Today, August 3, at the very tail end of the Friday news cycle, Ohio State University Head Football Coach Urban Meyer, embroiled in a domestic violence controversy that threatens to end his career (and which has already resulted in paid administrative leave), released a statement in which, among other things, he denies wrongdoing, asserts that he acted “appropriately”, and laments the sorrow he feels for “the toll the events of the past week have taken”.
While much remains unclear about Coach Meyer’s actions, the actions of his wide receivers coach Zach Smith, and what will result from Ohio State’s “independent” investigation, what is abundantly clear is that Meyer has taken this course of action under advise of counsel (and one expects, PR crisis management teams) in an effort to retain his job in our modern “zero tolerance” environment.
Since I happen to be a lawyer (and have crafted a crisis communication or two in my time), let’s dive in to what he’s decided to say at this time (on a Friday…after 4 PM).
Dear Buckeye Nation:
My heart is heavy today as I witness the toll that events of the past week have taken on the Buckeye family and the university community that I love so dearly.
- “I’m a Buckeye observing these tragic, uncontrollable events from afar as you are. Did I mention I’m a Buckeye?”.
This is fine, he’s reminding his faithful base of his allegiance, and also using passive terminology to indicate that he has been as “swept away” as they are due to events outside his control.
When I stand before the 105 young men in our football program and talk about core values and doing the right thing and respecting women, it is not lip-service. I genuinely believe that we have an obligation to help develop the young men in our charge into positive change agents and that responsibility rests with me.
- “Not only am I a Buckeye, I’m the damn head football coach of the Buckeyes! I’m also a good person, and would never use the platitudes I cite in press conferences and places like the OSU locker room solely as cover for nefarious acts. I believe what I preach.”
Again, we have a “remember who I am” including a call to “remember” all the nice things Coach Meyer regularly says, in particular, about respecting women.
Over the past several days, I have been portrayed as being indifferent to domestic violence and as someone who did not take appropriate action, when warranted.
Note the “portrayed”.
- “I am not this person.” “This is simply how nefarious actors bent on my destruction have chosen to describe me.”
He is again using language carefully to imply both passivity in the events of the last week, as well as neglectful “others” who seek not the truth, but only his damnation.
While over three decades of coaching I have learned to ignore how others define me, I do feel it necessary to share the truth with the Buckeye family.
Doubling down now on the “nefarious other” concept.
- “Only I know of ‘the truth’, and I will now share it with you.”
Here is the truth: 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 issues to the proper channels.
- “I have always done what I am supposed to.”
Interesting line in the sand here, as it is a falsifiable claim (and there will certainly be reporters interested in making their hay by falsifying it). Counsel may have been reluctant to allow him to say something so factual and universal.
Its inclusion is of particular interest.
And, I did so regarding the Zach Smith incident in 2015. I take that responsibility very seriously and any suggestion to the contrary is simply false.
This in direct contradiction to what Coach Meyer claimed at Big Ten Media days last week. He was lying then, or he is lying now.
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.
Honestly, this is gobbledygook (what we lawyers might call a “water sandwich”) intended to express a certain “sincerity” in recognizing the importance of domestic violence issues without saying much of anything.
My words, whether in a reply to a reporter’s question or in addressing a personnel issue, must be clear, compassionate and most of all, completely accurate.
Ah, so here’s “the rub”. He’s setting up for an “I misspoke” defense.
Unfortunately, at Big Ten Media Days on July 24th, I failed on many of these fronts.
- “I misspoke.”
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.
- “I didn’t mean to misspeak.” “I had inadequate background preparation.”
So, this is it. Coach Meyer intends to claim that he really did do everything he was supposed to do in respect of Coach Smith, but he simply misspoke in answering press questions regarding it.
This is a heck of a gambit (though plausible enough to create cover for the university if everyone, perhaps even Coach Smith, goes along). Coach Meyer did not simply state “no comment” during Big Ten Media days, he stated “there was nothing…I don’t know who creates a story like that.”
Given that Coach Meyer had just fired Coach Smith not one day prior, it strains credulity to suggest that Coach Meyer was not aware of Coach Smith’s activities, or that he would have not been prepared to answer questions on that very topic. He was undoubtedly unprepared to answer questions about 2015, but the question is why? If he did the right thing, why would his initial reaction be “it never happened”?
As I said, this is a heck of a gambit.
I understand that there are more questions to be answered and I look forward to doing just that with the independent investigators retained by the University and I will cooperate fully with them.
- “Since I did nothing wrong, I shall be the model of cooperation.”
At the appropriate time, I will also address the questions and speculation in a public forum. But for now, out of respect for the ongoing inquiry, I will refrain at this time.
Benefit of the Doubt – He wants to allow the investigation to run it’s course.
Devil’s Advocate – If there is any fabrication here whatsoever it now runs through the athletic director, Coach Smith, and perhaps the authorities.
They will need some time to get their ducks in a row.
Please know that the truth is the ultimate power and I am confident that I took appropriate action. As I stated above, I deeply regret if I have failed in my words.
- “Again, I did the right thing.”
This is fine for messaging, but between the explanation for his “failure” and the fact that it took him almost a full week to “remember” that he had done the right thing, there is certainly room for reasonable doubt.
As the son of an amazing woman and the husband to another and, as the father of two incredible young women, those who know me best know the admiration and respect I have for all women.
- “See all these women around me?! All my best friends are women! Would a guy like that cover up domestic battery?”
Our core values are just that – values that do not ever waiver. I ask that you continue to support the incredible coaches and student-athletes in our program, and I look forward to rejoining them soon.
So that’s the play. “I did the right thing, but I simply forgot that I had, and was so taken aback by the mere thought of inaction that I was made to ask ‘who creates a story like that’.”
It’s a plausible enough story (as in, effectively unfalsifiable if the right people are involved), provided the university, Coach Smith, and perhaps the authorities in Columbus are on board. If they are, expect to see talking heads, interviews, and other “cover” for Coach Meyer come from the AD’s office and the other characters in this story in the coming hours and days.
That said, the timing of the release late on a Friday. A bald-faced lie now characterized as a misspoken phrase. Invocations of virtue, Buckeye bona fides, and the love of good women. And above all, an assertion of “doing the right thing” only after more than a week of thinking about it.
Something doesn’t smell right.
That’s the lawyer’s job of course, to make lemonade out of lemons. And this strategy unequivocally means that Coach Meyer intends to fight for his job (and in all likelihood that OSU intends to keep him; as if there is any “lie” here it will require OSU’s aid to cement).
My strong expectation is now that Coach Meyer will be reinstated, but the tarnish and doubt will most certainly remain.
Lawyers can’t solve everything after all.