From special classes for athletes to the famed "core values" painted on a wall in the football complex, Ohio State University works to cultivate a no-tolerance message when it comes to relationship abuse.
Officials have launched the Buckeyes ACT (action, counseling, training) initiative, offered workshops taught by violence-prevention advocates and created online training modules for student-athletes and staff members.
>>Read more: Complete coverage of the investigation at Dispatch.com/UrbanMeyer
One of head football coach Urban Meyer's five core values — they're all in capital letters — is TREAT WOMEN WITH RESPECT.
That's all useful, domestic-violence experts say. But it's not enough "to make statements and put stuff on walls and do programs," said Cathy Alexander, trauma specialist for the Ohio Domestic Violence Network. "Your actions have to align with the message."
Alexander, an Ohio State sports fan with a long career in domestic-violence advocacy, thought a lot about that as she drove from Cleveland to her Columbus office on Thursday. Being against abuse is easy, she said, but what's often more difficult is responding to actual incidents in a way that sets aside personal or institutional interests.
"This is where the rubber meets the road," Alexander said. "That's really the crucible for it, when you have to make a choice. Move left or move right? The eyes of history — that great line from Hamilton — are upon us. You can't fix what you don't acknowledge."
Meyer, the spectacularly successful coach of one of the nation's biggest college football programs, might have faced such a decision when he stuck with Zach Smith, his receivers coach and the grandson of former OSU head coach Earle Bruce, after Smith was accused of domestic abuse.
Meyer said last week that he knew Smith had been charged with aggravated domestic battery in 2009 when they both were coaching in Florida. But Meyer said he wasn't aware of any subsequent problems and that he let Smith go after Smith's ex-wife, Courtney Smith, sought a civil protection order this month.
Courtney Smith essentially disputed that account in a video posted Wednesday to the sports website Stadium, in which she says she sent pictures of injuries incurred in more-recent years to Meyer's wife, Shelley, who told her that she was going to inform her husband. Courtney Smith, who alleged the abuse had gone on for years, said she did not know if Shelley Meyer told her husband but believes she did.
>>Read more: Urban Meyer placed on administrative leave
A pattern of sustained abuse is typical in domestic-violence cases, and presumably would be a topic covered in university training and educational sessions. The fact that Powell police were called to the Smiths' home several times also is an indicator that the situation is serious, experts said.
"Those are the cases that you really worry about, because there's an escalating quality to domestic violence," Alexander said, adding that police aren't called in most cases. "One thing we can say about the situation we're talking about today is that we could be looking back, god forbid, in a position of having had fatalities."
Meyer was placed on paid administrative leave Wednesday. OSU officials wouldn't talk publicly about their investigation into what and when he knew about the Smiths' problems.
Even if Meyer didn't know of any other incidents, "a person in a leadership position might want to follow up and double back," Alexander said. "Not knowing is a bit of benign neglect at best."
In 2013, OSU athletic director Gene Smith told The Dispatch that Buckeye football players were set to attend special sessions on "relationship abuse" at the Center for Family Safety and Healing at Nationwide Children's Hospital. A hospital spokeswoman said Thursday that the center is proud to have worked with the university in the past but couldn't comment on whether programs are continuing.
OSU trustee Abigail Wexner and her husband and former trustee, Les Wexner, chairman and founder of L Brands, declined comment through a spokeswoman. Mrs. Wexner is a prominent supporter of domestic-violence awareness and has raised millions for local programs.
"There's a Big Ten conference for athletics," she said in 2006. "What a powerful message we could send if we created a similar Big Ten conference to tackle relationship abuse."
Dispatch Reporter Tim Feran contributed to this report.