Urban Meyer and the Women He Treats as Collateral Damage

As those mocking Meyer’s latest scandal list his various offenses, one should stand out from the rest.

Every week in her Good Form column, Natalie Weiner explores the ways in which the sports world’s structural inequalities and injustices illuminate those outside it — and the ways in which they’re inextricably connected. You can read previous columns here.

Content warning for mention of domestic abuse.

Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan hired Urban Meyer to his first NFL head coaching job earlier this year. Only 30 people in the world get that job, and as of January 2021, Meyer — a man whose legacy is at least as filled with cop outs and poor decision-making as it is college football national championship wins — was one of them. “Urban Meyer is who we want and need, a leader, winner and champion who demands excellence and produces results,” Khan said in a statement about Meyer’s hiring. “I’m proud to name Urban the new head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars.”

Omitted from his statement was an explanation of why such a winner and champion was available for hire. Meyer “retired” from his position as the head coach of the dominant Ohio State Buckeyes after overwhelming evidence showed Meyer knew his assistant coach Zach Smith had abused his wife Courtney when he hired him, and that Smith continued to abuse her while on his OSU staff. Smith faced no professional consequences until Courtney called the police for at least the fifth time in response to Smith’s behavior in 2018, and the story went national; even then, an internal Ohio State investigation revealed his concern was only with killing the story — not with Courtney’s well-being. 

Instead, Meyer and Brian Voltolini, who is still Ohio State’s director of football operations, “specifically talked about, according to Ohio State’s investigation, ‘how to adjust the settings on Meyer’s phone so that text messages older than one year would be deleted.’” That quote is from Diana Moskovitz’s thorough investigation of Courtney Smith’s story for Defector, published last month. Details like that one — the minutiae of the brutal carelessness and utter disregard for Courtney Smith’s life and safety — paint a vivid, cruel picture of this “leader, winner, and champion” who keeps getting high-paying jobs that include liability for other humans’ well-being because he won some games. 

Details like that one… paint a vivid, cruel picture of this “leader, winner, and champion” who keeps getting high-paying jobs

It is a must-read for anyone who has tweeted some idiot joke in relation to Meyer’s current debacle which — despite being considerably more trivial — has gotten nearly as much press as the time he tried to cover up a well-documented domestic violence case on his staff. Last weekend, instead of flying back to Jacksonville with the team after losing to the Cincinnati Bengals (who cares), Meyer stayed behind in Ohio, allegedly saw his grandkids (per his own explanation) and then went out to the restaurant he partially owns — Urban Chophouse, in Columbus — and wound up dancing with some woman who is not his wife.

Infidelity is not illegal, and the only reason this is all even a thing is there’s a video of him being a gross old guy and his team is 0-4; thus, his “partying” is being perhaps fairly read as a lack of commitment To The Team. It’s a hullabaloo of typical football breadth, one that doesn’t really matter to anyone in the grand scheme but matters just enough that everyone can get their takes off, etc. 

That’s why, I guess, former NFL player and current commentator Emmanuel Acho tweeted, “We’ve gotten far too comfortable condemning people who get caught in public doing what we do in private,” in response to the controversy. It’s a poor way of saying, “This is a stupid conversation,” which I could get behind.

But whatever Urban Meyer is doing in public, he still hasn’t received appropriate condemnation for what he was trying to do in private — the violent crimes he was totally comfortable ignoring. He just genuinely does not give a shit about anyone besides himself and what he perceives as the path to on-field success, and that’s obvious via his public and private behaviors — some of which are far more sinister than others. His carelessness and selfishness have been enabled by those who perpetually put him in positions of power, like Khan; the main conversations in the wake of this scandal are where he’ll wind up coaching next. 

The woman who Meyer was recorded dancing with, though, is facing real-life consequences that eerily echo the online harassment and character assassination Courtney Smith faced when her pursuit of legal protection became public. “(She) can’t even go anywhere,” the woman’s mother told USA TODAY Sports. “It’s ruining her life is what it’s doing. I’m worried for her emotional status right now.”

Apparently the company where she works is now conducting an internal investigation of the incident to “determine what, if any, impact this has on the company and we’ll proceed accordingly,” as they explained to USA TODAY. It’s very far from the same degree of seriousness as any situation involving intimate partner violence, and the woman certainly had agency in deciding to grind on Urban Meyer (bleh). But when the talking heads have moved on, Meyer will be fine — even if he decides to “retire” for the umpteenth time. Her name, though, will be forever tied to his.