The football landscape is littered with tales like that of Joe Mixon.
The end result to many of those stories, though, is unlike that of Mixon, the 25-year-old Cincinnati running back who’ll be one of the most important players for the Bengals against the Rams when they play Super Bowl 2022 Sunday at Sofi Stadium.
Unless you’re not from the Cincinnati area and have been following Mixon’s five largely successful NFL seasons, you may know him for something he’d rather you not know him for: Striking a woman in the face in an altercation at a sandwich shop in 2014.
About to start a college career at Oklahoma that would hopefully lead to an NFL career, Mixon screwed up so badly, the natural reaction was to assume he’d ruined the promising life he had ahead of him.
When there’s incriminating video evidence that you’ve hit a woman with enough force that she was knocked unconscious, suffered four fractured bones in her face and needed reconstructive surgery, it’s difficult to come back from that — regardless of how many yards you’re capable of running for and how many touchdowns you’re capable of producing.
When there’s the kind of damning video evidence that Mixon faced, it becomes difficult to change the narrative to your life.
Consider what happened that same year to then-Ravens running back Ray Rice, who’d already established himself as one of the most explosive players in the NFL when he was caught on video brutally beating his then-fiancée in an elevator.
That incident, after which Rice was publicly sincere and contrite for his egregious actions, ended his NFL career. He never came back from it, never played another NFL down despite being in the prime of his career. Sadly, that horrific incident is what Rice is most remembered for today.
Mixon, conversely, changed his narrative and has never looked back.
He’s become a poster child of sorts for the value of second chances. As the Bengals prepare to play in their first Super Bowl since 1989, Mixon has become one of the team leaders. Imagine that.
That 2014 incident, which took place a day before his 18th birthday, seems like a lifetime ago for Mixon.
He was suspended for the entire 2014 season by Oklahoma and reinstated in 2015. In 2016, video of the assault was released and it looked so bad that then-Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops said, upon reflection, the punishment should have been dismissal from school.
Thankfully for the Bengals and for Mixon, who settled with the woman financially and met with her personally to apologize and make amends, he was not banished, because what he’s done with his life since has been admirable.
Too often, athletes who make the kind of horrible mistake Mixon did never get second chances. And too often, some who do get second chances screw up again.
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Mixon, on a Zoom call with reporters Monday, credited a strong support system within the Bengals with helping him when he got into the NFL.
“When I came here, since Day 1, they told me, ‘We’re here to let me know that no matter what, I always had a shoulder to lean on,’ ’’ Mixon said. “For those guys to do that when I came here it meant a lot. I was just happy to be a part of something special in terms of being in the NFL, and now that I’m literally playing on the highest level and in the best game in the history of sports, I feel so blessed and fortunate to be in this situation.’’
Mixon finished the regular season with the third-most rushing yards in the NFL (1,205), the fourth-most rushing touchdowns (13) on the third-most carries (292).
In five seasons with the Bengals, he’s rushed for 4,564 yards on 1,104 carries with 33 rushing touchdowns and he’s also caught 171 passes for 1,322 yards and eight touchdowns.
Now, he and the Bengals are going for the gold.
“Everybody’s here to do one thing obviously and that’s to win a championship,’’ Mixon said. “I’m so blessed and thankful to be here for this opportunity. For me, being here five years, I truly feel like I’m living in a movie right now, living a dream I had as a kid. I want to keep on adding to script.’’
He’s doing that as a veteran leader, saying, “I try to do whatever I can to be a vocal leader and lead by example to show them the way.’’
Take a look at that 2014 video and listen to Mixon now.
Who’d have known?
The power of second chances can sometimes be an irresistible force.