“This okay Mr. Mixon?” says a man in a white scrub top with a football helmet embroidered on the left breast. He is massaging the calf of a young muscular African-American man lying face down on a training table deep in the bowls of Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. The young man has only a towel over his backside.
“Please, call me Joe,” says the young man. “And you are?”
“Sal,” says the trainer, tersely. “Just want to make sure this is okay, uh…Joe.”
“It’s fine, Sal,” says Joe. “Anything is fine. You’re the first person I’ve met here that hasn’t asked me about the ‘incident’.”
Sal does not respond. He puts down the leg he’s been working on and walks around the table to the other side. He lifts the other leg and begins working on the calf.
Joe thinks back to his first days as a Cincinnati Bengal draft pick. He had fallen well into the second round due to his year-long suspension at the University of Oklahoma for striking a woman in the face at a bar. After months of anger-management, he is still mostly angry with himself for doing it in a public place and being caught on camera.
While happy that the Bengals took a chance on him, he is still angered that a clear first-round talent like himself, should have to continually put up with the lingering questions. At his Meet the Media press conference, one of these fat white fools actually asked him if he felt that his troubled past was behind him, like he would tell a reporter that he was going to commit a crime in advance.
This was the second day of the camp for rookies and free-agents. Joe had already received far more attention than the Bengals first-round pick, John Ross, a receiver at #10. Joe thought bitterly to himself that he’d have been picked in the top ten were it not for that bitch… Joe stopped himself and took three deep breaths as he was taught in therapy. He knew it wouldn’t help.
A man in a tank-top and shorts walks into the otherwise empty room. He drapes a towel onto the surface of the neighboring training table and then places three rolled towels at the head of the table where a pillow might go. Sal overtly avoids eye-contact. The man hops onto the training table and lies on his back. He carefully flips his dreadlocks over the small stack of rolled towels and settles his head on them. “Sal,” he says.
Sal quickly puts down Joe’s leg that he is working on and hurries out of the room.
Joe still has his head turned from the other man. “I’m not supposed to talk to you,” he says.
“So you know who I am, then. Good, it’ll save some time. Who put the word out on me? Coach Lewis?”
“It was the running backs coach…Caskey,” says Joe.
“I figured that pussy wouldn’t do it himself. It came from the top anyway. Coach don’t do shit without the man’s say-so. When they gonna realize that Pacman Jones runs this team?”
“I thought you dropped the ‘Pacman’ and went back to your given name…Adam was it?”
“Just for the press, my brother. My agent suggested it. Anybody important knows what to call me.”
“Well whatever you go by, just steer clear of me. I don’t need no trouble. I spent the last two years climbing out of the shit. Mike Brown told me that as long as—“
“Fuck that motherfucker,” says Pacman. “He don’t know shit about what goes on here. Turn around and look at me when I’m talkin’ to you, boy!”
Joe thinks for a moment then slowly turns his head toward the next table. Pacman continues to look up at the ceiling. Joe wonders if this is some psychological ploy or if Pacman is simply a sociopath. He also wonders if he should have done the assigned reading while in therapy.
“Got a proposition for you, boy,” says Pacman. “First I gotta tell you how things run here. As you know, I got quite a track record of infractions here.”
“Nine arrests, I was told,” says Joe.
“Not all with the Bengals, but you get the point. You must also know that the Bengals lead the league in arrests.”
“And generally fucked-up behavior as well as early playoff exits,” says Joe.
“Don’t believe everything you hear from a white running backs coach. Another dumb-ass move by Mike Brown, but you’ll find that out for yourself.”
“So why are you here? Vets aren’t due for three more days.”
Pacman ignores Joe and plows ahead. “I saw the video of you punching that woman,” says Pacman.
“You and the rest of the world. I put it behind me. I gotta move on.”
“Bullshit. Even on the grainy video, I could see that you enjoyed it. I get it. We all need to release anger…especially us high-level athletes. Nobody knows what it’s really like. Nobody else can know the high of the hitting and the competition at this level. The bitch should have thanked you for making her famous.”
“I can’t talk about this, man,” says Joe.
