Ohio State, NCAA needs to take abuse seriously

Rewon Shimray | Cartoonist Photo credit: Rewon Shimray

Last week Ohio State University suspended its head football coach, Urban Meyer, for three games following the university’s investigation into his handling of domestic abuse allegations involving his former assistant coach, Zach Smith.

A report made public by the university on Wednesday found that Meyer was aware of allegations of abuse before he hired Smith at Ohio State. The evidence against Meyer is damning — a three-game suspension is a joke and an insult to all victims of abuse. Either Meyer knew Smith was abusing his wife and did not report it or he didn’t know. If he did know he should be fired, and if he didn’t know he shouldn’t be suspended. A three-game suspension acknowledges Meyer’s wrongdoing but essentially says that punishing and condemning this behavior is not as important as winning, money or Meyer’s legacy.

The three-game suspension neither provides the justice and support for Courtney Smith, the alleged victim, nor does it take seriously enough the nature of domestic abuse and the responsibility Meyer and the university have to report it.

Smith was accused of throwing his pregnant wife against a wall in 2009 while assistant coach at the University of Florida. The university’s report found that, without telling anyone at Ohio State about the 2009 allegations, Meyer hired Smith at Ohio State before the 2012 season.

When Meyer learned he was being accused of mishandling accusations of abuse, the report found that he discussed with an assistant how to delete old text messages from his phone. When Meyer turned his phone over in the investigation, it was set to save text messages only for the previous year. A public records request from Ohio State’s student newspaper for messages Meyer sent during a few months in 2015 may never be filled as a result of this, the investigation found.

In October 2015, Meyer was notified that Smith was being investigated by the police for an accusation of domestic violence and could be arrested at any time.

The report revealed that throughout his time at Ohio State, Smith was often late for practices, missed several meetings on recruiting trips, spent a night at a strip club with at least one high school football coach while on a recruiting trip in Florida and took explicit photos of himself at the White House during a team visit in April 2015.

Despite all these behavioral issues, Smith not only kept his job, but Meyer recommended him for raises along the way.

“I followed my heart, not my head,” Meyer said at a press conference after the university report was released.

During this three-game suspension, Meyer will be unable to coach games against Oregon State, Rutgers and TCU–all non-conference games. Following the Oregon State game, Meyer will be allowed to coach practices but may not attend games.

In the world of college football suspensions, three games is nothing. In 2011, Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor was suspended for five games for selling memorabilia and their head coach Jim Tressel was fired. A.J. Green of University of Georgia was suspended for four games in 2010 for selling his jersey for $1,000. Todd Gurley, also of University of Georgia was suspended for four games in 2014 for selling his autograph. Concealing allegations of abuse is a far worse crime than any of these players committed. Coaches should be held to an even higher standard. Meyer’s behavior was unacceptable and the punishment should fit the crime.

In response to clear mishandling of sexual assault allegations within Baylor athletics Baylor fired Art Briles and Judge Ken Starr. In addition to an independent investigation Baylor is also being investigated by the Big 12 and the NCAA. Ohio State is clearly not capable of holding themselves accountable the Big 10 and the NCAA need to do their part by investigating Meyer and handing down additional punishment.

The #MeToo movement may have sparked changes nationwide in the way abuse is handled, but these issues aren’t going to be fixed overnight. Change has to start somewhere, and it has to start with institutions like Ohio State taking it upon themselves to take situations like these seriously.

Urban Meyer should be fired for failing to report allegations of domestic abuse.

A cultural shift needs to happen at universities across the country. Allegations of abuse must be taken seriously and failure to do so needs to result in appropriate repercussions for all those involved.