There’s no room for old habits in a new day.
The impulse to dismiss allegations of domestic abuse and sexual assault long has been standard operating procedure for those in power.
Victims, fully aware that those forces were aligned against them, often wouldn’t bother to speak up. The brave souls who stepped forward could be summarily dismissed, victimizing them a second time.
College campuses have been prime breeding grounds for such indifference, deflection and rationalization.
That’s how rape culture developed at places like Baylor while Michigan State harbored a monster like Larry Nassar.
That’s how fanboy police officers and sympathetic prosecutors lean toward athletes, coaches and universities, instead of shaken young women who bring complaints.
Granted, these issues aren’t restricted to institutions of higher education. Violence against women is a deep-rooted societal concern that until recently wasn’t considered a full-fledged problem, because it barely affected men.
But, now, men are paying attention; their careers and seven-figure contracts are at risk.
Unless you’re guilty and outright lying to save your behind, honesty is the best option when questions about questionable behavior arise.
So why did Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer lie last month when asked about a 2015 domestic violence allegation against former assistant Zach Smith?
Meyer said he had no knowledge of the allegation and never had a conversation about it.
On Friday, two days after the school placed him on administrative leave, he changed his story.
“Here is the truth: At the University of Florida, and now at The Ohio State University, I have always followed proper reporting protocols and procedures when I have learned of an incident ... by elevating the issues to the proper channels,” Meyer said in a statement. “And I did so regarding the Zach Smith incident in 2015. I take that responsibility very seriously and any suggestion to the contrary is simply false.”
Considering his 180-degree turn, we don’t know if his next utterance will be a half-truth or a whole lie.
Set aside for the moment Smith’s guilt or innocence. Cleveland.com reports that between 2012 and 2018, nine different police reports were filed related to incidents involving Smith and his ex-wife, Courtney Smith. The former assistant was fired July 23, shortly after a restraining order was filed by Courtney.
Despite all those reports and her claims of photographic evidence regarding alleged physical abuse in October 2015, no charges were ever filed.
The lack of formal charges makes firing Smith or others in his position an iffy decision to some observers.
They suggest that allegations alone shouldn’t result in termination, and they point to a recent case in which a former girlfriend of 49ers linebacker Ruben Foster recanted assault claims as proof that judgments are being rushed.
But that’s a topic for another day.
Whether Meyer agreed with Smith’s dismissal or received an order from higher-ups, the head coach had no reason to avoid the truth when asked about the move and what he knew.
“My intention was not to say anything inaccurate or misleading,” he said in his statement. “However, I was not adequately prepared to discuss these sensitive personnel issues with the media, and I apologize for the way I handled those questions.”
He should remember that he’s speaking to the public when he speaks to the media.
There was no need for detail on “sensitive personnel issues.” He simply could have done what he did Friday, admit he was aware of the 2015 incident and kicked it upstairs as required.
He did himself no favors by claiming ignorance, and likewise put the administration in an awkward position by claiming it knew about the allegations.
That’s the last thing Ohio State needs right now, a scandal surrounding the golden-calf football program, while at the same time more than 100 former students say they were sexually assaulted by a former university athletic doctor. More than five former wrestlers claim Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican, ignored the abuse during his tenure as a Buckeyes’ assistant coach from 1986 to 1994.
The world was a lot different then, before Ray Rice, and #MeToo, before Baylor and “Spotlight” and Jerry Sandusky. Issues that often led powers-that-be to look away or cover up, are now exposed under viral media glare.
No matter what happened between Zach and Courtney Smith, Meyer irrevocably breached the public trust by denying knowledge of the situation. Such indiscretions used to be forgiven with a wink and nod if they ever came to light.
Now they can lead to the employment line.
It’s about time.
⦁ Deron Snyder writes his column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.