The Bengals are now employing someone who slugged a woman in the face. Unfortunately, in today's NFL this isn't exclusive turf.
Domestic violence has long been an issue with the National Football League. While the NFL enacts what seems to be ever-evolving discipline to this, and while it partners with groups designed to raise awareness and, hopefully, eradicate this plague on our society, the NFL continues to offer employment to offenders.
Therein lies this: Can you deny someone employment because of past criminal conduct? In a word: yes.
As a private employer, the NFL can deny employment based on past criminal conduct. Any privately-run business (and the NFL is) can do that. Would there be a lawsuit if it tried? Absolutely, but winning that suit and fighting a multi-billion dollar corporation in court is pricey and dicey.
There is no doubt Joe Mixon has paid a price for what he did, captured on video, in an Oklahoma diner three years ago. It cost him a year of college football, as well being picked higher than what he was in the draft. Some agents say what Mixon did cost him tens-of-millions of dollars. Is that enough to pay for rearranging another human being's face? At what point has he paid enough? At what point do you stop paying for your sins? Some would say, in this case, never.
There's been a great cry from the media, both in spoken and printed words, castigating the Bengals for taking Mixon. Even the WCPO Editorial Board has suggested that fans take their money out of Bengals ticket sales and place it in charitable programs designed to help victims like the one that Mixon punched three years ago.
But I don't sense the same outrage from Bengals fans. And I don't sense any of this will really change the way the NFL goes about its business.
There were Ray Rice, Greg Hardy, Adrian Peterson and Josh Brown (a former Bengal, by the way) who all came before Mixon.
Hardy played in a game for the Carolina Panthers after being convicted of assaulting a woman in the prior summer.
Of course, what makes their cases different from Mixon's is that he committed his act prior to entering the NFL draft. Commissioner Roger Goodell eventually worked up a code of conduct for current employees. But future employees? Deny someone like Mixon employment and you open yourself up to lawsuits against the league and possibly suits against all 32 teams individually. Anybody here want to cast their fate today to a jury of 12 of their peers?
But there's something at work here besides all of that. It speaks to you and me and anyone else who is a consumer of professional sports. Sports is first and foremost, and will forever be, a business.
Think about it. There’s a reason why businesses flourish. It’s called giving the customer what he wants.
Think of the businesses you frequent for anything. Let’s say restaurants. Restaurants come and go in Cincinnati. Five Guys, the hamburger place, has closed a lot of stores the last few years. Hamburger chains are everywhere, most cheaper than what Five Guys were charging. Closed.
Smokey Bones, Tony Roma’s, Max and Erma's; most are gone from around here because most didn’t know the tastes of the Cincinnati customer. But Frisch’s, the Montgomery Inn and Jeff Ruby’s restaurants, they all flourish because they know exactly what you want and you know exactly what you’re going to get when you walk through the door of their place. They know their customers.
Sports teams are the same way. The Reds, the Bengals -- they know what you want. They want you to come to their stadia. They want you to be comfortable, have access to their concession stands, park your car safely, walk to and from their stadia safely. They want to entertain you. They want to give you a bobble head or shoot off fireworks or make sure your beer is cold and your food is hot.
But most of all, they want their teams to win. They don’t always behave that way, of course. The Reds have been in an abyss since 2013 and there’s little to believe they’ll be competitive again soon. The Bengals haven’t won a playoff game in over a generation. But that doesn’t mean these teams don't want to win. They know their customers and you -- the customer -- want your teams to win.
So let's take this discussion there.
It's not that the Bengals weren't disgusted with what Mixon did. Marvin Lewis said so. Anyone with a conscience and a tinge of morality would say the same thing. But it didn't stop the Bengals from drafting Mixon.
They drafted Joe Mixon, because Mixon is a player who will help them win games. And the customer, more than cold beer and hot food and safe parking, wants the Bengals to win games.
The Bengals believe you’re OK with this, or business logic would dictate, they would not have taken the guy.
Think about it. When all that nonsense was going on 10 or 11 years ago when it seemed like a Bengals player was getting arrested every night, what did you do? You showed up to watch games. You strolled into Paul Brown stadium with Odell Thurman jerseys, Chris Henry jerseys. I see some of you doing the same thing today. Hate what the man did; love the player. Anything short of what Rae Carruth did -- let’s gear up for Sunday.
The Bengals aren’t your typical business, and that has nothing to do with the way Mike Brown and his group stumbled through the lost generation of the '90s and 2000s. Before they ever sell a ticket to a game to you, they’ve hit their "mark." Guaranteed TV money drives the NFL. You may not buy a ticket to a game, but if you watch games on TV, you in essence are buying a ticket by driving up ratings and buying the products advertised.
Twitter exploded with negative comments when the Bengals selected Mixon Friday night. But the Twitter-verse is only a small segment of society. Sportswriters and talking heads around the country ridiculed the Bengals for taking Joe Mixon, saying it was a team that couldn’t escape its own past -- the bad old days of 2006 and 2007. But there aren’t a whole lot of folks heeding what we have to say these days. Sorry about that, fellow journalists.
There is, of course, this tried (tired) and true answer: if you don’t like what the Bengals did Friday night, don’t go to their games. Don’t watch their games on TV. It’s pretty simple. But I'd bet cash money on this: If you did that, you’d be in a smaller group than the Twitter-people and the sportswriters.
There is nothing that defines us as sports fans more than the word amnesia. We forget a lot of things when it comes to our teams.
We’ve already forgotten the 3-13 seasons, David Klingler, Rod Jones. Most of us have forgotten the meltdown against the Steelers. That’s why we continue to go to the games, watch the games, talk about the games. Why? Because we want our teams to win. In a town where no team has won anything since 1990, maybe more than fans in other cities.
Will you admit it, that nothing else really matters but winning? Drafting Joe Mixon, probably the best running back in this year’s draft, is a way to help the Bengals win football games.
Don’t let this get lost in any of what I’m saying. What Joe Mixon did on that night in that Oklahoma diner wasn’t a mistake, he wasn’t a kid and he wasn’t a man. A man never hits a woman. What Mixon did was violent and abusive and he should have gone to jail for assault. And when Marvin Lewis said that Mixon shouldn’t be judged by what he did on one day of his life, he’s wrong. He doesn't need me to correct him. There are thousands incarcerated today for far less than his new running back has done.
But if Joe Mixon runs for 100 yards and scores three times against the Ravens in he season opener, there won’t be a whole lot of people talking about a night at an Oklahoma diner three years ago. Not even sportswriters.
The Bengals know you want your team to win. And the customer is always right. Right?