What did Urban Meyer know and when did he know it? The controversy has swirled around Ohio State coach Meyer for more than a month, and each statement he makes to “clarify” only seems to muddy the waters further. While the temptation to point fingers and pile on Meyer is almost too much to resist — for a wide variety of reasons — the important question is not “what did he know and when did he know it” but rather “what didn’t he know and why didn’t he know it?”
If the news reports are correct, Meyer knew about the domestic violence in the Smith household as early as 2009 and he knew about at least one more incident of violence in 2015. While the coach may have known that domestic violence occurred, it is clear that he didn’t know about domestic violence. And he didn’t know to ask the people who do.
He didn’t know, for example, that a recommendation of couple’s counseling is not something domestic violence experts would ever make.
Couple’s counseling, typically done by counselors who know little about the dynamics of domestic violence, actually increases the danger to the victim. If a victim discloses violence in the context of counseling, the abuser will hold him/her responsible and a violent response is likely. If a victim does not disclose the violence, none of the root issues will be addressed. Unfortunately, those who don’t understand domestic violence believe that it is rooted in poor communication between couples and often, wanting to be helpful, encourage victims and abusers to engage in an activity that is likely to make the situation worse.
Not surprisingly, couple’s counseling (assuming the Smiths participated in it) didn’t work. We know, and Meyer apparently knew, that there was another violent incident in 2015. While it appears that there was a police response, no arrest was made. Again, those who understand domestic violence know that this is not uncommon. While most law enforcement officers, and certainly those in Centre County, have received significant training on domestic violence, the response to victims is still often uneven.
Sometimes victims choose not to be involved with police, believing that it might increase the danger for them, or they may not be willing or able to have the primary breadwinner of the home unable to provide financial support. Sometimes they believe the promises of change. But just because no arrest was made does not mean there was no violence. And Mr. Smith’s most recent violation of a custody agreement, which caused him to be charged with criminal trespass, reminds us that for many victims, the abuse continues after a separation and divorce.
It seems that Meyer didn’t know any of this, or if he did, he failed to act on that knowledge. But he should have known. Anyone who manages or supervises a large group of people should make it their business to learn the truth about domestic violence. The information is available and the statistical reality is that there are victims — and abusers — in any large workplace. If it isn’t possible for the person at the top of an organization to learn about domestic violence, it is possible to learn where to go for help.
Every workplace should have information about domestic violence services available to employees and every supervisor or HR manager should how to access the local domestic violence program for assistance and guidance in dealing with situations like Meyer faced. One doesn’t have to be an expert to know that it makes sense to call an expert.
Statements of remorse, claims of sympathy for victims, or protests of one’s belief that it is “never OK to hit a woman” are no substitute for actually learning the facts about domestic violence and connecting victims to appropriate resources. That is what Meyer should have done, what he still can do if he chooses (I think he has some time on his hands during game day), and most certainly what he must do if he really wants to be a role model for the young men on his team.