Awkward. Really no other way to explain it as Oklahoma redshirt freshman running back Joe Mixon made his first public comments as a Sooner on Tuesday during media day at Sun Life Stadium.
Everybody knew Mixon was going to talk, but it didn’t make the situation any less uncomfortable for all parties involved just two days before the Capital One Orange Bowl against No. 1-ranked Clemson.
Mixon, who was put in a rough spot for this being his first foray with the media. OU, who had assistant athletic director for strategic communications Mike Houck with Mixon the whole hour. And the media as awkward pauses and silences were just as common as thought-provoking answers.
Yet at the same time it was completely understandable. Mixon, a former five-star prospect, was suspended for the 2014 season following an off the field incident where Mixon entered an Alford plea to a misdemeanor charge alleging he punched a female student at a Norman restaurant.
Mixon entered the room Tuesday surrounded by reporters. OU beat writers. National writers. Local media from the Miami area. You name it, and they were probably there.
The first question was an obvious one about whether or not this was an overwhelming scene for Mixon.
“First off, all I’d like to say is that I’m here to answer all football questions,” Mixon said. “Nothing else for anything. No situation but football. It’s not overwhelming. I’m happy to be here.”
Minutes before the event, an Orange Bowl representative stated any member of the media who asked a non-football question to Mixon would be escorted away from his table.
In the end, none of that mattered. It turned out it was based on advice of legal counsel as to why Mixon didn’t address the July 2014 situation. It wasn’t OU. It wasn’t the Orange Bowl. It wasn’t even Mixon, who said he would talk about it if he could. He wants to, but because of the potential of a possible lawsuit, he has to stay mum on the situation as was disclosed by athletic director Joe Castiglione.
Mixon said he describes himself as a great person and said there is a little part of him that has wanted to talk with the media so everybody can get a feel of who he actually is.
Because when you think about it, it had nearly been two years since any sort of public comments from Mixon. The last one he made, coincidentally enough, was at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl when he announced his OU commitment.
Mixon said he doesn’t have any regrets and admitted to just how difficult it was for him during the 2014 season.
“It was hard watching, and I wished I was playing,” Mixon said. “You learn a lot of things and move forward and be positive with yourself.”
There were questions Mixon declined to comment about, but it was the first time where you started to get a glimpse into his personality and see a bit of why his teammates and coaches have been standing behind him the whole time.
The situation wasn’t an easy one for Castiglione, either, who talked about the Mixon suspension as well.
“There’s no amount of excusing what happened,” Castiglione said. “That is not at all what I’m trying to convey. It’s dealing with the thought pattern and considering whether there is a redemptive opportunity.
“Every case is different. I understand the variety of opinions. Everybody makes their own decisions. We made the one we felt mattered in this case.”
Mixon served his time last season and has kept his head down and been strictly business this season. He’s rushed for 749 yards and seven touchdowns and added 345 receiving yards with four more scores.
There will be a time and place to discuss in-depth what happened following his 18th birthday party. Nobody was suggesting Orange Bowl media day was it, but the questions had to be asked.
The “distraction,” if that’s what you want to call it, is over now. And his teammates are proud of the way he handled himself.
“He’s handled it unbelievably,” quarterback Baker Mayfield said. “Obviously, this is his first media day – you can tell by the swarm that’s around his table. But he’s a guy, he carries himself, he knows how to handle it. I’m sure he’s doing a good job over there.
“Joe’s a great guy. All the guys on the team love him, the way he carries himself and the energy he brings. You never see him without a smile on his face. He’s done a great job.”