CINCINNATI – The Bengals proved again that they are a team of second chances. Or, some might say, a franchise without a moral compass.
The Bengals didn’t let Joe Mixon's assault on a woman stop them from picking the controversial Oklahoma running back in the second round of the NFL Draft Friday night.
Three years ago, Mixon, then 18, viciously punched a 20-year-old woman in the face in a restaurant at 2:30 a.m. The roundhouse punch, caught on video, broke her nose and three bones, she said. Mixon wasn't invited to the NFL Combine after the video came out in December. He settled a lawsuit from the woman just last week.
WATCH the video (Some people will find it disturbing):
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis expected a negative reaction - "Some of our fans will probably pause for a second," he said - and addressed that after the pick.
"Obviously this is a pick that opens everybody’s eyes. We’ve done such a lot of work regarding Joe Mixon throughout the entire process this year, and based on all of the time, all of the research, we felt that we can continue to move forward. His situation kind of came to a settlement in all ways this week, which also led us to feel better about the opportunity here.”
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It's not about excusing Mixon for what he did, Lewis said. It's about giving him another chance.
"I don't know who isn't disgusted with what they saw (in the video)," Lewis said. "But that’s one day in a young man's life and he’s had to live that and he will have to continue to live that. He’s gets an opportunity to move forward and write his script from there on … He’s committed to doing that."
Lewis said Mixon will have to “understand the magnitude of what occurred .. and what he has to continue to do to distance himself from that one day,” and he indicated the club will monitor and supervise him to some extent.
“We’ve got a plan that will be in place, but it does us no good to sit here today and to talk to you about it publicly,” Lewis said. He said the Bengals feel comfortable that they know how to handle the situation.
Mixon spoke through tears on a conference call with Bengals reporters Friday night. He said he was "straight-up" with team officials when he visited Paul Brown Stadium last month.
Each side apparently sold the other.
"After going there and having a good talk with Coach Lewis and the owner, I felt they felt very comfortable," Mixon said on the conference call. "I wanted to be honest and look them in the eye. I'm very grateful and honored to be part of the Bengals."
After the settlement between Mixon and the woman, their joint statement said Mixon had apologized in a private meeting.
“The way I reacted that night, that’s not me. That’s not the way I was raised,” Mixon said in the statement. “I think she understands that. Talking together helps move us past what happened. I know I have to keep working to be a better person, and this is another step in that direction.
“I love working with kids and I’m looking for more chances to do that kind of work. I want to lead a life that inspires them and I hope I can lead by example from today forward.”
Mixon has been the most talked-about player in the draft as experts and fans debated whether any team should take him - and who was most likely to. The answers, from most corners, were "no" and "Cincinnati."
The Bengals traded down seven spots Friday night and allowed the Vikings to grab Florida State RB Delvin Cook (arrested three times himself), then took Mixon at No. 48. The Bengals also got the Vikings' fourth-round pick (128th overall).
The woman claimed Mixon had been harassing her and her friends. She shoved Mixon and grabbed him by the neck, and that’s when he threw the knockout punch
Mixon never went to jail on the misdemeanor assault charge. Instead, he took an Alford plea, which allowed him to maintain his innocence while admitting the prosecution had enough evidence to convict him. He received a one-year deferred sentence and was ordered to undergo behavioral counseling and perform 100 hours of community service.
Oklahoma suspended him for the 2014 season.
The video didn't become public for 2 1/2 years because the city of Norman and the police department refused to release it until the Oklahoma Supreme Court ordered it.
Mixon got into more trouble last fall after he tore up a parking ticket and the female attendant said he backed his car toward her to try to intimidate her. Oklahoma suspended him for one game.
Mixon is probably the best running back in the draft and would have been top-10 pick without his baggage. He scored 10 touchdowns and averaged almost seven yards a carry last season.
Bengals' history of second chances started with Paul Brown
Of course, the Bengals have a long history of giving players second and third chances. Adam “Pacman” Jones is a living, breathing example of that. But it started in the Bengals' very first season, 1968, when Paul Brown drafted Jess Phillips, a former Michigan State player who was serving a prison sentence for forging a check.
Upon Phillips' release, Mike Brown picked him up and drove him to training camp.
Phillips was "a kid with an engaging personality who has it all in front of him," Paul Brown said at the time. He turned out to be right. Phillips played six years with the Bengals and four more with the Saints, Raiders and Patriots.
Other players the Bengals took chances on did not turn out so well. Google Stanley Wilson, Lewis Billups and Chris Henry.
Since 2000, 30 Bengals have been arrested or cited a total of 44 times, according to a USA Today database. That's not counting Mixon.
Eight of those Bengals - including Jones and star running back Corey Dillon - were accused of punching or assaulting women or domestic violence, according to the database. Jones was acquitted in a bench trial and Dillon got diversion and court-ordered counseling. In the other cases, charges were dropped or players got probation or a similar punishment that didn't require jail time.
The Bengals released two of those players, A.J. Nicholson and Robert Sands, after their incidents, according to the database.
Nicholson had been accused of sexual assault during his senior year at Florida State but the Bengals drafted him anyway in 2006. The assault allegedly occurred at the Miami hotel where Florida State was staying before the Orange Bowl. The university suspended him and sent him home. Charges were pending while the draft came and went. Six weeks after the draft, he was charged in a robbery. The Bengals kept him for the 2006 season and then released him.
Earlier this week, Lewis spoke in general terms about the character issue, i.e., how you decide to take a chance on a player with some questionable off-the-field things in his background.
“The thing you’re evaluating is to make sure that particular player, if there are certain questions, we know everything about it,” Lewis said. “We know what we’re stepping into, getting into, by bringing that young man aboard and have a plan for it if you feel like it's something that’s overcome-able. Those things are all important.
“Secondly, if you bring that person here, you’re betting on him being able to stay here and you having everything in place to help him stay here. Because otherwise, you’re passing on another player. There’s a lot of good prospects. Let’s make sure we get the right one. The ones that have an opportunity to stay and prosper. You can’t control injury. That’s part of the process. Sooner or later, they overcome it.
“The one thing you can’t (overcome) is when a guy doesn’t do the right thing to stay here.”
Lewis acknowledged that an increasing number of players in the draft are tainted.
“Unfortunately, it's become a big part of it because of where we are in our society,” Lewis said. “And the fact now that news is instantaneous all the time and any misstep by anybody becomes public knowledge right away. So I think there is more that goes into it. Sometimes it's more accessible, but it's far-reaching that way. Every day there's something that -- however it happens, 'leaked' or whatever word you want to use -- comes out about one of these guys. It's kind of incredible."
This story includes reporting by WCPO Contributor John Fay.