The Bengals’ selection of Joe Mixon in the second round looks exciting on paper, but it will be increasingly frustrating for fans and the media to deal with as time goes on.
Mixon has become a controversial figure after video was released of him punching a woman in the face. The former Oklahoma running back could’ve perhaps been a top-10 selection had his incident with Amelia Molitor never occurred, but alas, here we are.
It’s the word ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith used to describe the Bengals’ selection of Mixon in his latest rant. It’s also a perfect description of Smith’s latest rant.
Because any time something Bengals-related happens, Smith immediately reams the team in efforts to rile up fans. And every time he does so, people respond. It’s a vicious cycle. Fans make Smith’s job so easy, because they eat up what he says every time something bad happens. We (the media) make it even easier, because it’s our job — especially at a fan blog like Cincy Jungle — to keep everyone informed about who’s saying what when it comes to the Bengals. Anyways, on to what Smith had to say this time.
Smith starts his rant by bringing up a somewhat insignificant yet wildly popular statistic: that the Bengals’ 31 arrests from 2005-2014 rank third among all NFL teams during that time frame.
Again, this is completely predictable. The Bengals drafted Mixon, so let’s find something that would support our argument that he’s a bad addition to an already chaotic Cincinnati locker room.
Despite the fact that virtually everyone who has been claiming the Bengals’ locker room is a chaotic mess hasn’t even stepped foot in the Bengals’ locker room, fans have eaten this narrative up. And the media, knowing full well that people feel this way, have pounced at the opportunity with every chance it has had.
Smith is one of many — including Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman and NFL Network’s Terrell Davis, among others — to question whether Cincinnati is the right fit for Mixon.
But bringing up an outdated arrest statistic? I’m not sure that’s the best way to win this argument. Of the 74 players who called themselves Bengals in 2014 — whether it’s players on the active roster, practice squad or injured reserve — just 21 remain. Three of those 21 have also returned to Cincinnati after stints elsewhere since 2014. Of those 21, only Adam Jones has been arrested in the last three years.
The two teams who were tied for tops in the league with 32 arrests from 2005-14, the Denver Broncos and Minnesota Vikings, do not have a reputation even close to as bad as the Bengals when it comes to taking fliers on players with character concerns, which just goes to show how irrelevant this statistic really is.
Smith also predictably brings up Vontaze Burfict and the Steelers, even insinuating the linebacker should’ve somehow been arrested for his hit on Antonio Brown, of which he received and served a suspension to begin the 2016 season.
Burfict has not been arrested in his life, let alone since joining the Bengals as an undrafted free agent in 2012. Yet, he always hears his name being lumped in with Jones as guys who are some sort of locker room malignancy.
"I would get tips all the time from anonymous emailers saying Burfict was in a bar fight or arrested for beating someone up," says Arizona Republic football reporter Doug Haller to ESPN’s Alyssa Roenigk in a 2012 profile on Burfict. "I checked out every one, and they were never true. He was never in any trouble."
In that same profile, Roenigk pointed out that Burfict spent most Friday and Saturday nights at home playing video games and his Sundays at church. "If he had talked to the media, they would have seen that he's funny and considerate and has a great laugh," Corinne Corte, ASU's academics coach for football, told Roenigk. "[Talking to the media] was just too uncomfortable for him."
Burfict has certainly been in the middle of some controversies since entering the NFL, but even his detractors fail to recognize the linebacker was only penalized twice in 2016, despite being provoked on an almost-weekly basis.
If Burfict or Jones do anything controversial, Smith will be back. If Mixon does anything more than play football and keep quiet, the media will be out to get him. Just search “Pacman Jones” on your favorite internet search engine and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Jones shuts down Joe Danneman after being asked a question he doesn’t want to answer, and the headlines read: Jones “goes on angry tirade,” Jones “lashes out” and Jones “blows up.” CUE THE EVISCERATION.
People want to watch the Bengals go down in flames, and that’s why Smith’s constant criticism of Marvin Lewis and his team keep getting attention.
Stephen A. Smith is the 100-slide Bleacher Report slideshow of sports media personalities. What he says isn’t much different than what others are saying, but despite that, people watch him. People give him clicks. What he says never falls on deaf ears, yet every time I listen to him talk, I question why people haven’t changed the channel after 30 seconds. Smith’s analysis, like a 100-slide Bleacher Report slideshow, doesn’t provide any more substance than that of others (or in B/R’s case, that same slideshow just being written in one article without having been divided into 100 different slides), yet despite this, people who entertain his opinions on all forms of media somehow treat him as though he’s more than just another typical media personality.
Smith doesn’t know what he’s talking about. The notion that Jones and Burfict’s existence in Cincinnati’s locker room could deter Mixon, a man on a mission to put his past behind him, is laughable. If Mixon were to screw up his second chance, Jones, Burfict and Lewis would not be to blame. Mixon’s success or failure rides on his shoulders alone.
As one Cincy Jungle commenter put it, drafting Mixon isn’t supporting or ignoring violence. Rather, it is an act of forgiveness and a belief in the power of men to grow and change for the better. Drafting the running back was a gamble, and the Bengals know it. They did their due diligence, spending considerable time with the former Oklahoma running back in order to get a better feel for who he is as a person.
And it would be remiss not to mention the Bengals are far from the only team to select a player who has punched a woman. Last year, the NFL celebrated rookie Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill, who choked and punched his pregnant girlfriend before being drafted. This year, the Browns drafted Florida defensive tackle Caleb Brantley — a man charged for the same crime Mixon committed — without having even put in the due diligence.
NFL.com’s Judy Battista put the sentiment well in her latest column:
“NFL decision makers are not alone in their malleable morality. We all want to believe we will stand firmly against the kind of behavior Mixon showed. But every day, we buy music from singers, go to movies featuring actors, tune in to television shows headlined by stars who exhibit abhorrent behavior and are allowed to continue their lucrative livelihoods unabated, with a soundtrack of applause. It is a question that surfaced shortly after [Ray] Rice's video did: Why do we expect the NFL to be the agent for social change when the institutions that are charged with that responsibility don't always do it, while with our choices, we are all quietly complicit?”
Whether Mixon becomes a superstar in Cincinnati or becomes a PR nightmare for the Bengals, is up for him to decide. But until Mixon proves he can keep a low profile, media personalities like Smith will continue to criticize the Bengals.