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National media is wrong about Bengals’ locker room culture

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Groupthink has struck again.

Cincinnati Bengals v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

With the Cincinnati Bengals’ sticking by Adam Jones and following the selection of Joe Mixon, the focal point to the offseason narrative in Cincinnati has been the (conspiracy) theory of how Marvin Lewis has no control over his locker room and that players like Jones are a bad influence on incoming players.

This tiresome narrative has gone on long enough, because frankly, there’s no way of telling if it is true or not. Groupthink has shaped people’s opinions of Cincinnati, but if anything, more evidence points to the Bengals’ locker room as a great fit for Mixon (or any incoming player) than a bad one.

Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman summed up the untrue national narrative following the Bengals’ selection of Mixon.

“The problem is recently, after years of cleaning up that locker room, it went back to Bengalsian form. This is why Mixon went to the one place he should not have gone.”

“As talented a coach as Lewis is, at times, players in that locker room take advantage of him. He's respected by players (really by almost everyone in football), but they don't always heed him.”

“Mixon is a man who showed he cannot always control his violence, and he went to a team with two players notorious for the same thing.

Pacman Jones and Vontaze Burfict, two of the leaders in that locker room, aren't necessarily good examples for Mixon to follow.”

Nothing there comes as a surprise. Yet again, a national media member speculates about the culture within Cincinnati’s locker room, when there’s more than a good chance he’s never even been inside of the locker room or possibly even to the city of Cincinnati.

The notion that Lewis’ players don’t always heed him is lazy. Aside from the Bengals’ notorious Wild Card loss against the Steelers, is there a single incident during the Andy Dalton era where Cincinnati did what Freeman and others in the media seem to describe as the norm?

The way Freeman describes violence in regards to Mixon is also interesting. He essentially insinuates Jones and Burfict cause their teammates to become more violent people, both on and off the field. But where’s the evidence for that claim?

Enough with the narratives. The Bengals’ locker room isn’t the chaotic dumpster fire so-called “experts” frequently paint it out to be. Here’s the evidence:

Jones is described as locker room cancer, but he’s the only Bengals player who has issues off-the-field.

The full video from Jones’ January arrest recently came out, and the jury is in: Jones is the same person people thought he was before his arrest. (That still doesn’t mean he’s a “thug” like people describe him — rather, he’s a bit of a tumultuous person.) Describing the veteran cornerback’s actions off-the-field as “boneheaded” would be putting it nicely, but it seems as though the accusations pointed at Jones were a bit harsher than what the cornerback actually did on the winter night in January in which he was arrested.

That being said, wishing death upon a police officer is not a good look — it’s shameful — and if Jones is suspended for anything in 2017, his words toward Sgt. Jarrod Cotton will likely play a major part in that punishment.

But if Jones’ actions permeate throughout the locker room, then why can a guy like Dre Kirkpatrick — a teammate and personal friend of Jones’ for five years — keep his head down while standing a few feet away from Jones as the 33-year-old yelled at officers and struggled as he was handcuffed?

Spoiler alert: it’s because Jones is one individual within Cincinnati’s locker room and does not reflect the team — or locker room — as a whole. Jones can be a piece of work, but that doesn’t mean the teammates he plays alongside are going to act the same way.

Jones can be the person he is and not be a bad influence within the locker room. Kirkpatrick’s continual development on-the-field and clean sheet off-the-field clearly acknowledge that.

The enigmatic Burfict has not been arrested.

People can say what they want to about Burfict’s play style, but the linebacker has never been arrested. Claim he has issues on-the -field if you want — personally, I think his reputation is incredibly over-exaggerated — but if you believe Burfict has issues, those issues are entirely different than Jones’.

Also, it’s worth mentioning Burfict and Jones likely won’t be spending a ton of time with Mixon, considering they play on the defensive side of the ball while Mixon plays on offense and they’re veterans while he’s a rookie.

Players generally seem to love Cincinnati, though there are rare exceptions.

There has been a ton of roster turnover over the past few years, but how many former Bengals have badmouthed their former team? Unless you count the somewhat harmless pot shot from Domata Peko, the last notable player to come out against Cincinnati, at least in my mind (which I could be wrong about—and correct me if I am), is Johnathan Joseph. His choice words for the Bengals’ lack of Gatorade happened more than a half-decade ago.

