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?