Rabalais: Jalen Mills thankful for second chance after troubling off-field incident

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- LSU junior safety Jalen Mills answers questions Sunday at the Anderson-Feazel Indoor Field.
Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- LSU junior safety Jalen Mills answers questions Sunday at the Anderson-Feazel Indoor Field.

At the far end of the LSU indoor practice facility Sunday, well away from the maddening media day hordes surrounding Leonard Fournette and Brandon Harris and Anthony Jennings, Jalen Mills sat hunched over a folding chair alone with his thoughts.

More than once he must have appreciated the simple fact he was still sitting there on a Sunday afternoon in his No. 28 jersey, given a second lease on his LSU playing career after being booked on a second-degree battery charge in May. That charge was reduced to a misdemeanor simple battery earlier this month.

“People who really know me know I’m a very kind-hearted, loving person,” Mills said. “They’re happy I’m back on the team. I tell them don’t be happy for me, be thankful for me, because I’m thankful.”

Mills and LSU coach Les Miles both said he spent the summer separated from the team and their offseason workouts. Mills said he was allowed back on the squad only by a vote of his teammates.

Whether justice was done in Mills’ case from a legal and football perspective remains to be determined. At any rate, District Attorney Hillar Moore decided he didn’t have enough evidence to press the higher charge. There will still be a legal process, but likely Mills will receive little if any punishment and will be allowed to remain on the team.

“He’s a good kid,” LSU defensive backs coach Corey Raymond said. “I was very shocked with all this. In the court of law, the truth will come out, for either party. So we’ll see how that goes. But we’ve never had any problems with him around here.

“But one incident can give you a bad name. Like I told him, when you choose to be a college football player and God-willing an NFL player, you’re held to a different standard. You can’t do what a regular person does. The lifestyle is different.”

An unidentified woman alleged Mills punched her May 4 outside his apartment door, giving her a gash on the lip and causing her to lose consciousness. Moore said he decided to charge Mills with a misdemeanor because he could not prove specific intent to inflict serious bodily injury.

Mills wouldn’t go into details Sunday, considering it is still a pending legal matter, but his regret about the entire incident did sound genuine.

“If I could go back in time I wouldn’t put myself in this predicament,” he said. “I grew up with my mother, my grandmother, my aunt; they raised me and showed me how to love and treat a woman. I could have handled the situation a lot better than I did.”

As Raymond indicated, there appears to be sincere surprise around the LSU football program that Mills was accused of striking a woman. That doesn’t mean he will be found guilty or should be completely cleared.

While you never want to trivialize even the possibility of an incident of domestic violence, what is the larger issue here may well be the appearance of justice with regard to LSU athletes.

The Mills case draws significant, one might say disturbing, parallels to the Jeremy Hill case last summer. Like Mills, Hill was a prominent member of the football team. And like Mills, he avoided a more serious charge on the very day football practice began.

This is not to imply preferential treatment on the part of LSU football or the district attorney or Judge Bonnie Jackson in the Hill case.

But all concerned need to try harder to be above even the suspicion of preferential treatment just because someone like Hill can run well or someone like Mills can cover receivers from every position in the LSU secondary. It remains to be seen if Mills, like Hill in the first five quarters of 2013, will serve any sort of game suspension.

“You need to have awareness,” Raymond said. “Life is about awareness. Sometimes that goes into decisions on and off the football field.”

Indeed it does.

There can be sound legal reasons behind the decisions for Mills and Hill, reasons why they turned out when and how they did.

But a lot of reputations weren’t helped by the Hill and Mills cases.

Whether that’s fair or not, one thing is certain:

They’re the residue of off-the-field decisions that were incredibly poorly made.

Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.