When people finally saw the video of Joe Mixon punching Mia Molitor last month, most were shocked by what they saw. But most people, including sportscaster Brent Musburger, would be wise to also consider what the video didn’t show.
In December of 2016 I read an article by Clay Travis, a sportswriter who wrote an impassioned and smart take on the incident. I didn’t watch the video because I didn’t want to see it and didn’t feel like I needed to. When I eventually did, it was worse than I had imagined.
Some people who might assume it couldn’t have been that big of a deal would change their mind if they saw the video. He hit her so hard and so fast that I didn’t see his arm come up even though it was caught on video.
But veteran sportscaster and presumably decent person Brent Musburger did watch the video, and although he acknowledged that it was brutal and wrong, Musburger felt it appropriate to not only sincerely wish him well, but also invite the rest of us to do so. “He’s just one of the best, and let’s hope…let’s hope this young man makes the most of his chance and goes on to have a career in the National Football League,” Musburger said.
People were dumbfounded. Many were angry. I find it fascinating. We need to understand why people feel as they do if we’re going to change anything. How is it that good, caring people can be apathetic, or even have an impulse to defend the person who very clearly caused serious harm to another? Social psychology provides some answers to this question, but that is for a different post. For now, let’s just contemplate the rest of this story by considering what is not in the video.
Because my belief is that Brent Musburger did not think much about the rest of the story.
By the way, I don’t sit here with hatred for Joe Mixon, but you certainly won’t find me cheering for him or buying his jersey for my son. I’m not a hater, but I am into reality.
If we are going to be big boys and girls we need to live in reality. If people choose to cheer for Joe Mixon on the playing field, that’s their choice. He’s on the team they love. And if those who don’t even know him choose to passionately defend him, that’s their right as well. But if you want to consider yourself an adult who cares about things that matter, then you should be interested in living in reality.
One part of reality is very easy to see. He’s a phenomenal athlete. It’s also probably easy to see him act positively off the field by interacting with kids and fans who want an autograph. It’s easy to see that he helps Oklahoma win football games. That’s one part of reality.
The Oklahoman did a nice article in July of 2016, “Amelia Molitor: ‘I’m not a quitter’” by Berry Tramel. It adds a couple more pieces to the reality of this situation. And as men and women who imagine ourselves to be good and decent, we are called to pause and think about it even more.
There are many things the video didn’t show.
It didn’t show the eight-hour surgery she had to undergo because of him punching her in the face. We weren’t able to see the eyes of those in the operating room, using all of their specialized training to try to keep this young woman from being disfigured for the rest of her life. We can only imagine the thoughts and feelings of those working that day with the knowledge that this 20-year-old young woman was there because of what a much stronger man did to her.
The video didn’t show things like her mom having to call the hospital to explain that she needed to take her 20-year-old daughter in to receive whatever care they could give her.
We didn’t see her family sitting in the waiting room or pacing the hallway of the hospital as their daughter was under anesthesia for an entire day, being cut on and sewn up with needles and thread.
It didn’t show her mom and dad in the kitchen trying to find something that their little girl could eat in the condition she was in.
The video wouldn’t capture the anguish that any father would feel and keep feeling when you’re unable to stop imagining again and again what another man did to your daughter. In the movies, we get to watch the main character take revenge for someone hurting the person he loves. But reality isn’t the movies. I love movies. Reality is much, much more painful.
The video didn’t show her parents receiving the initial phone call. A mom and dad going about their day as people do, and then learning that their daughter who was off at the college she’d dreamed of attending her whole life had been taken by her friends to the hospital after being punched in the face by a man.
It didn’t show her walking across campus and sitting in class with her jaw wired shut. Do you remember being 20? Were you self-conscious at that age even on your best days, wondering what your peers thought of you just because you felt lacking in some way, or were afraid that your hair or clothes or looks weren’t quite right? I was.
If the person you care about most, or anyone you know and care about, had to undergo surgery because of what a much larger person did to them, I imagine you would carry a pain and a sense of rage with you for years to come. If you saw your friend, or a family member… your own daughter, niece, or granddaughter with her jaw wired shut because of what a much larger person did to her… If you heard that several months later she cannot feel the left side of her face… If you heard her expressing a positive attitude, saying she’s dealing with the liquid diet okay… you’d cry, or you’d find something to break, and you’d likely do both.
The video didn’t show the panic attacks that Mia Molitor would experience months after the physical assault, which can make a person feel like they might be dying, and can be triggered by seemingly nothing at all.
No one can see and comprehend all of the effects Mia Molitor has experienced. But if you are willing to think for only a few seconds about just a fraction of what she has experienced every day since his act of punching her, you will see more reality than most.
Now consider watching a stadium full of people cheering for him. Think of turning on the TV and seeing respected adults praise him, and seeing the joy on people’s faces as they cheer for the person who did this to the person you love. I don’t think Brent Musburger would have felt the same if he’d thought more about the full reality, or if Mia Molitor and her family were honored guests in the press box.
The video doesn’t show a stack of mail on the table that contains medical bills from multiple hospitals and physicians. Or the calendar that has follow up appointments scheduled and dates for when your daughter’s jaw will probably not be wired shut anymore and she can eat real food again, if it has healed well enough by then.
It showed enough, but it didn’t show most of the story that matters.
If we intend to live in a culture that is anything near what we claim we want for our children and each other, then we as men and women are called to look at the full picture of reality.
Most violent acts are never caught on video. Most abuse is not even physically violent. Countless people of all sexualities and genders are being abused by partners who would never hit them, but who will be cruel emotionally or verbally to control them. They are robbed of millions of moments of happiness, months and years of life, because of controlling partners who use other methods to get what they want, rather than be above mistreating the person they claim to love.
That is the other part of reality that people must understand. People must be educated on non-physical abuse and emotional/psychological harm. It’s usually hidden and much less obvious, but as educated and decent people we must understand it. Our students and the professionals who work with them must understand it.
This, however, should not be that complicated. This is an outlier. This is extreme. This does not even represent the real problem of abusive behaviors, except to show how under-educated and miseducated our culture is on these issues. The response of apathy, defensiveness, and even warm wishes after this video was released reveals a lot.
We are not yet what we imagine ourselves to be as a culture.
If we can’t see reality when it’s caught on video… If we can’t see reality when we can read about surgeries and a young woman attending class with her jaw wired shut, then that must be seen as a wakeup call.
We need to get it right. Getting it right will require that we look at the whole story of reality. And if we don’t like what we see, then we are called to do much more to make sure it doesn’t happen.
Aaron Boe is the founder of Prevention Culture, a consulting firm that works with institutions and organizations to proactively build healthier cultures to prevent abusive behaviors and sexual misconduct. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org