When I was planning on writing this open thread for Monday, it was going to be about whether you and I were freaking out about the sky falling in recruiting in regards to Florida’s relatively unimpressive Friday Night Lights haul.
When I was planning on writing this open thread for Tuesday, it was going to be about the continued revelations about several Florida Gators’ dispute with now-infamous Gainesville Enterprise employee and purported gambler Tay Bang — and how they have been played up and co-opted and understood as whatever people have wanted them to be.
Now, on this Wednesday, we have a more tragic thing to talk about, seemingly, in the form of yet another allegation that Urban Meyer sacrifices too many things in the name of winning — and has done so for years.
College football reporter Brett McMurphy, who uses Facebook better than most of us, reported Wednesday morning that previous claims that Meyer did not know about allegations of domestic abuse against former Ohio State receivers coach Zach Smith are false, belied by evidence in the form of text messages between Smith’s ex-wife, Courtney; Meyer’s wife, Shelley; and the wife of Ohio State football operations director Brian Votolini, and images documenting her abuse that Courtney Smith claims she shared with various wives of Ohio State football personnel.
McMurphy doesn’t quite have a smoking gun, to my reading, in regards to Meyer knowing about Zach Smith’s abuse circa 2015. The reader’s evaluation of the claim that Urban Meyer knew about that period of Zach Smith’s abuse and a specific October 2015 incident that led to the Smiths separating hinges on what the reader thinks of a text in which Shelley Meyer tells Courtney Smith she would have to inform Urban of the allegation and a pair of texts from Lindsey Votolini — “He (Urban) just said he (Zach) denied everything” and “He (Urban) doesn’t know what to think” — seemingly confirming that Meyer was notified of the allegations against his assistant coach.
There’s some plausible deniability there, I’d concede, and though the wives of football coaches on a given staff are generally very tight-knit, it’s also plausible that they would rally around one of their own while not escalating allegations of abuse against a coach except through backchannels — or at all.
But I find what McMurphy reports about how Meyer suppressed a previous allegation of abuse against Zach Smith during their time together at Florida far more damning.
McMurphy writes that Courtney Smith alleges that her then-husband first abused her in June 2009. Per Courtney, Zach — then on Meyer’s staff for the fourth year, and second as a Florida graduate assistant — threw her into a wall after a late-night argument over whether a woman Smith says was Meyer’s secretary could sleep at the Smiths’ domicile.
And this happened not just while his wife was pregnant, but on their one-year anniversary.
Zach Smith was arrested then, but his arrest did not make news. (You may recall that Florida players were often in the news for alleged criminality in those days, with one local paper going so far as to lump traffic tickets Florida players received with other arrests to help inflate the numbers of incidents.) And Meyer, according to Courtney Smith, played a significant role in that suppression and ultimate handling of the arrest by summoning confidants Earle Bruce — Zach Smith’s grandfather — and Hiram de Vries to Gainesville, then having them — de Vries, especially, and allegedly in a meeting at the Panera Bread on Archer Road — lean on her to drop the charges against her husband.
She did so, ultimately, and her husband continued his budding coaching career. Florida continued its preparation for a national title defense. Meyer continued to be college football’s reigning king. And even after Meyer left Florida and was hired at Ohio State, he continued to employ Smith, hiring him as receivers coach in late 2011.
Per Courtney Smith, the abuse continued, too. “Things got really bad” after the Smiths moved to Columbus, she tells McMurphy, to include “pushing me against the wall, putting his hands around my throat.” In April 2015, she says, he threw her onto a bathroom floor and screamed “Look what you’ve turned me into”; at one point in 2014, she says, he cut her hand with the top of a can of smokeless tobacco dip. Photos provided to McMurphy and published along with the report seem to back up allegations of sustained and vicious physical abuse.
Courtney Smith says she left Zach in June 2015, but continued to receive verbal and physical abuse over text messages and in person, culminating in the alleged October abuse that got Smith arrested and charged. Courtney filed for a restraining order and a divorce over the span of two days in November.
But those divorce documents were sealed by a judge pursuant to a request from Zach Smith’s lawyer — who also represented Ohio State players in NCAA investigations — and the news of Zach Smith’s 2015 charge was not widely reported until last week, when McMurphy’s digging in the wake of a new domestic violence civil protection order being granted to Courtney Smith turned up both the 2009 and 2015 charges.
For more than a decade after an initial allegation of slamming his pregnant wife against a wall on their anniversary, Zach Smith was allowed to coach college football, and enriched by that career.
And the allegations from his ex-wife hold that Urban Meyer — a disciple of Earle Bruce who hired his grandson at multiple stops — not only defended Smith against allegations of abuse, but actively worked to suppress at least one of them, then hired him to continue shaping young men after the fact.
I don’t know why Meyer did what he did in regards to Zach Smith. I don’t know if Courtney Smith’s extensive documentation of alleged abuse at Zach Smith’s hands is the full story, or even if it’s an entirely truthful portrait of it. I don’t know why — or how — the collective efforts of the Florida beat circa 2009 failed to hear about and/or report a graduate assistant getting arrested for beating his pregnant wife while some of those same beat reporters were following the misdeeds of players like bloodhounds.
But I do know that this sickens me. And I hope it sickens you, too.
This is just the latest indication that, in college football, winning at all costs includes some truly horrifying costs. And as I learn more about the wages of sin in this sport of sinners, I am increasingly convinced these costs are too high a price to pay.