CINCINNATI -- Whatever happened to the simple, unthinking life of a sports fan? All we worried about was winning and losing. It was straightforward, clear-cut. There were no gray areas.
Now we're faced with a new decision, right versus wrong, bad versus good. Our handicapping dilemma has turned into a moral dilemma.
Blame Joe Mixon for changing the dynamic. We can't just debate his merits as a player. We need to decide whether he's worthy as a person.
Mixon, as most know by now, is a gifted athlete who once punched a young lady so hard that several bones in her face were broken. He was 18, young, stupid and reckless. Ordinarily, such Neanderthals are dealt with by the proper authorities, punished and sent on their way.
But not Joe Mixon. His football talents are so appealing that every NFL club would like to have him on the field on Sunday. But his deed was so blatant and so public that no NFL team wanted to touch him on draft day. Except, of course, the Bengals.
So here's where the dilemma begins. Mixon's athletic abilities make us excited. Yet Mixon's activities make us uncomfortable. He makes us squirm. That's why plenty of fans have damned the Bengals for selecting him. NFL analysts have assailed the Bengals for once again reaching out to the dark side.
Let's slow down a bit. I know the politically correct thing to do is show outrage for the Bengals' choice. The tactfully correct thing is to determine if this can be used to our advantage.
Let's consider a couple of things. First, Joe Mixon himself. Some have suggested that he be banned from football. What good would that do? Seems like he took the heat, did the time and settled the score. In regular life, he would be allowed to move on. Should we deny that? We've all seen unsavory politicians, entertainers, religious and even journalists get publicly tattooed, yet are allowed to resume their work. Why not Mixon? The difference is that he'll do his work in front of 60,000 fans every Sunday, many of whom will greet his every play with derision. I have no problem with that. He made his bed, let him sleep in it.
Then there's the Bengals. Some have suggested a boycott. What a short-sightsided idea. If you do that, you dismiss all the good work that's been done over the years. Marvin Lewis, Andy Dalton, Carlos Dunlap, Michael Johnson and many others have all done impactful things with their organizations. Even a chronic offender like Adam Jones gave away hundreds of new bikes to kids last Christmas. Former Bengal Anthony Munoz has a foundation that has awarded $10 million in scholarships over the years. Yeah, let's just ignore all the positives for that one dumb act.
I admit that the Bengals do have a strange attachment to wayward athletes. My longtime friend Dennis Janson used to compare Mike Brown to Father Flanagan, the patriarch of Boys Town, who found some good in every young man despite his past missteps. Now Mike has taken on his most criticized project - certainly soon to be his most scrutinized.
Maybe we should welcome this move. Too often, we get caught up in the emotion of the present and we lose sight of the long-range benefit. Maybe Joe Mixon can put a face on the problem of violence against women. Maybe his example will tell men that they can't hit women, and it starts with boys learning that they can't hit girls. Maybe his drafting will spark some needed conversation, Maybe it can open some eyes. Maybe with Joe Mixon around, we can't stick our heads in the sand any longer.
Lots of maybes. Of course, maybe not is also an option.
Joe Mixon's success as a Bengal isn't going to be measured by rushing yards or touchdowns scored. His success ultimately will be measured by whether he can weather the storm, withstand the taunts, and develop into a productive citizen and a responsible, caring human being.
The Bengals gave him a second chance. The next move is totally up to him.