Ohio State Report Raises Concerns

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In the hours after Ohio State announced that football coach Urban Meyer would be suspended for three games for his handling of domestic abuse allegations against former wide receivers coach Zach Smith, the school also released a 23-page report detailing the findings of its investigation.

Here are a few significant takeaways and key findings from that investigation, which was led by former U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White.

Meyer doubted Courtney Smith's 2015 allegations: The report found that Urban and Shelley Meyer "had doubts about the credibility of Courtney's (2015) claims, based on, among other things, Zach Smith's denials and their belief that Courtney Smith's 2009 allegations had been false."

(Zach Smith was arrested in Florida in 2009 for allegedly throwing Courtney Smith up against a wall, but she later declined to press charges.)

In a text message to former Ohio State linebacker Stan White after Zach Smith's firing, Urban Meyer described it as a "he said she said" situation.

Smith had stretch of "problematic" behavior: The report found Zach Smith engaged in "other problematic, or at least questionable, behavior" beyond the allegations of domestic abuse.

Among those actions, according to the investigation ...

He was "engaged in a sexual relationship with a secretary on the football staff who did not report to him."

He ran up "a significant bill" at a Florida strip club, which he attended with another Buckeyes football coach and "one or more high school coaches" during a recruiting trip in 2014.

He took "sexually explicit photographs of himself" at the White House in 2015 and at OSU's football facilities.

He was arrested for driving while impaired in 2013.

His credit cards were declined at least three times between 2014 and 2016, and he was "delinquent in paying for his iPhones and for costs associated with Bowl games."

Meyer knew about the 2015 investigation in 2015: The investigation found that Urban Meyer knew Smith was being investigated in 2015 and that he was notified by athletics director Gene Smith.

From the Ohio State investigation report: "In October 2015, Miechelle Willis, then the Deputy Title IX Coordinator for the Athletics Department, received information from the Ohio State Campus Police about the Powell Police investigation; Willis immediately notified AD Smith, who in turn notified Coach Meyer during a football practice that Zach Smith was under investigation for domestic violence and could be arrested at any time. AD Gene Smith recalls Coach Meyer having an immediate and strong negative reaction to this news."

Urban Meyer might have wiped his phone: The investigation revealed Meyer might have wiped old text messages from his phone after Brett McMurphy's original report that Meyer was aware of the domestic abuse claims against Smith, or at least discussed as much with director of football operations Brian Voltolini.

From the Ohio State investigation report: "The two discussed at that time whether the media could get access to Coach Meyer's phone, and specifically discussed how to adjust the settings on Meyer's phone so that text messages older than one year would be deleted.

"Our review of Coach Meyer's phone revealed no messages older than one year, indicating that at the time it was obtained by OSU on August 2nd, Coach Meyer's phone was set to retain text messages only for that period, as Coach Meyer and Brian Voltolini discussed. We cannot determine, however, whether Coach Meyer's phone was set to retain messages only for one year in response to the August 1st media report or at some earlier time."

Investigators called this discussion "nonetheless concerning" and later wrote that "often, although not always, such reactions evidence consciousness of guilt."

Questions over media day comments: The night before he spoke at Big Ten Media Days, Meyer started a group text message with Gene Smith; Brian Voltolini; athletic communications staffer Jerry Emig; and director of player development Ryan Stamper, according to the investigation. The group discussed how to address Smith's firing and the 2015 allegations.

The next day, Meyer told the media, in part, "I've never had a conversation about" Smith's 2015 allegations and "I know nothing about it."

Investigators wrote in the report that they "cannot logically square" Meyer's comments at the podium "with his extensive knowledge of those events," but they do not believe his comments were "part of a deliberate cover-up."

"Although it is a close question and we cannot rule out that Coach Meyer was intentionally misleading in his answers, we do not ultimately find that he was. He clearly misspoke and made misstatements, but the reasons that happened are complex. Coach Meyer did not, in our view, deliberately lie."

Medication might have played a role? At one point in their report, investigators speculate that an unspecified medication might have contributed to Urban Meyer's lapse in memory at Big Ten Media Days.

From the Ohio State investigation report: "We also learned during the investigation that Coach Meyer has sometimes had significant memory issues in other situations where he had prior extensive knowledge of events. He has also periodically taken medicine that can negatively impair his memory, concentration and focus. All of these factors also need to be considered and weighed in assessing Coach Meyer's mindset (at media days)."

Meyer had 'blind spot' for Smith: While Gene Smith and Meyer were informing university leadership about the decision to fire Zach Smith, investigators noted that Meyer "conveyed his regret in firing (Earle) Bruce's grand-son, not his disappointment in Zach's conduct." (Bruce was a former coach at Ohio State and one of Meyer's mentors.)

Investigators wrote that Meyer had a "blind spot" for Smith: "Repeatedly, Zach Smith's conduct was met with reprimands and warnings by Coach Meyer, but never a written report, never an investigation and no disciplinary action until July 23, 2018. While we do not doubt that Coach Meyer respects women and is dedicated to fostering an environment of respect for women in his program, his apparent blind spot for Zach Smith seems to have impaired his judgment and his management of the behavior of at least one of his assistants."

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August 24, 2018


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