'Save Urban Meyer' rally was small; here's why it was still a big problem

The good news is that the estimated crowd at the “Save Urban Meyer” rally Monday evening was about 200. It lasted 10 minutes. They chanted and sang “Carmen Ohio” and waved signs, basically turning this into “GameDay” for the disturbingly out of touch, and then it was over.

The gathering of 200 myopic freaks — incredibly including Stacy Elliott, father of former Buckeye Ezekiel Elliott, who was suspended by the NFL last year for alleged domestic violence — is an embarrassment to the school. But 200 don’t speak for an entire, massive fan base.

The bad news is that by the time the rally commenced at 6 p.m. outside Ohio Stadium, some 28,200 signatures had been gathered on an online petition to “save” the Buckeyes’ $7 million god-coach from the horrors of paid administrative leave. That’s a significant number, and perhaps indicative of the kind of backlash that could await Ohio State if it chooses to seriously sanction — or even dismiss — the second-best current coach in college football.

Seriously mess with the football fortunes of the Buckeyes, and then let’s see how big the campus rally could be.

“Loyalties blur the sense of judgment,” said Peter Roby, former athletic director at Northeastern and leader of the school’s Center for the Study of Sport and Society. “When you get local and get connected as personally as these people are to their programs, they will find a way to make an excuse for someone’s behavior, if it’s someone they want to believe in and want to root for.”

Jeff Hamms, organizer of a rally in support of Ohio State head football coach Urban Meyer, speaks on Monday. (Getty)
Jeff Hamms, organizer of a rally in support of Ohio State head football coach Urban Meyer, speaks on Monday. (Getty)

Here’s the rest of the bad news: Even though 200 people is a relatively small number outside a stadium that seats 105,000, would a simultaneous rally in support of victims of domestic abuse have drawn even 100? Fifty? Twenty?

“[The rally goers] need to think why they’re rallying around Urban Meyer, and not rallying around Courtney Smith,” said Kathy Redmond, founder of the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes.

Courtney Smith, of course, is the ex-wife of ex-Buckeyes receivers coach Zach Smith. The legal action and public statements she has taken alleging abuse at the hands of Zach is what landed Ohio State in this troubled position, with an independent commission investigating whether Meyer acted sufficiently in response to the allegation.

We don’t know the truth of what happened between the Smiths. Maybe only they do. But hopefully we should know within 14 days the fate of Meyer as the Ohio State coach.

Last Friday, shortly after Meyer issued a statement declaring that he followed protocol and procedure in dealing with the allegations, Zach Smith went on an interview blitz. In it, he claimed to have never hit Courtney — though he did ramble on about their relationship being “volatile” and “toxic” and rife with “aggressive situations.” But mostly what Zach Smith did was defend Meyer, characterizing him as an uncompromising defender of women.

This is what angers Redmond — watching the news cycle turn on the fate of a football coach, and relegating the alleged abuser and alleged victim to secondary status.

“Urban Meyer is responsible for bringing this person into the Ohio State University, into Columbus, onto that campus,” Redmond said. “Urban Meyer had many opportunities — many opportunities — to do the right thing. People act like he didn’t have the power to do the right thing, yet so many of these coaches have more power than the governor. When you’re in that insular vacuum, with that much power, you’re going to make decisions that best suit you.

“And yet people see Urban Meyer as the victim.”

Other than the neanderthal holding the sign making fun of “Me Too,” nobody at the rally appeared to take aim at Courtney Smith in particular or female victims of violence in general. Many of them did, weirdly, go after ESPN — the outlet that fired the reporter who has broken most of this story, Brett McMurphy. That mentality underscored the disconnect between the need for serious domestic violence discussions and the dullards who want to squabble with media commentators saying something mean about their coach.

For those people: This isn’t the Big Ten vs. the Southeastern Conference. This isn’t someone saying Ohio State shouldn’t be in the College Football Playoff. This is something bigger than who wins and who loses on fall Saturdays.

This is a question of whether Urban Meyer did what he could have done and should have done to take care of a major issue with a member of his coaching staff. Until that is determined by the committee investigating, a paid leave of absence is the least Ohio State could responsibly do.

Away from campus, you wonder how the women at Lutheran Social Services Choices for Victims of Domestic Violence may have viewed the rally. Or the women who aren’t in a shelter, who are being abused and haven’t yet spoken up.

“This is why they don’t come forward,” Redmond said. “This is a prime example of why they stay silent. This kind of demonstration is sending the message that it’s not OK to come forward.”

In that case, even a 10-minute gathering is too long and 200 people are too many.

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