Missouri is right to show caution with Dixon

ST. LOUIS — This situation is murky. It’s messy, serious and sensitive, so Missouri officials and senior guard Michael Dixon must proceed with caution.

What we know now is that Dixon was accused of forcible rape in August but not charged, which led to coach Frank Haith placing Dixon on indefinite suspension before the season began. And while we do not know when, or if, that suspension will be lifted now that the legal process appears to have run its course, it is clear that Haith did the right thing.

It was the right thing to suspend Dixon, who has missed the Tigers’ first six games for violating team rules. It was the right thing to keep him off the court as the Columbia Police Department and University of Missouri Student Conduct Committee held investigations. It was the right thing to let the process work, show that no player is above severe allegations and remain mum on the topic when asked.

This may stick with Dixon. Even if he returns this season, the episode could linger for him. Even if he joins junior guard Phil Pressey to create what some have called the nation’s best backcourt, this unfortunate start to the season won’t be erased.

Type “Michael Dixon” into Google and headlines like “Missouri’s Michael Dixon, cleared by police, awaits ruling of school” and “Missouri’s Dixon avoids rape charge” fill the screen. The details, as documented by the Columbia (Mo.) Daily Tribune, are intimate and at times embarrassing. His name may forever be associated with this incident.

This can be a teaching moment, if Dixon allows it to be. Police determined there was insufficient evidence to file criminal charges. He’s innocent unless proven otherwise. Still, Haith was wise to give Dixon a chance to reflect.

“The time frame will also depend on the player and their response to adversity,” Haith said when Dixon’s indefinite suspension was announced in late October. “It’s more about the everyday choices we make and the cumulative impact it has on our ability to be good stewards of the Mizzou brand.”

“The everyday choices we make” is the key part of Haith’s statement. This has been an odd year at Missouri, and Dixon is the latest high-profile figure who has found himself headlines for the wrong reasons.

There was football coach Gary Pinkel’s arrest on suspicion of driving while intoxicated in November 2011. There was freshman wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham’s arrest on suspicion of marijuana possession in October. There was junior defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson’s one-game suspension earlier this month for skipping class.  

Now Dixon, like those others, is viewed in a different light. That’s the reality of their roles as prominent campus personalities who, fairly or unfairly, are studied with a more focused scope.

That’s not to say Dixon was wrong when he tweeted, “I’VE DONE NOTHING WRONG!” after Missouri’s loss to Louisville in the Bahamas last Friday. That’s for others to decide. However, the tweet came on a night when the Tigers committed 23 turnovers — a number that likely would have been lower had Dixon played. The guard who earned a reputation last year as one of the country’s most valuable sixth men harmed his team and himself by becoming entangled in this mess.

What’s next? Well, that remains to be seen. If Dixon is given a chance to return, he may have to rebuild his image in the eyes of Haith and his teammates, the people affected most by his absence.

On paper, Missouri is better than last season’s team that went 30-5 and earned a Big 12 tournament title along with a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Senior forward Laurence Bowers’ return and the addition of transfers like senior forward Alex Oriakhi (UConn) and junior guard Earnest Ross (Auburn) give the Tigers greater depth. Dixon, who averaged 13.5 points and 3.3 assists last season, was thought to offer Mizzou a dynamic talent to complement Pressey.

Instead, uncertainty about Dixon’s status had become a distraction. At times, Haith was short when asked about Dixon before leaving for the Bahamas. More eyebrows were raised when Dixon traveled with the team but remained out in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, an event in which he would have made an impact against strong competition. The release of the police report provides some clarity, but it doesn’t answer questions about his future.

Dixon must move forward, and the best way is if he returns and shows maturity. He can repair his image among those who question him. He can become the player Haith envisions him to be.  

It’s appropriate that Dixon has been a spectator through six games. There’s nothing wrong with prudence. There’s nothing wrong with approaching such a matter with care, caution and a willingness to get it right.

Dixon’s future is a mystery. For now, that’s OK.

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.