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Urban Meyer’s suspension has roiled Buckeye Nation, and the worst is yet to come

Ohio State fans rally earlier this month in support of Urban Meyer. (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

COLUMBUS, Ohio — From here, they head for the various wildernesses which promise them mockery, from the howling corridors of comments sections to the woolly stadiums of road games. They’re the people of “Buckeye Nation,” as they call it, and the country’s abundant outsiders have a fresh verbal anvil with which to slam them. If they aren’t ready to hear for the next season or two or 10 about Ohio State Coach Urban Meyer’s handling of domestic-violence allegations against his longtime and now former wide receivers coach, they should get set.

“If you’re willing to go to away games, you have to prepare yourself mentally for what you’re getting into,” said Matt Heldman, a 43-year-old real estate agent from the Class of 1998 who annually plans a road trip for himself and seven Buckeye chums. “You can’t fight everybody just because you get a negative impression. If you don’t want that, then don’t leave Ohio.”

Behind the loading dock at the Longaberger Alumni House as Wednesday waned and the Ohio State Board of Trustees weighed what became Meyer’s three-game suspension, Buckeye nationals had gathered in earnest to learn the denouement and maybe to shout encouragement at Meyer once he returned to his car. Some brought lawn chairs. One brought righteous speakers that pumped Ohio State songs through the air. Two brought along dogs, mercifully. A vocal and humorous quartet of freshmen led chants and asked police standing near the door to signal any clues, such as, “Do nothing if Urban is staying.”

“Do nothing if Michigan sucks,” came a subsequent request, and the officer couldn’t contain a grin.

In separate conversations with eight of the fans, all managed to agree: They hoped Meyer, with his 73-8 record and his largely uncontroversial six-season run through Ohio State, could stay, even as they believed that any inarguably horrifying revelations from inside would mean he ought to go, with Ohio State “always bigger than one coach,” as Heldman put it.

How Meyer dodged facing questions about deleting his old text messages

They all brought their various ages and perspectives. Nobody brought one like that of Edgar Garner.

As a 34-year-old Columbus native taking a respite from the near-burnout of social work dealing with domestic violence, and a Buckeye fan, he had followed the case from a place in his bones. His early-life memories sear with those of his father beating his mother, he said. “I got counseling because I was really violent in elementary school, and that changed my life,” he said. It all spurred his career choice.

By Wednesday evening, after he sat in the news conference as did many fans, far outnumbering even the many reporters, “I left there very upset,” he said Thursday.

Garner hoped for a clearer picture of how the giant university might handle future cases, and for even a mention of domestic violence as a broader issue. He hoped for some mention of the children involved, even if just beyond the family of former Ohio State assistant Zach Smith. He found the tenor of the news conference treating the case as “just a burden,” rather than, “ ‘Hey, we have an opportunity here to seize upon it in our community, to step back and say, Hey, we didn’t realize this issue was as big as it is.’ ”

He said: “I had tons of training about domestic violence, how to identify it, from the very lowest level to the more extreme. I think universities and places of business do a terrible job at providing people training. Anyone from the cable guy to the guy who comes to read the meter should be trained. People don’t know how to handle it. They know it’s bad. They know people should support victims. They just don’t know how to handle it. So I could see that in Ohio State but as big an organization as it is, they should have crossed T’s and dotted I’s on this years ago.”

He’s an Ohio State fan if not a single-minded one. He and his wife and family and friends “go to a couple of games when we get tickets. We buy their merchandise. It’s a family affair, from my 92-year-old grandma down to my 5-year-old nephew.” He said that while he found the suspension of Meyer fair, in part because he finds the knowledge of the issue so sparse in general, he’ll refrain from buying any merchandise.

Having seen Ohio State improve his own childhood neighborhood, he said: “I’ve seen their impact on this community firsthand. I can just imagine if they really, really tackled this issue, they really could make a difference.”

If some of the guff directed at Ohio State fans can improve awareness, then he’s all for it.

Heldman left Wednesday’s scene less upset but less than tranquil. “Unfortunately, you were hoping that there would be a conclusion to it, but I think there’s still a lot of unanswered questions,” he said.

Summary of findings in Urban Meyer investigation

He spent parts of Thursday listening to talk radio and burrowing into comments sections. He heard Buckeye nationals angry that the school had suspended Meyer at all. He read non-Buckeye nationals angry that the school had suspended Meyer rather than worse.

When a Yahoo reader stated that Meyer had “kept a felon on staff,” he replied with the politeness he deems crucial: “Can you please provide me with a link showing where he kept a felon on his staff?” (Zach Smith has not been convicted.) “I know they can’t, obviously,” he said. “Does it bother me? Absolutely. Because I know more information. I think I understand the situation better with living here in Central Ohio.” He dislikes the conflation of Meyer’s Ohio State years (2012-18) with his controversial Florida years (2004-10) because, Heldman said, “People learn.”

Ultimately, though, Heldman joins many Buckeye nationals he hears in wishing Meyer had acted in 2015, when he and Athletic Director Gene Smith became aware of the fresh allegations by Courtney Smith against her then-husband. Back when Meyer hired Smith — who was arrested in 2009 when he worked for Meyer at Florida before Courtney Smith declined to press charges — Heldman thought the standard should have gone thusly: “You’d better be squeaky-clean when you come to Ohio State. I don’t even want to hear an allegation. Once I ever hear a peep of anything, you’re gone . . . If you want to give the guy a second opportunity, to come to Ohio State, great. But you are on the shortest of short leashes.”

If Meyer had departed Wednesday or when he departs someday, Heldman said: “Ohio State will always be bigger than one coach. If the worst happened to Urban Meyer and he would have been let go — someday, he’s going to resign or he’s going to retire. Does that mean Ohio State football is going to fall off the face of the earth? Absolutely not.”

Now, as a practitioner of realism, he knows it’s coming. He’s thankful Ohio State “travels really well, so it does help that you have thousands of Ohio State fans there, too.” He knows the continuing story will blare for Ohio State’s fourth game, with Tulane, when Meyer returns to the sideline. It will blare louder if Ohio State and Penn State reach their Sept. 29 meeting unbeaten, and ESPN’s “College GameDay” comes to State College, Pa.

Inside the Longaberger House, Edward Sutelan waited and worked. He’s the sports editor of The Lantern, Ohio State’s student newspaper. More journalist than fan, he has noticed lately that on Twitter, hecklers have taken to reworking the acronym “DBU” — “Defensive Back University” — about Ohio State to “DVU” — “Domestic Violence University.”

“I definitely see this as something where Ohio State fans are going to be sort of battling other fans in social media or around the country,” he said. “This is something they’re definitely going to bring up.”

By Thursday, he attended his Sports Data Analytics and Economic Analysis class, where students discussed the suspension. “It seemed a lot of people were still pretty surprised he was suspended at all,” he said. That would be, of course, inside the nation.

Read more:

Ohio State suspends Urban Meyer for three games over handling of domestic abuse claims

ESPN’s Michelle Beadle re-ups football boycott as she blasts Urban meyer, Ohio State

At Ohio State, a crowd anxiously waited for Urban meyer’s fate. And waited. And waited.

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