On the flip side, several players have returned to Cincinnati after stints elsewhere. Andre Smith, Michael Johnson, Pat Sims, Wallace Gilberry, Taylor Mays, Jayson DiManche and plenty of others have all come back to the Queen City after leaving the team, with mixed results in terms of performance after their respective returns. Still, it’s worth mentioning the love the Bengals seem to get from former players. If the team’s locker room was as big of an issue as the media constantly describes it to be, it’s hard to imagine players would be returning to play for the Bengals.

The Bengals give almost everyone a fair chance to compete and seem to see the best in everyone.

Fans of the team often gripe about Cincinnati being too patient, which can be both good and bad. But one thing’s for sure: the Bengals do the best job they can to give their players a fair shot.

First-round picks like Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard always receive a fifth-year option, even if they get hit by injuries or struggle on the field early in their respective careers. Kirkpatrick made the most of his opportunity, earning a long-term deal this past offseason, and the jury is still out on Dennard.

Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher are getting their shots to start in 2017, like the Bengals originally planned when selecting the two tackles with first and second-round picks two years ago, even despite struggles from both early on in their respective careers.

Guys like Brandon Thompson, Marcus Hardison, Devon Still, Sean Porter and others have stuck around on the roster — sometimes for years — after they dealt with injuries, just because the Bengals prefer not to cut bait with their players until they’re absolutely certain there isn’t anything left in the tank.

The fact that DeShawn Williams has stuck around in Cincinnati, buried on the depth chart behind several talented players, just goes to show how highly players view the organization. Williams could’ve joined the New Orleans Saints on the active roster a couple of years ago, but he elected to remain in Cincinnati and work his way onto the roster. In 2016, he made the team and saw some playing time.

There are exceptions, of course, but the point still stands. The Bengals are going to give Mixon, or any player who comes into their building, a shot to compete for playing time. When said player earns his role, he’ll likely succeed as fans have seen so often.

Even after losing Peko and Andrew Whitworth, the Bengals still have leaders.

The Bengals’ 2011 draft class — specifically Dalton, A.J. Green and Clint Boling — is expected to step up and lead this season, and by all accounts, it seems as though the three playmakers will step up in 2017.

“I feel like we have a great locker room, especially on the offensive side of the ball,” Green told Mo Egger of ESPN 1530. “I think, with Andy and I being the leaders of that offense, we really can help him if he has questions and we can show him the ropes.”

“Clint leads by example,” Green said in another interview. “He can get vocal when he needs to be. For the offensive line at Georgia? Yeah. He was definitely like a Whit.”

“I’m a God-fearing guy and I feel like everybody deserves a second chance. I don't condone what [Mixon has] done. He can't take that back,” Green said. “I know he would like to. I feel like the Christian man in me, with my faith, that's the Christian way to do. I'm going to give the guy a chance. You don't look upon somebody, you help them. I feel like bringing him into the locker room with Andy and I being the leaders of the offense will really help him.”

#StopTheNarrative.

The national media has seen the Bengals up-close-and-personal on several occasions, yet since the team parted ways with Carson Palmer, Cincinnati has never appeared to be the dumpster fire it has been made out to be. Fans have been treated to several intimate looks at the team, from Hard Knocks to coverage so intimate that it’s not safe for work. (Remember the incident where players were accidentally filmed naked in the locker room?)

All in all, the national skepticism surrounding the Bengals is just plain and tired. The truth is, people really won’t know whether or not Mixon fits in with the Bengals. And if there’s a blip on the radar, the media will surely pounce on it. (Hint: TMZ is already following Mixon around in Los Angeles as he arrived on Thursday for the NFLPA Rookie Premiere.)

But up until this point, everything surrounding the Bengals’ negative locker room culture has been — and will continue to be — speculation. There are no insider sources talking about chaos within the Bengals’ locker room. Adam Schefter has not been reporting on the latest Burfict arrest because, news flash, he hasn’t been arrested. Lately—though, isn’t it always—watching and hearing people talk about the Bengals in the media has been frustrating, and that’s the biggest understatement of this whole column.