At times a sports-centered incident jumps off the sports pages and lands in the general public consciousness. Such is the case of Ohio State University coach Urban Meyer, a one-time local “hero” who gave needed CPR to the University of Utah football program.
By the time you read this, Ohio State officials should have reached a decision on whether Meyer will be fired, suspended or spanked with a feather for knowingly hanging on to a friend and assistant coach accused of battering his wife. Meyer certainly doesn’t have a clean slate, but I expect his glossy 73-8 record at OSU and three national championships will smooth his ride.
Even after the decision is made, the controversy will – and should – continue. It’s not how much Meyer knew since he belatedly admitted being aware of accusations against his friend; the core here is about what he should have done.
And it’s about how any employer, boss, or supervisor should act when an employee misbehaves or is accused of it outside of his or her job.
The “facts” are not that cloudy. Photographs show a distraught and beaten woman; I doubt she beat herself in the head with a frying pan. Nine years ago when the two coaches were employed at the University of Florida, she complained about her husband’s violent and abusive behavior. The two coaches and their wives were close, and it seems that Meyers would have an inkling of what was happening behind closed doors. However, the victim declined to pursue charges, and the matter was dropped.
One can only wonder what would have occurred if she had let the courts handle the abuse. But in 2015, she alleged more abuse, though, a police investigation closed without criminal charges and the assistant coach continued to deny the accusations. Meyer first said he knew nothing about the charges, then retracted his denial and fired the coach after his now ex-wife obtained a protective order against him.
Some would say we have a “he said/she said” dilemma, though it is becoming more apparent that the coach has an anger issue. But the question here is whether Urban Meyer should have fired the coach upon first hearing of domestic violence. And as much as I deplore wife-beaters as the cowards they are, I’m not convinced that Coach Meyer – or any employer – should be judge and jury.
Let’s say you were the owner of company and you hear that an employee is breaking the law on his “off hours.” At what point do you bring the employee into your office and threaten him without a formal legal charge? (Obviously, the crime is also important. Sexual abuse of a child is certainly different from stealing a bag of hamburger buns from Smith’s and drunk driving is not the same as a noise complaint from a neighbor.)
If I had been Urban Meyer, I hope I would have called in the assistant coach and said, “Dude, what the heck are you doing? If I hear any more about your putting a finger on your wife, I’ll have your walking papers signed and delivered. Hey, get a divorce, whatever you need to do, but you can’t coach here if you’re slapping any woman.”
That’s what I would have done. Apparently, Urban didn’t. But at the same time, should he be the supervisor of marital relations for his football staff when no legal charges are filed?
This isn’t a story about sports. It’s an examination of accountability.