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Fact Check: Did Urban Meyer Lie at Big Ten Media Days, and Did He Apologize for Doing So?

Jason Priestas's picture
August 10, 2018 at 11:58am
204 Comments

With so many swirling allegations, counter-allegations, rumors and other elements seeping into the investigation of Zach Smith for domestic violence, I thought it would be useful to start a series of forum topics discussing what we know and how it influences our writing.

We'll start with this one:

Did Urban Meyer lie at Big Ten Media Days, and did he apologize for doing so in his Friday, Aug. 3 statement?

Let's start with Brett McMurphy's allegation that Zach Smith “was arrested” for “felony counts of domestic violence and felonious assault against Courtney Smith.” McMurphy released that report at 5:53 p.m. ET on Monday, July 23. As we'd learn later, Smith was not arrested for that incident and McMurphy made stealth edits to his original Facebook post to reflect that. Urban Meyer fired Zach Smith less than an hour after McMurphy's report went online.

Urban Meyer Speaks to Three Reporters Before Entering the Conference Room in Chicago

Urban Meyer was scheduled to address the media the following day in Chicago, but before he made his way into the conference room, he was approached by three reporters in the hallway of the hotel.

Again, this is the morning of Tuesday, July 24 and this hallway encounter was the first time Urban Meyer was asked about the Zach Smith allegations from 2015. The reporters present were Tim May of the Columbus Dispatch, Bill Landis of cleveland.com and Dan Murphy of ESPN.

Here's the full audio of that encounter, courtesy of Landis:

Tim starts things by asking Urban how he'd "sum it up" and then asking about the "revelation from yesterday." Tim then asks Urban about who will get the now vacant job as wide receivers coach.

Landis then asks Meyer if he was aware of “any of the past alleged incidents with Zach in 2009 or 2015.”

Meyer responds: “15... there's nothing. When I first heard that last night, I said [let's] do some research and there's nothing.”

“What about 2009?”

“2009, yeah we were aware of that. It was a young couple. He was an intern, I believe, for us. Any time I get a phone call like that, I tell my boss and let the experts do their job. It came back to me what happened. We advised them in counseling and moved forward.”

Later, Murphy asked Urban, “Do you have any idea how the 2015 thing popped up?”

“If someone reports it, don't they have to tell you where they got it? I don't know. Once again, I don't know. Someone texted me that last night and I said 15 – that's only like a couple of years ago. So I did the homework and asked people to go find out for me and I'm not sure where that comes up.”

May told Meyer he found divorce records but nothing on the 2015 incident, to which Meyer asks, “Then how do you report that?”

You'll notice that Meyer was asked about a "revelation,” “incidents,” and even “the 2015 thing,” but none of the three reporters present in the hallway that morning used the word “arrest.”

Urban Meyer Speaks to Reporters from the Dais in the Conference Room

Not long after the hallway encounter with May, Landis and Murphy, Meyer made his way to the dais in the conference room, where he took questions from reporters gathered for Big Ten Media Days. His session began at 10:30 a.m. ET and he started with a small statement before fielding questions.

Here's footage from his appearance:

During this larger session, Meyer was asked about the 2015 allegations just one time, in the very first question. Here's the full transcript from that session and here's the question and answer isolated:

Q. You said earlier that you were aware of the incident with Zach in 2009. Your inquiry into 2015 was unfounded. You couldn't find anything. Why fire Zach now if you had kept him on staff after 2009?

URBAN MEYER: I'm going to address the 2009 because I've been asked about that. In 2009 Zach was an intern, a very young couple. As I do many times, most coaches and people in leadership positions, you receive a phone call, first thing you do is tell your boss, let the experts do their jobs.

We're certainly not going to investigate. It came back to me that what was reported wasn't actually what happened. And Shelley and I actually both got involved because of our relationship with that family and advised for counseling and wanted to help as we moved forward.

2015, I got a text late last night something happened in 2015. And there was nothing. Once again, there's nothing -- once again, I don't know who creates a story like that.

And then this recent one was you press pause, it's something our team lives by, E + R = O, you press pause and get your mind right and step up, press pause and gather information, get your mind right, gather energy, and then step up to do the right thing. That's the position I hold. That's how we did that.

Notice again that Meyer was never asked about an “arrest” in 2015.

Urban Meyer Releases a Statement

Ten days after his appearance in Chicago for Media Days, and two days after the school placed Meyer on paid administrative leave, he released a statement via Twitter.

In it, he apologized for his interactions with the media in Chicago. The full text of the statement can be found here, but again, we'll quote the relevant passage:

The power of what I say and how I say it, especially regarding sensitive and serious domestic issues, has never been more evident than now. My words, whether in reply to a reporter's question or in addressing a personnel issue, must be clear compassionate and most of all, completely accurate. Unfortunately, at Big Ten Media Days on July 24th, I failed on many of these fronts. My intention was not to say anything inaccurate or misleading. 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.

Meyer acknowledges his words in Chicago were not accurate, and apologized for the way he handled questions at the event.

Further, he says he knew about and reported the 2015 incident to superiors:

While 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 involving a student-athlete, coach or member of our staff by elevating the issue to the proper channels. And, I did so regarding the Zach Smith incident in 2015.

Conclusion

At Big Ten Media Days, Urban Meyer was never asked about Zach Smith being arrested in 2015. Other words were used, both in the hallway before the session and when he was speaking from the dais, but Meyer, at no time, was asked about Smith being arrested in 2015.

There's a contingent of vocal Ohio State fans, both here on Eleven Warriors and floating around social media, who contend Meyer did not lie because he was answering questions about whether Zach was arrested in 2015.

In fact, Meyer was asked on multiple occasions about 2015 without reporters ever using the words “arrest” or “arrested.” It's fair to say he handled these questions poorly and did seem to answer untruthfully when asked about the 2015 incidents. He acknowledged as much in his own statement.

Lying to the media is not a crime and does not inherently make Meyer a bad person. At the same time, when we write that Meyer lied to the media in Chicago, it's a statement of fact, acknowledged by Meyer and supported by the transcripts.

This is an important point for us because our own Dan Hope has done an amazing job of covering this saga from a neutral and fact-based perspective, but even yesterday, he was called out within the first few comments for saying Meyer lied at Media Days.

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