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Ohio State: Racist-language allegations strongly refuted by involved parties

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Multiple in-person accounts refuted a report that former Ohio State wide receivers coach Zach Smith used insensitive language. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Ohio State Football

Ohio State: Racist-language allegations strongly refuted by involved parties

COLUMBUS — The embrace is the first thing George Smith remembers.

The St. Thomas Aquinas athletic director was sitting at his desk when the visiting party from Ohio State filed into his office on a Monday in October of last year. A conference table had six chairs set up for Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer, director of player development Ryan Stamper, a couple of his players — and now former wide receivers coach Zach Smith.

Trevon Grimes was already in the room with his mother and his old high school coach Roger Harriott. All of them collectively were trying to come up with a solution for a talented wideout who wanted to be closer to home to be with his sick mom.

“I was at my desk, the Ohio State guys came in and Tre was already in there, so was his mom,” Smith told Lettermen Row on Tuesday morning. “They walked in, I was sitting at my desk. Zach got up and Tre went over and gave him a big hug. And then he addressed Coach Meyer, which I kind of thought was like, ‘Whoa.’

“But anyway, that’s what happened. There was nothing discussed about any type of altercation or negative incident in that meeting — with anybody. That was it.”

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Zach Smith was fired as Ohio State’s wide receivers coach in July.

There hadn’t been much reason for George Smith or anybody else in that room to recount that meeting down in Florida over the last year or even give it much thought since then. But a report on Tuesday morning from Brett McMurphy that suggested there was racially-charged language used between Zach Smith and Trevon Grimes when he was a freshman at Ohio State prompted at least one member of that discussion to respond on the record and deny that it was ever mentioned.

Grimes himself didn’t corroborate it in the initial story. His mother, Leah, released a statement both backing up her illness and questioning the account of her ex-husband, who was quoted extensively in the initial story but called an “abuser” who “is no longer in TreVon’s life.” When asked generally about Zach Smith matters on Monday, Meyer asked to “move on.”

Zach Smith has already been fired. Urban Meyer has already been suspended for mismanagement of a troubled employee. But in response to the latest development, George Smith was willing to offer a first-person account of a meeting that sits at the heart of the matter for the transfer of Grimes.

And that was swiftly followed by denials about the nature of any incident between Grimes and Zach Smith that preceded the meeting, with multiple Ohio State wide receivers weighing in with what they saw transpire.

“I [witnessed] the whole altercation and this didn’t happen,” captain Johnnie Dixon said on Twitter. “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.”

Fellow captain Parris Campbell on Twitter: “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.”

Wide receiver Austin Mack on Twitter: “Wow… so you really think a room filled with Black athletes would still be a part of this University if any racial slurs were used to degrade another Black man!! Every one of us wideouts we’re right there and saw the whole thing.”

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Urban Meyer publicly asked to “move on” from the Zach Smith situation on Monday. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Multiple Ohio State sources in both the football program and the athletic department confirmed to Lettermen Row that it looked into the reported incident and never found anything to validate concerns of insensitive language. Additionally, they stood behind the initial reasons for the transfer of Grimes and suggested all of that information had been provided to the NCAA when he was given a hardship and allowed to play for Florida this season without having to sit out a year.

At this point, those sources aren’t authorized to speak on the record given the sensitive nature of the situation. But the school did release a public statement on Tuesday.

“The Ohio State University unequivocally and vehemently disputes the unfounded allegations by Brett McMurphy,” the school 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.”

Athletic director Gene Smith: “The accusations made today by Brett McMurphy regarding our coach and the reasons for the transfer of Trevon Grimes are unequivocally false. 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.”

The rapid-fire denials from the Buckeyes have been strong, unequivocal and come in rapid fashion.

And down in Florida, the program is still a welcomed guest in George Smith’s office as St.Thomas Aquinas makes its stance on the matter known as well.

“Well, we would obviously have problems [if that was true], yeah,” George Smith said. “This is my conjecture on my part, but I didn’t feel any tension in that room by any means. Basically, they were just going back and forth about what they could do to help Tre’s mom.

“I’ve been here 47 years, so I’ve seen a lot of things.These guys have been coming here for a long, and I’ve known a lot of them for years. I’ve never had an issue, not a one, with anybody from Ohio State as far as recruiting or messing around with our kids with lies or promises or that stuff. I’ve never had to deal with that.”

Lettermen Row will update this story as it continues to develop.

Austin Ward

Austin Ward is Lettermen Row's senior writer covering Ohio State football and basketball. The award-winning journalist has covered the Buckeyes since 2012, spending five of those seasons working for ESPN after previous stints at the Casper Star-Tribune and Knoxville News Sentinel.