By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
A friend of mine, we’ll call him Conscience (it’ll make more sense later), loves college basketball and football. March Madness dominates his spring; on fall Saturdays he’s happier than a seagull with a French fry. Conscience, a native of Indiana, roots for the Indiana Hoosiers on the hardwood and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on the gridiron. He’ll bend your ear about both, whether you want him to or not.
Conscience is a pal and a peer. We are both husbands and fathers and are just two months apart in age. Our conversations are effortless. We talk about life, families and music. But mostly, we talk about sports. I faithfully listen to his diatribes on the Hoosiers and the Irish; he faithfully listens to mine on all things D.C. sports. It works. Hand and glove. Peanut butter and jelly. Wings and beer. The media and the president. Errr…
In recent years, our discussions about sports, and particularly college sports, have grown noticeably more cynical. We are at an interesting crossroads in life – young enough to remember when major college sports were still amateur athletics but now old enough to have lost all naïveté about the nasty business they’ve become. Seedings, matchups, recruits and playful bantering used to dominate our interactions. Now we often find ourselves debating scandals and corruption - USC football, UNC basketball, vacated championships, Rick Pitino’s disgraced exit from Louisville after a series of egregious missteps (infidelity, sex parties and under-the-table shoe deals), the latest SEC football recruiting violations, the FBI’s wide-ranging investigation of NCAA basketball, Baylor football and the absolute horror that is Larry Nasser and Michigan State.
True to this twisted new age, the next time I see Conscience the issue du jour likely won’t be the fast approaching college football season - it will be Urban Meyer and Ohio State University.
Meyer, the head coach at OSU, is on administrative leave after misrepresenting (to be kind) what he knew and when he knew about the 2015 domestic abuse allegations against former assistant coach Zach Smith at the B1G conference’s recent media day. In his flummoxed response to a direct question, Meyer acknowledged that he knew about 2009 domestic violence allegations against Smith (while both were at the University of Florida) but said he learned of the 2015 accusations a day before the press conference. Since then, text messages have emerged between Smith’s and Meyer’s wives in the 2015 timeframe and Smith has admitted that he told Meyer about the allegations in 2015.
Best case: Meyer was disingenuous. Worst case: Meyer aided and abetted a domestic abuser for at least three years.
Whatever the outcome of the on-going investigation, Meyer’s inability to precisely and accurately articulate what he knew and what he and the university did about it was wholly inadequate. Is Meyer disgracefully ignorant of Ray Rice, Greg Hardy and all the public service announcements the NFL shot to combat domestic violence? Did he somehow miss the #MeToo movement? Did he bury his head during the Larry Nassar conviction and fallout at Michigan State, a sister B1G school? Is he that callous? That clueless about violence against women?
Time will answer these questions about Meyer’s character. The immediate question for Ohio State and the question that will linger for all college institutions, professional teams and sports fans around the country is this: What is the price of winning? Is it victory at all cost? Or is there some ethical and moral foundation that simply cannot be compromised in the pursuit of rings, banners and trophies?
As Conscience and I have watched the college sports we love degrade into a cesspool of corruption, we have reached this conclusion: throw enough money, power and fame up for grabs and it will inevitably bring out the worst in our species. That holds true for sports, politics and damn near every facet of life. What are we willing to compromise to get what we want? When does conscience kick in – that point when the method of winning trumps the raw lust for winning itself?
I look forward to seeing my friend soon. We have much to discuss…