What Urban Meyer's Twitter Confession Means for the Ohio State Program
On Friday, August 3rd, Urban Meyer tweeted out a long awaited response to the string of domestic violence, harassment and stalking allegations against former OSU WR coach Zach Smith by his ex-wife which began in 2009 and persisted until as recently as 2017. When Smith was fired July 23rd after being arrested for criminal trespassing on his ex-wife’s property, news reports alleging Urban Meyer and the Ohio State administration’s knowledge and subsequent inaction against Smith surfaced and the media turned to Coach Meyer for answers. Now that the head coach has made a public statement addressed specifically to “Buckeye Nation,” there are now more questions about how Ohio State and perhaps even the NCAA handle accusations of domestic abuse.
Reading Meyer's letter, I am reminded of the countless public apology letters about things as small as an insensitive comment made by a celebrity to a large corporation addressing a major blunder in their business practices. Sometimes public apologies can do more harm than good if the apologist seems insincere in taking responsibility for their words or actions. A good and properly executed public apology will make the person or entity more popular than before as their full and genuine admittance of guilt and even a pro-active *action* to prevent or fix the issue or situation humanizes and provides them with some much needed good will. In Coach Meyer’s case, his attempt to apologize for some “alternative facts” he provided on the subject on Big 10 Media Days (video below) clarified his own role in the scandal, but in doing so diffused responsibility from himself to whatever “proper channels” he allegedly reported the allegations to.
The fact of the matter is that from 2009, when allegations of domestic violence against then Florida coach Zach Smith first came to Meyer’s attention, until July 2018, no arrest was ever made and Smith remained on both Florida and Ohio State’s payroll with zero penalties or public statement by the Ohio State administration.
If Meyer is lying (again), he violated a Title IX clause in his contract that requires the him to “promptly report to Ohio State’s Title IX Coordinator for Athletics any known violations of Ohio State’s Sexual Misconduct Policy (including but not limited to sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual exploitation, intimate violence and stalking) that involve any student, faculty or staff … For purposes of this Section 4.1 (e), a 'known violation' shall mean a violation or allegation of a violation of Title IX that Coach is aware of or has reasonable cause is taking place or may have taken place.” According to this clause, a college or university that receives federal funding may be held legally responsible when it knows about and ignores sexual harassment or assault in its programs.
Either way, Ohio State has a critical decision to make: fire Urban Meyer for lying or fire whoever Meyer allegedly reported the allegations to. There’s no retracting at this point, it’s be stated now that not only Urban Meyer, but administrators above Ohio State’s head coach knew about these allegations and continued to allow Zach Smith the privileges of being an OSU coach despite Courtney’s Smith’s 9 calls to law enforcement–none of which ended in an arrest. In fact, according to Courtney Smith's interview, in the state of Ohio you can not get a protective order unless you can prove the person is actively trying to kill you.
Timeline of these Zach Smith Allegations
According to Courtney Smith’s interview with Stadium, one of the reasons she stayed with Smith following the domestic abuse incident in 2009 was due to pressure from Urban Meyer’s Attorney, Brad Koffel. She was allegedly told, “if you don’t drop these charges, he will never coach again,” and even went on to absolve him by saying, “he’s never hit you before. He was drinking… and he probably won’t do it again.” Mrs. Smith ultimately dropped the charges under pressure from not only Koffel, but from Zach Smith’s parents and two of Meyer’s closest friends and mentors, Hiram de Fries and Earle Bruce as well. Meyer has since admitted that he knew of the incident stating:
“As I do any time, that I imagine most coaches or people in leadership positions, you receive a phone call, you tell your boss, let the experts do their jobs. We’re certainly not going to investigate.”
If Urban Meyer truly had an issue with domestic violence and saw it as something that contradicted his core values of respecting women and teaching his student-athletes to do so which he claims in his Twitter post, he would have fired Zach Smith back in 2009, and especially in 2015 when the abuse allegedly began to escalate. Instead, the 2009 incident swept under the rug by people in Meyer’s inner circle, which allowed WR coach Zach Smith to not only continue his abuse and harassment for years to come, but remain a major influence in the development of the young players that Meyer so passionately feels responsible for.
