Less than 24 hours after hearing his named showered in boos after the Cincinnati Bengals drafted him with the 48th overall pick of the NFL Draft on Friday, controversial Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon received a warm welcome Saturday afternoon when he arrived at the team’s draft party at Paul Brown Stadium.
“It means a lot,” Mixon said. “Just to come here, walk in and see all the fans and their reaction. It’s not about winning anybody over; I come here to work and I’m coming here to be the best teammate and best person and do whatever I can around the community, trying to get everybody together because we’re all one within the Bengals organization.
“I’m very excited,” he added. “I want to bring what I brought to Oklahoma, which is excitement and being a great teammate. I want to bring that here to the Bengals.”
And while he also wants to leave behind the ugly incident that has made him a lightning rod for criticism, he knows he’ll never out-run what happened the night of July 25, 2014, when he punched a 19-year-old woman, fracturing four bones in her face.
“Unfortunately it’s going to be with me the rest of my life,” Mixon said. “I’ve got to learn to deal with it the best way possible and try to do whatever I can to move forward.”
Mixon ran a media gauntlet Saturday afternoon, going from a joint press conference with third-round pick Jordan Willis to a session with print journalists, then one with the television stations and finally a one-on-one with the NFL Network.
He answered every question without a hint of annoyance at the repetitive nature of them while addressing reporters as sir and ma’am as he continues the image rehabilitation he has been working on for nearly three years.
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“It’s tough,” he said. “I wouldn’t wish it upon anybody what I went through because at the end of the day, it happened three years ago but I’m still going through it today. I’m trying to do the best things (I can) moving forward and getting through — my teammates helped me out a lot at Oklahoma and I’m sure my teammates will help me do the same thing here.”
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One of the biggest steps along the way came last week when Mixon and the woman he punched, Amelia Molitor, settled a civil lawsuit and released a joint statement which said “we both could have handled things differently” that night.
“It was a huge weight off our shoulders because we weren’t able to talk to each other and apologize and I was the initiator for the most part,” Mixon said. “But it really meant a lot to her for me to come in and acknowledge what happened that night, and she did the same thing, and I’ve got nothing but respect for her.”
While Mixon has talked about moving forward since the punch, there was a step backward last fall when he ripped up a ticket in a parking attendant’s face, an action that led OU coach Bob Stoops to suspend the running back for one game.
“I made a bad choice — I ripped up the ticket,” Mixon said. “Being at Oklahoma, I was under a contract, really. You have to maintain a 3.0 GPA to remain on the team and couldn’t do anything to get in trouble and Coach Stoops and Mr. (Joe) Castiglione (the athletic director) and the (University of Oklahoma) President (David Boren), they held me to a higher standard. That’s how they held me at Oklahoma and I’m sure it will be the same here.”
Mixon’s solemn tone and stoic look transformed to laughs and smiles when questions arose about football.
“I’m here. It’s real. I’m a pro now,” he said. “When the call came, I was emotional. I’m still a little bit emotional. But I’m blessed to be in the situation I am today.”