Ohio State football: University denies allegations of racism, cover-up in Trevon Grimes' transfer

Tim May
Wide receiver Trevon Grimes talks to head coach Urban Meyer and athletic director Gene Smith, July 22, 2016 at Ohio Stadium in Columbus. (Barbara J. Perenic)

Ohio State University administrators joined football players and coaches on Tuesday in “unequivocally and vehemently” disputing an online report alleging that former OSU player Trevon Grimes left the program last year after being the target of a racial slur by onetime assistant coach Zach Smith.

The story, written by former ESPN reporter Brett McMurphy for, said Smith called Grimes the “N-word” during a practice altercation in September 2017, when Grimes was a freshman receiver for the Buckeyes. Grimes has since transferred to the University of Florida.

McMurphy’s story said the incident was covered up by OSU head coach Urban Meyer. On Tuesday, Meyer responded by calling the report “the most preposterous thing I’ve ever heard being involved in college athletics,” and added that he is “looking into legal action.”

Meyer’s bosses backed him up.

“Any allegations of racism are outrageous and false,” university president Michael V. Drake said in a statement. “The university told McMurphy that we have found no evidence to support these allegations.

“Reporting in this manner is irresponsible, inflammatory and a severe invasion of privacy of a student athlete and his family as well as a baseless personal attack on Coach Meyer. It is regrettable that McMurphy and his employer would use such poor judgment in running this inaccurate story.”

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OSU athletic director Gene Smith told The Dispatch that the university is considering a legal response.

“Urban is right. There are legal options that we need to consider,” Gene Smith said. “Him, because it’s a personal attack. And then from the university side, I’m not clear what our actions could be, but we’ll pause and have that conversation.”

Earlier Tuesday, Gene Smith released a statement saying, “The accusations made … by Brett McMurphy regarding our coach and the reasons for the transfer of Trevon Grimes are unequivocally false. Urban Meyer embraces diversity and would absolutely never support an environment of racism. It simply isn’t tolerated here.

“And as an African-American, football player and collegiate administrator, I personally can say that our coaches, student-athletes and support staff know there is no place for any such behavior within our programs, at The Ohio State University or anywhere.”

Gene Smith told The Dispatch that he and another administrator interviewed as many as 10 people, including players, a trainer and an assistant strength coach, who might have witnessed the practice incident.

Ohio State has acknowledged that Zach Smith and Grimes had an exchange, but “there was no physical altercation. There was no use of any racial terms whatsoever,” Gene Smith said.

Current Ohio State players took to Twitter on Tuesday to dispute the allegations.

“I witness(ed) the whole altercation and this didn’t happen,” senior receiver Johnnie Dixon wrote. “You think a group of African-American young men will sit there and let something like this happen? Say what you want but this isn’t true at all.”

I witness the whole altercation and this didn’t happen.. You think a group of African American young men will sit there and let something like this happen? Say what you want but this isn’t true at all.

— Johnnie L. Dixon III (@YoungKing_JD5) November 13, 2018

Fellow receiver Parris Campbell added, “There’s no way that anyone would believe this. NO WAY. This lie is just out of hand.”

There’s no way that anyone would believe this. NO WAY. This lie is just out of hand. I was present during the entire altercation and what’s said in this article NEVER HAPPENED. I can guarantee it. Crazy how social media gives people platforms just to spread nonsense.

— Parris Campbell (@PCampbell21) November 13, 2018

Grimes, a five-star prospect from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, left the Ohio State program in late September 2017, reportedly to be near his mother Leah Grimes, who was said to be dealing with an unspecified but serious health issue, since learned to be stage IV ovarian cancer.

Meyer, Zach Smith, OSU program coordinator Ryan Stamper and Grimes’ freshman teammates Tate Martell and Jaylen Harris flew to Fort Lauderdale on Oct. 9, 2017, on a chartered jet to offer support for Grimes and his mother.

Trevon Grimes eventually transferred to Florida last winter and received an NCAA waiver to retain his first-year eligibility, and he told reporters there during spring drills that he made the move to be closer to his mother.

McMurphy’s story, however, suggests that Leah Grimes’ cancer diagnosis was either exaggerated or fabricated to facilitate Trevon Grimes’ exit from Ohio State.

“They’re trying to say we made up a story about cancer or something; I’ve never heard of anything like this in my life,” Meyer said.

McMurphy’s report is based primarily on information provided by Trevon Grimes’ father, LeBron, who has long been separated from Leah Grimes. LeBron Grimes alleged that his son was the target of a racial slur by Zach Smith, who was fired by Meyer in July amid allegations of domestic abuse. LeBron Grimes said in the story he flew from Florida to help his son make a hasty exit from OSU in late September 2017.

Trevon Grimes offered no comment to Leah Grimes refused interview requests by and could not be reached by The Dispatch on Tuesday. But she offered a written statement passed on by an OSU spokesman:

“I understand there is great interest in college football and the personalities involved. But that does not give anyone the right to invade the privacy and personal health information of mothers whose sons happen to play college football,” the statement said. “The NCAA cleared Trevon for eligibility based on their rules after I provided the required documentation about my illness. My oncologist has attested to it. For anyone to accuse me of making up an illness for any reason is vile and hurtful.

“Coach Urban Meyer has been a good friend to both me and Trevon during this entire process, and to accuse him of misconduct in this case is unfair as well. He tried to help any way he could, including referring me to doctors at Ohio State he thought could help.

“If my ex-husband is the person spreading these rumors, everyone should know that neither I nor Trevon have any contact with him whatsoever. He knows nothing about my health and nothing about Trevon’s transfer to UF. …

“I know that stories about college football coaches and players will continue to be news, but I ask that my health be kept out of it. I did not ask to be in the spotlight, and I am angry that someone has tried to put me there.”

Gene Smith told The Dispatch said he has spoken with Leah Grimes.

“I have seen pictures of her in a hospital bed, I’ve read all the documentation,” which is why OSU helped facilitate Trevon Grimes’ transfer, he said. “My position is, if they’re ready to go, let ’em go. When they have a circumstance with the NCAA where we can help them get immediate eligibility, I say let’s help ’em.”

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