What to make of latest explosive Ohio State allegations?

Dan WetzelColumnist
<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/ncaaf/teams/ohio-st/" data-ylk="slk:Ohio State Buckeyes">Ohio State Buckeyes</a> head coach Urban Meyer yells toward his team during a Big Ten college football game (Getty)
Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer yells toward his team during a Big Ten college football game (Getty)

It’s been a season of uncertainty for Ohio State – suspensions, investigations, uneven on-field efforts, a star player turning pro midseason, reports of coach/administration friction, a volatile fired assistant who can’t stop heaving social media bombs.

Tuesday began as just another day of scandal with what appeared to be a doozy of an investigative report. It ended though with the Buckeyes about as unified as possible courtesy of a complete and total denial of the story, from the university president to some of the players.

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Last summer Stadium.com reporter Brett McMurphy broke the story of domestic violence allegations against former Ohio State assistant coach Zach Smith. It led to much tumult in Columbus and a three-game suspension for coach Urban Meyer.

Now McMurphy was back with an allegation by LeBron Grimes, the father of former Buckeye Trevon Grimes. The elder Grimes alleges that the younger Grimes told him that in September of 2017, Zach Smith used a racial slur when addressing his son during a practice. It was one reason Trevon decided to transfer to Florida, LeBron Grimes said.

A friend of LeBron Grimes backs this up, stating that Trevon told LeBron Grimes and him this story when they went to pick him up in Columbus. Three anonymous Gators also stated they have heard Trevon tell the story.

The implication is that Meyer knew about it and sought to keep the story quiet, all while keeping Smith on the staff.

It looked ugly but the issues here are myriad. Trevon never told McMurphy it happened and wouldn’t talk on the record, if at all. Through a Florida spokesperson, Trevon told McMurphy not to trust LeBron Grimes. “Don’t believe anything he tells you.” His mother also denied it and said she and her son have no contact with LeBron Grimes and that he is not reputable.

In Columbus, there has been near universal blowback. Smith said he didn’t do it. Meyer said it didn’t happen and had never heard of it until McMurphy began asking questions. The school’s president, athletic director and spokesman all issued firm denials. The school says it ran an investigation and interviewed everyone still at Ohio State who could have possibly witnessed the incident.

Then there were the Buckeye players that denied it on social media, noting quite correctly that if anything like that had occurred in front of them, they would have revolted immediately.

“I was present during the entire altercation and what’s said in this article NEVER HAPPENED,” wide receiver Paris Campbell tweeted.

“You really think a room filled with Black athletes would still be a part of this university if any racial slurs were used to degrade another Black man,” Buckeye Austin Mack tweeted. “Every one of us wide outs were right there and saw the whole thing.”

“I witness[ed] the whole altercation and this didn’t happen,” wide receiver Johnnie Dixon tweeted. “You think a group of African American young men will sit there and let something like this happen?”

On and on it went. Ohio State doesn’t have the best track record for internal investigations, but this was full throated.

“That is absolutely not tolerated and quite honestly, the most preposterous thing I’ve ever heard being involved in college athletics,” Meyer said.

Meyer said he wanted to explore legal options against McMurphy and Stadium, but that is almost assuredly not happening no matter how upset Meyer is.

Ohio State players, coaches and administration denied the alleged racial slur ever happened. (AP)
Ohio State players, coaches and administration denied the alleged racial slur ever happened. (AP)

So, what actually happened? The article doesn’t claim to definitively know, which is never a good sign. It’s titled “The Search for the Truth About Trevon Grimes’ Transfer From Ohio State to Florida.” It ends with this: “what is the truth? It depends whom you ask.”

Well, you’ll get a different story depending on who you ask but what seems like the most likely explanation wasn’t expressed by anyone.

Start with this: It’s certainly possible that Smith used a racial slur and Meyer tried to quell and again enable Smith’s boorish behavior. Possible but not very probable.

For it to be true it would first require Meyer to tolerate it. Even if he somehow wasn’t offended, would he risk losing the confidence of his players by excusing it?

And then would a bunch of players both remain silent about a racial slur being used and then once the story got out immediately turn on their one-time teammate? All so they could defend a former assistant coach who has been accused of domestic violence and they know is a racist?

Forget it. And anyone suggesting that the players would do whatever it takes to protect the program is completely insulting the intelligence and character of these men. It’s ridiculous.

It is certainly possible that LeBron Grimes made up the entire story and Trevon never said it happened or had it happen to him.

It’s not all that probable either. Why would LeBron Grimes’ friend go along with this? Why would LeBron Grimes spend a fortune and travel immediately to Columbus to help his son? And what of the three Gator players that anonymously say they’ve heard the story also?

Perhaps the most likely scenario is that during a time when Trevon Grimes was dealing with the stress of trying to make it at Ohio State while his mother dealt with a cancer diagnosis he got into an argument with Zach Smith and decided he wanted to transfer. In doing so, he embellished to his father why.

It seems very possible that Trevon Grimes told LeBron Grimes that this happened and that’s why LeBron Grimes reacted, and continues to react, like it’s true. It would then make sense that Trevon continued to tell others the same story.

That doesn’t mean it happened.

Zach Smith may not be much of a sympathetic figure these days, but that doesn’t mean everything someone says about him is automatically true. To a lesser extent, the same is true of Meyer. Until Trevon Grimes steps forward and makes this charge directly, there isn’t much here.

So went another day of chaos for Ohio State football though – suspensions and soap operas and prepared statements. It’s been a strange year, a roller coaster that they have somehow managed to ride to a 9-1 record.

On this, at least, they were even unified; a true team in issuing denials and standing up for their reputations.

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