The scandal that has erupted at Ohio State regarding its high-profile football coach centers around a pervasive issue throughout class society — domestic violence. During a July 24 press conference, Urban Meyer, the Ohio State Buckeyes coach, issued a statement saying that he was unaware of an October 2015 domestic violence incident involving his former assistant, Zach Smith, and his former spouse, Courtney Smith.
That statement was proven to be false when Courtney Smith did an interview Aug. 1 with former ESPN reporter Brett McMurphy, bringing to light that Meyer fired Smith on July 23 when he found out about charges made against Smith. Meyer claimed he “failed” to know about the 2015 incident after the ESPN interview was made public.
Meyer even stated that he was aware of at least one incident involving the same couple in 2009, when Smith worked for Meyer while he was head football coach at the University of Florida. But Courtney Smith was encouraged not to report spousal abuse in 2009 by Hiram de Fries, a special assistant to Meyer, who told her, “If you don’t drop the charges, Zach will never coach again. He’s never hit you before. He was drinking. He’ll probably never do it again. You should think about giving him a second chance.” (espn.com, Aug. 2)
This begs the question: Why wasn’t Zach Smith suspended immediately in 2009 by Meyer?
A coach or anyone who advises others has the legal obligation to report right away to a university athletics Title IX director if there has been an alleged violation of a sexual misconduct policy.
The Title IX policy states: “An individual need not be charged with or convicted of a criminal offense to be found responsible for domestic violence pursuant to this policy.” (espn.com, Aug. 2)
Ohio State put Meyer on “paid administrative leave” on Aug. 3 until it carries out a “full investigation” of what he knew and didn’t know about this development.
Meyer makes a salary of $7 million annually for a football program which has an annual budget of $185 million — the third largest in the country.
Ohio State announced that a “special working group” will determine if Meyer improperly handled the situation. This group includes Ohio State officials’ board members — and NO representatives of domestic violence victims’ advocacy groups.
In an Aug. 2 video interview for the Stadium, Courtney Smith stated that she made Meyer’s spouse, Shelley Meyer, aware of Zach Smith’s spousal abuse in 2015; she also informed the spouses of other coaches, who decided to keep quiet. Courtney Smith also told Shelley Meyer that it would be OK to tell Urban Meyer about the abuse and that she was concerned because Smith was coaching “young men.”
Photos of her bruises and also her bloody hand were shown during the Stadium interview. Courtney Smith stated that her own family was not supportive of her and asked her to keep quiet about her pain and suffering. Powell, Ohio, police reported that Courtney Smith was a victim of domestic violence in nine separate incidents which they received complaints about from 2012 to 2018. (cleveland.com, Aug. 1)
A rally was held Aug. 6 on the Ohio State campus in support of Urban Meyer. Reports said 23,000 signatures were gathered in defense of Meyer. No petition was circulated and no solidarity rally was announced for Courtney Smith, the survivor. Courtney Smith’s lawyer, Julia Leveridge, reports that no one from Ohio State has reached out to her client.
Leveridge said that “blaming the victim is unacceptable” and that “we believe the University must prioritize the safety and well-being of others above all else. While The Ohio State University has never contacted Ms. Smith to discuss these allegations, she will fully cooperate with the university’s current investigation.” (espn.com, Aug. 7)
People should be ready to protest if, at the end of the investigation, Meyer keeps his job. This is possible since the Ohio State administration has shown far more concern for the reputation of its powerhouse football team than for the survivor. Courtney Smith should be admired for bravely speaking out on behalf of all survivors of domestic abuse. She deserves unconditional support.