Several days have passed since Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer was given a three-game suspension for his mishandling of domestic abuse allegations against a former assistant coach, a verdict that reflects negatively upon the entire sports world.
There was evidence revealed in an investigation conducted by the university that Meyer — who won the national championship at Ohio State in the 2014 season and is up next to Alabama’s Nick Saban among the elite coaches in college football — failed to act in 2015 upon allegations that Zach Smith, the former assistant coach, assaulted his now ex-wife Courtney Smith. There were the lies that Meyer spewed during Big Ten media day in July, when he pretended he knew nothing of Smith’s past, despite his history of questionable behavior. And there was the fact that, as the story went public earlier this month, Meyer asked a staffer how to delete old text messages. Curiously, when investigators went through Meyer’s phone, they found no texts dating back longer than a year.
But worst of all, following his suspension last Wednesday, Meyer held a press conference and delivered a pathetic performance. He was unapologetic, unremorseful — seemingly offended that he was even in this situation. He could not even bring himself to mention Courtney Smith’s name or talk about her until near the end of the presser.
“I have a message for everyone involved in this,” he said when a reporter finally asked if he had a message for Smith. “I’m sorry that we are in this situation. I’m just sorry we are in this situation.”
That was it.
On Friday, in the face of public backlash, Meyer finally released a statement online apologizing to Smith and her children. But Wednesday’s presser revealed more about Meyer’s character than an after-the-fact apology. He couldn’t say her name out loud, couldn’t even apologize to her. Instead, he said “we,” like she, the victim, was at fault. It was as if, Smith just had inconvenienced him because he was now facing repercussions for covering up domestic abuse by one of his former employees when there were important football games to prepare for.
By slapping Meyer on the wrist with a three-game suspension, Ohio State is sending the message that winning football games is more important than taking the moral high ground. The university had two options for two scenarios with its investigation: Clear him of wrongdoing and not punish him at all, or find fault and fire him. It found fault, and then did nothing. There is no middle ground when it comes to domestic violence or any type of mistreatment. There is no amount of games — let alone three — that Meyer should miss that will atone for the abuse that Courtney Smith went through, abuse that he took no action to stop.
It’s sad is that this comes as no surprise. We have seen this type of story time and time again in sports, where prominent athletes or coaches are given a pass because the value of their contributions to the team supersedes the desire to do right by survivors of sexual assault or domestic violence.
This has to change. Brandon McCarthy, a pitcher for the Atlanta Braves who is active on social issues, tweeted about the hypocrisy of sports fans who are willing to accept their star players retiring but keep rooting for their favorite player even in the face of negative revelations.
“Sports fans are used to the loss of their favorites and are always excited to see what’s next,” McCarthy wrote last Wednesday. “Why doesn’t this apply when their favorites turn out to be bad people?”
I am not passing judgement on whether or not Meyer is a bad person. I am saying that based on what we know, he should not be the head football coach at Ohio State. But that is not up to me, or anyone else who thinks this situation is outrageous. It is up to people within the university and determined by the culture surrounding Ohio State. Apparently, the culture of football, of bringing in money from winning games, of satisfying boosters and donors and the fanbase took precedence over showing contrition for a victim.
We may never hear Courtney Smith’s name again. But we will hear all about how Meyer’s legacy was tarnished and how the Buckeyes will carry on for three games without their head coach, as if this “adversity” is even in the same stratosphere as what Smith went through.
And let’s not pretend for a second that this exact scenario wouldn’t play out the same way at any other big-time college football program. College sports isn’t about doing what is morally right. The NCAA insists on its athletes being amateurs so it can profit off their success. College athletics are about one thing: making money. Urban Meyer does that for Ohio State, so he gets to keep his job. And as a sports fan, that makes me sad.
Eric He is a senior majoring in journalism. He is also the managing editor of the Daily Trojan His column, “Grinding Gears,” runs Mondays.