Meyer’s Culpability

I was recently discussing the case of Urban Meyer over drinks in the local Pub with a former student and close friend (who happens to be an attorney). You may recall that Meyer, the head football coach at Ohio State University, was reprimanded (if you can call it that) for failing to intervene in the case of domestic violence involving one of his assistant coaches. I maintain that Meyer should have been more severely punished, even fired, rather than given a mere three-game suspension without pay. As a millionaire football coach, the loss of pay will amount to a pittance. It is, as they say, a mere slap on the wrist.

In any event, my friend maintains that Meyer cannot be held legally responsible for the actions of his assistant coach given that the abuse in question happened away from the football facility, presumably in the confines of the assistant coach’s own home. I wasn’t sure how to respond, and I was surely not going to debate legal questions with an attorney (!) But it seems to me that the issue is a moral one and perhaps even a legal one — if Ohio has a Good Samaritan law. I am thinking of the 1964 Kew Gardens case involving Kitty Genovese when she was stabbed to death in the streets of New York in the hearing — and even in view– of (reportedly) thirty-eight witnesses who simply chose not to become involved. I believe New York subsequently introduced the Good Samaritan law to make it unlawful for anyone to witness a crime and not report it.

As I say, I do not know if Ohio has such a law. But the moral perspective is quite clear and goes back at least to the medieval period when the Schoolmen talked about the “sin of omission.” The claim was that one sins when failing to do the right thing — just as one sins when committing a wrongful act (the sin of commission). Thus, if Meyer was aware of the fact that his assistant coach was beating his wife — and presumably he had been aware since 2015 — then he had a moral responsibility to report the act if not to more actively intervene on behalf of the man’s wife. This is not only a matter of moral responsibility, it is simply a matter of common sense.

In any case, if I am walking down the street and see a man beating a woman  or someone leaving a toddler in a car with the windows closed when the temperature is near 100 degrees I am morally bound to try to intervene. I may not have the courage, because I don’t want to get beat up myself, but I still have an obligation and if I fail to act I have done something wrong. If I am in New York I have even broken a law. Ohio may not have such a law, as I say, but the moral issue is still very clear.

Urban Meyer not only failed to act, of course, but he later lied about his knowledge of what his assistant was doing and, from all reports, even wiped his phone clean of text messages for the past year — an act that suggests that he knew he was culpable in one way or another. So there are clear grounds for punishment, certainly more severe punishment than a mere three-game suspension.

What do you think?

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15 thoughts on “Meyer’s Culpability

  1. Fascinating. In Catholic catechism we were taught that sins of omission are just as much sins as those of commission. Now Hugh, imagine where our fearless leaders would find themselves if they were charged with sins of omission when they ignore the plight of those they ostensibly represent, and whose money they are in charge of, when they omit to succour the poor, the marginalized, instead giving billions of $$$ to the military and their surfeitly rich friends? If the shoe fits…

  2. How much different, if at all, is this lack of action from Urban Meyer from the inaction of Joe Paterno at Penn State over a period of years?

    • The acts Paterno claimed he was not aware of occurred in the athletics facility — in the showers, allegedly. The actions of Mayer’s assistant allegedly occurred in his home. That is a key distinction from the legal perspective, apparently.

  3. Hugh, there is legal culpability and moral culpability. Urban Meyer knew and was silent. Joe Paterno knew and was silent. Because of the love of college football, both men had greater gravitas than their bosses. They both were in better positions to make something happen. Both passed.

    If you have not seen “Paterno,” give it a watch. It is a very uncomfortable movie. If Meyer watched it, he may have acted differently. Keith

  4. Dear Hugh,

    I am one who feels obligated to act because I’m blessed or cursed with a conscience. I literally could not sleep at nights if I did not act to help another human being by at least reporting a crime that I’m aware of and something happened to that person, I would suffer from overwhelming guilt. Mr. Meyer is like many who prefer willful blindness. Remember that saying, “All that’s needed for evil to prevail, is for good peoples to do nothing.”

    For me, it is not important whether there is or is not a law.

    Hugs, Gronda

  5. agree 1000 %, and now the courts have begun to act on the Omissions of the Archbishops in the Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania where priests for decades have committed serious acts of child abuse against children and those bishops chose to remain silent, it’s now a vast backlog of cases against former and still active priests.

  6. Pingback: Meyers culpability – Sivalali

  7. hi from the republic of panama…tomorrow i’ll be in louisiana, and the next, mississippi.

    this post has been on the screen since you wrote it, and just now i read it again before replying. You stated, ” I am morally bound to try to intervene. ” which touches closely with a conversation this morning with my friend. We talked last night and again this morning about racism and ‘take a knee’ – and she was indignant about being disrespectful to the anthem. I told her my unique view, based on that I now see the USA via foreigner’s eyes, but I also tap into my Mississippi roots and the ongoing racism that just. won’t. end. I stated, “Thirty years ago I would not have had the backbone to stand up and publicly state, ‘This is wrong; racism has to stop; I support this man,” – but NOW I DO have a stronger backbone, and like you, am morally bound to try to make a difference – if only by showing support.

    i think that sometimes people use the same sources for news and rarely peek at other views, so they support those sites and don’t peer deeper into the back story/stories.

    i again have veered off topic a bit, but appreciate how you nudge your readers to be the best person we can be.

    • Welcome back (almost). I hope you have a great visit. I am not sure I nudge people to be better people, but I certainly would like to think I provoke them to think a bit more. It’s always good to hear your voice (and check out your always inspiring blog posts!)

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