The OSU Football Coach's Suspension Has People Outraged For A Serious Reason
Not everyone is satisfied with the way Ohio State University handled disciplinary proceedings against its head football coach this week. OSU suspended Urban Meyer for three games for mishandling allegations of domestic abuse against his assistant coach, Zach Smith, according to NPR. Some people are saying that his relatively short suspension is inadequate, as well as hypocritical for a team that says it instills good values in players and even has "TREAT WOMEN WITH RESPECT" painted on the wall of its practice facility, according to sports site The Ringer.
The allegations against Smith came from his ex-wife, Courtney Smith, and he denies them. Meyer fired his assistant coach in late July after Courtney acquired a domestic violence civil protection order against him, but she alleges that her ex-husband been violent towards her for years. Smith was arrested in 2009 for "aggravated battery on a pregnant female;" Courtney told college football insider Brett McMurphy that she was 8-10 weeks pregnant at the time. She also said that her ex-husband physically abused her on "so many instances" over the following years that "it's hard to recall all of them." Smith allegedly continued to harass Courtney after their divorce, which he also denies.
Meyer says that he didn't know about all of Courtney's allegations and didn't have enough information to act on the claims he did know about. In a statement on Wednesday, OSU said that both Meyer and Athletics Director Gene Smith had a "good faith belief that they did not have sufficient information to trigger a reporting obligation or initiate a disciplinary action against former assistant coach Zach Smith in the absence of law enforcement action."
But some are questioning that conclusion and arguing that Meyer must have had reason to believe that the allegations against Smith were true. For one thing, his wife had reportedly texted back and forth with Courtney about the alleged abuse, according to The Ringer. Courtney claimed to McMurphy, the football reporter, that Meyer's life coach and another of his close friends persuaded her not to press charges in 2009. (The friend has since died, per McMurphy, and the life coach has not commented on these claims.)
OSU put Meyer on paid administrative leave earlier this month while it examined his handling of the allegations against Smith. On Wednesday, it announced that it had decided to suspend him for three games, meaning that he'll miss six weeks of pay. The university said its investigation did not find evidence of willful negligence on Meyer's part, and that he "has a sincere commitment to the Respect for Women core value that he espouses and tries to instill in his players."
Many reacted to the news with outrage, arguing that Meyer's punishment isn't adequate. "Dear OSU/Urban," tweeted ESPN reporter Rachel Baribeau, "is that really even a suspension?" Baribeau was among many who took to Twitter to voice their outrage, claiming that Meyer was "covering up" the allegations and that the school misplaced their values.
Some brought up the example of Kristian Fulton and other NCAA players who have been punished to show how the football community appears ready to deal out harsher punishments in other areas. Fulton, a five-star recruit player to Louisiana State University, was suspended for two years for cheating on a drug test (it tested for performance-enhancing drugs, but he thought it was for marijuana). The punishment for a positive test result is one year.
Meyer has been OSU's head football coach since 2012 and led the team to great success. The Buckeyes achieved a 73-8 record under his leadership and won a Big Ten title in both 2014 and 2017. Meyer's critics argue that his impressive record incentivized the university to give him a relatively light punishment. Matt Hayes, a writer at Bleacher Report, for instance, wrote for the site on Thursday that the suspension "shows Ohio State values winning more than morality."
Hayes was not the only sports reporter who called out OSU in writing for the three-game suspension.
"I'm sorry for Courtney Smith. I'm sorry that Meyer and his boss, athletic director Gene Smith, have lost all perspective on the world that is outside of Buckeye Nation," Heather Dinich, a senior writer at ESPN, wrote in piece published Thursday that also called out Meyer's tone at a press conference.
"Keeping Zach Smith on staff may have made a mockery of Meyer’s “core value” of “TREAT WOMEN WITH RESPECT” painted on the locker-room walls, but it’s on you if you thought that’s more than just a marketing slogan," Michael Cunningham wrote for AJC, implicating the overall culture of college sports.
Meyer will be suspended for games against Oregon State, Rutgers, and TCU, per Morgan Moriarty at SBNation, who adds that at least two of those can be categorized as "easily winnable." His first game back will be on Sept. 22 against Tulane. It remains to be seen if he'll have learned a lesson by then.