SportStars Magazine

BRYSON: Mixed Emotions

With NorCal product Joe Mixon a controversial topic as the NFL draft nears, editor Chace Bryson urges readers to sift through the noise •

This column begins with a question.

Have you — yes, you, dear reader — met Joe Mixon?

Chances are high that you haven’t. Yet many of you still have an opinion about him. And it’s probably negative.

This has been the source of some internal conflict for me over the last few months — and it’s only going to become more intense as the NFL Draft nears at the end of April. Mixon of course has been a standout running back for the University of Oklahoma the last two seasons and is a graduate of Freedom High in Oakley. He’s also the subject of several national media hot-takes due to an indefensible act he committed on the night of his 18th birthday in his first month at a college over a thousand miles away from home.

In July 2014, Mixon got in a heated confrontation with Amelia Molitor, a 20-year-old female student. That confrontation ended when Mixon inexcusably punched Molitor and fractured several bones in her face. After a plea agreement, Mixon was sentenced to a year of probation, served 100 hours of community service, attended cognitive behavior counseling and was suspended from football for his entire freshman year with Oklahoma.

The incident was nearly three years ago, but the video of it was released last December and stoked a new fire for those convinced that Mixon is an evil person.

I’ve met Joe Mixon.

I’ve had extended conversations with him. I’ve written nice things about him. I’m about to write some more. Because in my heart and mind, I don’t believe he fooled me.

I think Mixon is a genuinely good kid who made a phenomenally poor choice to commit a despicable act. He’s taken responsibility for it every step of the way.

If national vitriol toward Mixon is tough for me to listen to, it’s exponentially worse for the Freedom High community and especially his former coaches.

“I’d never defend what he did, but there’s always more to a situation like that,” Freedom football coach Kevin Hartwig said by phone on April 3. “I know him, and that’s not him. … My goal is to let people know who he really is.

“The four years I knew him, he would light up a room. He has positive energy. He’d never been in trouble. Heck, he would break up fights on campus.”

Lighting up a room is accurate. When SportStars focused on Mixon for the cover feature to our 2013 Football Preview, I spent two-plus hours in one-on-one conversations with him. His energy is infectious. His personality was a thread throughout the story.

Hartwig has been fielding calls from various NFL personnel departments trying to sift through the national narrative and get a better understanding of the talented running back who most experts assume will be selected in the first two rounds. There are some who believe he could be the most complete back in the entire draft.

Hartwig’s answer is simple.

“I tell them I don’t condone what he did, but that they need to meet Joe,” he said. “If you sit down and start talking to him, you’ll figure out who he is pretty quickly. … He’s the same guy I coached. Just go meet him.”

Mixon recently held a youth football camp at Freedom along with fellow NFL running back C.J. Anderson and the retired (for now?) Marshawn Lynch. Nearly 200 kids attended and Hartwig said Mixon was excellent with them.

“It was a great thing because a lot of people got to see HIM,” Hartwig said. “It’s hard to own (what he did). … He knows it wasn’t right. It was a huge wake-up call. It’s only going to make him stronger. … It’s going to work out.”

When it does, I’ll be happy for Mixon. Even if I continue to be part of a supporting minority.

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