When Zach Smith resumed his physical and emotional abuse against Smith again after being hired by Meyer to coach at Ohio State, she made a conscious decision to separate from her husband in hopes that abuse would end for good. However, in 2015 the Ohio State WR Coach came to pick up his son early before his legally allotted time arrived. According to her interview, when Smith stood her ground to tell her then-separated husband to leave, he threw her up against a wall with his hands around her neck–something the former Ohio State coach allegedly did habitually when the couple was still together–while her daughter clinged to her leg. Despite the fact that Zach Smith illegally left with his son that night, and the police allegedly had “more than enough evidence to convict him for domestic violence,” no arrest was made–something which seems to still baffle* Courtney Smith to this day. Once again, if Urban Meyer had reported this incident to the “proper channels” as he claims, there was still nothing done by supposed authorities to either remove Zach Smith as an Ohio State Football coach or take legal action to protect Courtney Smith and her children from further abuse and harassment.
During the Big 10 Media Days, Meyer staunchly denied any knowledge of the events that transpired in 2015; “there was nothing . . . once again, there’s nothing—once again, I don’t know who creates a story like that.” The head coach has now walked back this statement, and admitted to knowledge of the 2015 incident not long after former ESPN reporter Brett McMurphy recently released text messages between Courtney Smith and Urban Meyer’s wife Shelley Meyer, which made his Media Day denial seem highly implausible. In the open letter, Meyer claims that his “core values and respecting women” which he teaches to the 105 young men of the Ohio State Football program, is not “lip service” and that he takes the issue of violence of against women seriously.
For those of you still defending Urban Meyer and Ohio State administration, there are two major takeaways from what happened here: 1) neither calling the police nor separating from her husband helped to protect Courtney Smith from further abuse and harassment; 2) her biggest fear was that her son would learn by the example of his father and continue the cycle of abuse as an adult. Urban Meyer Admits he failed in his responsibility to be truthful, but he also failed in setting an example for the young men he is responsible for by demonstrating that domestic violence is not a fire-able offense and is permitted if you're winning national titles.
It’s time to stop seeing domestic violence as ‘one mistake made by a nice guy’ or ‘that’s their business.’
1 in 4 women–and 1 in 7 men– will experience severe physical abuse by the hands of their partner. Domestic abuse, assault, harassment, etc thrive and propagate in cultures where it’s seen as an exclusively private matter by both the victim’s friends and family and law enforcement. In the case of public figures and celebrities, accusations are very often reacted to by fans, who due to cognitive dissonance, will do mental back-flips to maintain the reputation of their beloved hero by grasping at straws to discredit their accusers or fabricate intricate conspiracy theories. I’ve read and heard many Ohio State and Big 10 fans accuse Courtney Smith, Brett McMurphy, and others of conspiracy to take down a renowned college football coach. Though, to much of the Buckeye Nation's credit, most of them have just switched to talking about basketball for the time being.
But even the pieces condemning the lack of action taken against Zach Smith are narrowly focused on how this affects one individual man’s career and even defend him as a “genuinely decent man of faith.” I am not going to interpret the bible here, but a quote by Edmund Burke is often referenced when talking about watching evil happen, “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” By no means am I going to judge a man’s faith here, but in the case of domestic violence, standing idle and letting it continue with impunity because ‘it’s not my job to intervene’ and ‘he’s a good guy/good at his job so it’s not my problem’ is whyonly 8.32% percent of domestic violence incidents lead to charges being filed.
Nonetheless, this issue is much bigger than Urban Meyer’s reputation. This scandal is indicative of a much larger problem in the world of College Football. The same culture of discretion and‘win-at-all-costs’ when it comes to the off-field activities of winning college coaches that influenced Meyer’s decision to not report or fire Zach Smith is the same one that allowed Jerry Sandusky and others continue their abuses with impunity.
It’s no secret that domestic violence is an issue in the world of both college and professional football. Today, 44 active NFL players have records of domestic violence, and 12 were invited to join NFL teams even as they were facing outstanding court cases based on alleged physical or sexual assaults, many committed against intimate partners. Part of being a college football coach is being a leader to young men between the critical ages of 18-22. Arguably the best coaches in college football today uphold player guidance and personal leadership as one of the central pillars of their coaching philosophies. If football and the greater world of professional sports is to fix this recurring problem of misogyny, assault, and abuse then there needs to be a systemic change starting with those who are suppose to be leaders to the next generation of pro athletes and coaches.
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