Ohio State’s decision to suspend Urban Meyer for three games over his handling of domestic violence allegations about a former assistant disgusted plenty of college football observers. For many, the punishment was deemed insufficient, the coach’s subsequent statements misguided and oblivious.
The Meyer incident was enough to drive ESPN’s Michelle Beadle to publicly swear that she will not watch football this fall, although her network makes a large chunk of its revenue from the college and NFL games and she must discuss both as a co-host of the “Get Up” morning show.
“There’s a reason why this will be the second season I don’t watch NFL and I don’t spend my Saturdays watching college football either,” Beadle said Thursday. “I believe that the sport of football has set itself up to be in a position where it shows itself in the bigger picture to not really care about women — they don’t really care about people of color, but we won’t get into that for [the] NFL either. But as a woman, I feel like a person who has been marginalized.”
It’s hard to blame her. The NFL mishandled the domestic violence crisis that stemmed from the Ray Rice incident in 2014. It took months for the league to realize how badly it angered women, an audience it was actively courting at the time. And the New York Giants showed that the league’s problem with women still existed two years later by mishandling allegations about kicker Josh Brown, giving him an initial punishment that seemed like a slap on the wrist.
Meyer was suspended by Ohio State on Wednesday after an investigation found that he and Athletic Director Gene Smith failed to inform the school’s compliance department about accusations made against former assistant coach Zach Smith in 2015, and instead awaited the conclusion of a law enforcement investigation that ultimately produced no criminal charges. The university also suspended Gene Smith for two weeks.
The investigation determined that when Meyer learned that Zach Smith’s ex-wife, Courtney, was publicly accusing him of ignoring her claims of domestic violence, one of the first things the head coach did was discuss with an assistant how to delete old text messages from his phone, so reporters couldn’t see them. When the university took the phone, it had been set to save text messages only for the previous year. A public records request from Ohio State’s student newspaper for messages Meyer sent during crucial months in 2015, the report suggested, will likely never get filled as a result.
Beadle pointed out that Meyer was misleading about how he handled the situation, and had a long day in which to “pretend to say he was sorry” and to apologize to the ex-wife of his former assistant. He did not apologize to her.
“And every single one of these stories that comes out, every single time, pushes me further and further away” from football, Beadle said. “I realize they don’t care, but for me it’s opened up my weekends. I appreciate you for giving that to me. I don’t care anymore. I’ve lost the ability to be surprised. You got three games. You could’ve been fired. They could’ve gotten away with not having to pay you a single dime. You survived it, and not only did you survive it, but you didn’t have the grace enough to at least look over the statement you were handed seven seconds before and pretend that you meant a single word in it. The entire thing is a disgrace. I’m just numb to it. I’m just ready for NBA to kick off, quite frankly.”
While that’s not really a new stance by Beadle, at least as far as her interest in football goes, she was’t the only ESPN employee firing away. Paul Finebaum, a college football commentator, and Heather Dinich, who covers college football for the network, did not hold back, either.
Finebaum said that Meyer looked as if he were filming “a hostage video” Wednesday night, neither looking up from his statement nor seeming contrite. He accepted no responsibility, said Finebaum, who described the coach as running a “good ol’ boys club.” Meyer doesn’t know what’s going on around him, Finebaum said, “because he doesn’t want to know what’s going on around him.”
“He sold his soul,” Finebaum said of Meyer’s news conference. “He sold his integrity. And Ohio State still has one of the great football coaches in modern history. But at what price?”
Like Beadle, Dinich argued that Meyer lied and sent a strong message — exactly the wrong message.
“Meyer had an opportunity on Wednesday night to redeem himself, to show that his ‘core value’ of ‘TREAT WOMEN WITH RESPECT’ [a sign in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center] is more than just capital letters on a wall in a locker room,” she wrote. “Instead, when asked what he had to say to Courtney Smith, Meyer answered: ‘Well, I have a message for everyone involved in this: I’m sorry that we’re in this situation, and, I’m just sorry we’re in this situation.’
“I’m sorry for Courtney Smith. I’m sorry that Meyer and his boss, athletic director Gene Smith, have lost all perspective on the world that is outside of Buckeye Nation.”
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