's not the most important or most useful step. "There's quite a few proven techniques that can help NFL players to not react violently or aggressively toward people," Adamson said. "How are we proactively building these skills and proficiencies for folks?"

Like most NFL policies, the combine ban has little or nothing to do with what's best for victims, what's best for society, what's an effective discipline tactic, what allows teams to make the most informed decisions or even what's fair for the prospects themselves. It's all about what's best for the NFL, in the most shortsighted possible way.

The combine ban lets the NFL look tough on domestic violence and similar crimes. It gets Mixon out of the news cycle so the NFL can merrily promote 40-yard dashes for a week. When some team drafts Mixon in the second round in late April, that's the team's public relations nightmare to worry about, not the league's.

The NFL remains 100 percent committed to appearing to be 100 percent committed to addressing violence against women. It perceives incidents like Mixon's as PR problems to be solved with punishment, not as complex issues that require a coherent, consistent policy.

So instead of a week of real questions and real answers at the combine, we will address big problems with a mixture of uninformed speculation and silence.

Embarrassing. And horrible.

   

Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.

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