Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said Tuesday that the university investigated and dismissed an allegation that former assistant coach Zach Smith used a racial slur toward a former player and is "certainly looking into" taking legal action against the news outlet that published the claim.
The father of former Ohio State receiver Trevon Grimes told Stadium's Brett McMurphy for a story published Tuesday that Smith used the N-word during a heated exchange with Grimes during a practice last year.
Ohio State denied that allegation when contacted by McMurphy and reiterated its stance in a statement Tuesday. Smith also denied using the racial slur when contacted by McMurphy.
Several players also tweeted denials of the allegations.
Trevon Grimes was my best friend back then... and is still my best friend to this day. This report about "racially-charged practice altercation" is 100% false. Not a single player or staff member would have allowed this to happen. https://t.co/6wLZN8ASWX— TATE MARTELL (@TheTateMartell) November 13, 2018
I witness the whole altercation and this didn't happen.. You think a group of African American young men will sit there and let something like this happen? Say what you want but this isn't true at all. https://t.co/FrteEDIa9H— Johnnie L. Dixon III (@YoungKing_JD5) November 13, 2018
There's no way that anyone would believe this. NO WAY. This lie is just out of hand. I was present during the entire altercation and what's said in this article NEVER HAPPENED. I can guarantee it. Crazy how social media gives people platforms just to spread nonsense. https://t.co/FRBLucb9WY— Parris Campbell (@PCampbell21) November 13, 2018
Wow... so you really think a room filled with Black athletes would still be apart of this University if any racial slurs were used to degrade another Black man!! Every one of us Wide Outs we're right there and saw the whole thing. @Brett_McMurphy you continue to lie everyday! https://t.co/kOFwssniAX— Austin Mack (@Austin_Mack10) November 13, 2018
Meyer, speaking on a weekly Big Ten teleconference Tuesday, called the report "the most preposterous thing" he has seen in his time around college athletics. Meyer said he first learned about the impending article last week and that the university acted "aggressively" in interviewing up to 10 people about the incident in question. He said his bosses kept him abreast of the process as it unfolded, but he was otherwise not involved in the investigation.
"My first reaction was irate," Meyer said Tuesday. "My players were over-the-top irate. They were extremely upset that kind of accusation would be made about something that would not be tolerated."
Meyer said Tuesday that he and several others from the football program traveled to Florida last September to visit with Grimes. Meyer said the reason for the visit was to check in on Grimes and his mother, who he said had recently been diagnosed with cancer. Meyer said he read the Stadium story Tuesday and was upset with the way that visit and Grimes' mother were characterized.
"To call out his mother and list some of the things that have happened in her past, I just don't understand what that's all about," Meyer said. "...I think they were trying to say we made up a story about cancer or something. Again, I've never heard of anything like this in my life."
Ohio State president Michael Drake shared a statement on social media Tuesday morning that refuted the claims made in Stadium's story.
"The Ohio State University unequivocally and vehemently disputes the unfounded allegations by Brett McMurphy," the statement said. "Any allegations of racism are outrageous and false. The university told McMurphy that we have found no evidence to support these allegations. Reporting in this manner is irresponsible, inflammatory and a severe invasion of privacy of a student athlete and his family as well as a baseless personal attack on Coach Meyer. It is regrettable that McMurphy and his employer would use such poor judgment in running this inaccurate story."
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith also released a statement Tuesday, saying racism "simply isn't tolerated here."
"The accusations made today by Brett McMurphy regarding our coach and the reasons for the transfer of Trevon Grimes are unequivocally false," Smith said. "Urban Meyer embraces diversity and would absolutely never support an environment of racism. It simply isn't tolerated here. And as an African-American, football player and collegiate administrator, I personally can say that our coaches, student-athletes and support staff know there is no place for any such behavior within our programs, at The Ohio State University or anywhere."
Ohio State told McMurphy that an "interaction" took place between Grimes and Smith, but emphasized there has been no corroboration of a "physical altercation" or any "racially offensive language."
Grimes, who transferred to Florida, has not publicly commented on the matter. Multiple players who were present at the 2017 practice also told McMurphy they did not hear Smith use the offensive word.
But Grimes' father, LeBron Grimes, and his friend Dennis Allen both told McMurphy that Trevon told them Smith used the racial slur. LeBron Grimes told McMurphy that, after speaking with a distraught Trevon, he traveled from Florida to Ohio to help his son and ultimately remove him from the school.
McMurphy reports that three unnamed Florida players said Trevon told them a story similar to LeBron Grimes' account of the incident.
Trevon's mother, Leah Grimes, and a University of Florida spokesperson both told McMurphy that Trevon and LeBron Grimes have not spoken to each other in at least two years, although a Stadium review of LeBron Grimes' phone records indicates Trevon and his father did speak on the phone the day of the incident at practice.
Ohio State fired Smith in July, one day after his former wife accused him, in an interview with McMurphy, of habitually abusing her.
Courtney Smith also accused Meyer and other members of the athletic department of failing to help her or properly report her claims when they learned about allegations of abuse in past years.
The school suspended Meyer for three games and launched an investigation into how he and others at the university responded to requests for help from Courtney Smith.