“So just listen. I got suspended for a year after Dallas released me. I was outta control. While on suspension, I connected with Chris Henry, who I went to college with at West Virginia.”
“They told us all about him in orientation. He got killed falling out of a truck cause of some brain disease,” says Joe.
“He ain’t had no brain disease, least not from football. That motherfucker was crazy before he got to West Virginia. He jumped out that truck on purpose to fuck with his girlfriend only he got his ass killed instead.” Pacman turns to look at Joe for the first time. “Chris got suspended soon after me, but after he died, I guess the Bengals felt bad or something, ‘cause they signed me when I couldn’t even get a gig in Canada. It was then that I decided on a new approach.”
“Whatever your new approach is, it don’t seem to be working very well,” says Joe.
“It ain’t about the arrests, it’s about the money.”
“The money? What do you mean?” Joe grabs his towel and readjusts it over his crotch as he sits up to face Pacman.
Pacman smiles. “How much that bitch cost you, Joe?”
“I don’t understand.”
“Yes you do. You paid her a settlement. Six figures? Seven?”
Joe looks at the floor. “A million,” he says softly.
“And what’s the difference in your contract getting’ drafted in the second round instead of the first?”
“About twelve million over four years,” says Joe.
“I figured your agent woulda pointed that out. So this bitch gets in your face and cost you 13 million dollars, a million of which you gotta pay before you even earn it…that about right?”
“Yeah, so? What’s done is done. I figure I’ll make it back on the next contract.”
Pacman sits up to face Joe.
“You think you’re done hittin’ bitches? You don’t think they’s gonna be taunting you every chance they get? And the ones who don’t wanna get hit, will be happy to get themselves knocked up with your babies all right. Had this teammate with the Titans who had like nine baby mamas. He got arrested for drug trafficking ‘cause he couldn’t keep up with the support payments.”
“So what’s this got to do with me and how does your system help?”
“My system focuses on the money instead of the behavior. Drinkers gonna drink, druggies gonna drug, fuckers gonna fuck,” says Pacman, while looking directly at Joe, “and bitch slappers, gonna bitch slap.”
“Not me,” says Joe. “I’m here to play football.”
“Sure Joe, we all are…but shit happens. Let me explain. Different infractions have different costs. For example, a first offense usually carries little or no financial penalty, either fines or suspensions.”
“One of my incidents, I spit in some chick’s face in a bar,” says Pacman.
“She wasn’t my chick. I did it for a teammate.”
“What? Why would you do that?”
“Cause I didn’t know her. I did it for a teammate. He does it, he gets sued for a hundred grand. I do it and worst I get is a small fine and a night in the pokey.”
“But why?” asks Joe.
“’Cause he hooked me up in return.”
“I don’t get it.”
“He fucked up a guy in a bar for me. My last bar incident got me a year’s suspension and an eleven million dollar settlement. He was only looking at a fine and misdemeanor. It was a win-win. Had another teammate do 15 days for a big marijuana deal. I’da gotten ten years.”
“What did that cost you?”
“I’d rather not say other than he has significantly less child support obligations.”
“This sounds pretty insane. I can assure you that I won’t be in any need of your tit-for-tat services,” says Joe.
“I guess we won’t know that until it happens, but I can tell that you still have that anger in you…and the life here at this level will only add more pressure. At some point, you’re gonna need to let it out and that’s fine with me. I just want to let you know that when you need some woman put in her place, that it’s gonna cost you everything. I might be able to help you out when that time comes. I also hope that if I need something taken care of, and you can help a brother out with minimal financial consequence to yourself, well…”
Joe continues to stare at the floor. Pacman looks at him for a moment.
“There is something, isn’t there?” asks Pacman.
“I meant this chick at a party after I was drafted,” says Joe. “I haven’t seen her since, but after I got my signing bonus, she texted me that she was pregnant. I’ve been holding her off, but…”
Pacman slides off his table and puts his hand on Joe’s shoulder. “Put some clothes on and let’s get a drink, rookie. There’s nothing like a veteran teammate to help you with a problem.”