Ohio State leadership absent amid scandals
Urban Meyer pushed back hard on Ohio State Friday afternoon. This is a smart move on his part because there is a leadership vacuum at the great state university. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.
Is anyone else — faculty, alumni, board members — wondering what the heck is going on with the athletic department? Ohio State could be known for a litany of good works it does as an institution of higher learning, as a leading research university and as a community dedicated to the land-grant ideals of the Morrill Acts.
Right now, though, it’s known for leading the Big Ten in grotesque scandals — and that, folks, is saying something.
Dr. Richard Strauss, a physician at Ohio State who served as team doctor from 1978 to ’98, has been accused of molestation by more than 100 men, many of them wrestlers. Strauss killed himself in 2005. Ohio State began investigating when allegations began to arise in April.
U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, a former assistant wrestling coach, has been dragged into the awful mess. Jordan repeatedly has said he knew nothing of any of these depredations, and he is now attacking his accusers with vigor and venom.
The latest on the Strauss story appeared on the front page of Friday’s editions of The New York Times.
The scandal involving the Ohio State Diving Club also is national news (and made the pages of The Times). A former diver, Eszter Pryor, last month filed a class-action lawsuit that says an assistant coach, Will Bohonyi, forced her to have sex with him beginning in 2014. At the time, Pryor was 16 years old. She said she was apprehensive about reporting the abuse because there were no clear channels to do so, and because she feared repercussions.
Ohio State investigated the incident in 2014, placed Bohonyi on administrative leave and then fired him. The school said it also alerted Franklin County Children’s Services, campus police and USA Diving, a national governing body.
A criminal investigation is ongoing.
Enter Urban Meyer, who was placed on paid administrative leave Wednesday. On July 24, during the Big Ten’s annual football media gathering, Meyer denied, denied, denied that he knew anything about a 2015 allegation of domestic abuse involving OSU assistant coach Zach Smith.
He said, “(T)here’s nothing. … I don’t know who creates a story like that. … I was never told about anything. … I never had a conversation about it.”
The scandal blew up a week later when Smith’s ex-wife, Courtney, went public with what she said was evidence of physical abuse — and said that Meyer’s wife, Shelley, knew about it. In short order, nine police reports — none including criminal charges — involving the Smiths came to light.
Meyer was placed on paid leave as yet another blue-ribbon committee conducts an investigation.
Friday, Meyer released a statement that said, in part, “I have always followed proper reporting protocols and procedures when I have learned of an incident involving a student-athlete, coach or member of our staff by elevating the issues to the proper channels. And, I did so regarding the Zach Smith incident in 2015.”
Alternate reading: “If you blame anyone, don’t blame me. Blame athletic director Gene Smith and/or school president Michael Drake. It’s not my fault for waiting nearly three years to fire a coach accused of domestic violence. Fire somebody else.”
Meyer stated, “The power of what I say and how I say it, especially regarding sensitive and serious domestic issues, has never been more evident than now. My words, whether in reply to a reporter’s question or in addressing a personnel issue, must be clear, compassionate and most of all, completely accurate. Unfortunately, at Big Ten Media Days on July 24th, I failed on many of these fronts. … I apologize for the way I handled those questions.”
Alternate reading: “OK, I lied last week — but I’m not lying now. I am entirely credible. Trust me.”
Meyer stated, “At the appropriate time, I will also address the questions and speculation in a public forum. But for now, out of respect for ongoing inquiry, I will refrain at this time.”
Alternate reading: “This very statement is an act of brazen insubordination, intended to influence the investigation and rally Buckeye Nation — they love me! — to my cause. But I’ll be quiet now because I am an honorable sort.”
Meyer is lobbying hard to keep his job, to the point of rubbing his bosses’ faces in the cult of his personality. He is forcing his superiors to decide what the university stands for: Gridiron victories that generate hundreds of millions of dollars to feed the athletic department — or whatever else the school might cherish.
To the benefit of the administration, the Meyer scandal has taken the public’s eye off the scandal involving Dr. Strauss, who is being described as a serial molester, and the scandal involving the diving club, which has allegations of child abuse hanging over it.