College football reporter Brett McMurphy was one of the most public faces around Ohio State’s Zach Smith scandal, which led to Urban Meyer’s suspension for three games at the start of the 2018 season. Reporting by McMurphy was part of the impetus for Ohio State to fire Smith, who’d been accused of repeated domestic violence, and to commission its own investigation into how Meyer handled allegations against his longtime receivers coach.
As the 2018 season winds down, McMurphy’s made news about Meyer, Smith, and Ohio State again. On Tuesday, he reported for Stadium the 2017 transfer of a blue-chip Ohio State receiver might have been related to Smith using the N-word in a confrontation with that player. That runs counter to what Ohio State, the player involved, the player’s mother, and apparently the NCAA have agreed happened: that he transferred because of a family medical issue.
Here’s what we know is true about four-star receiver Trevon Grimes’ transfer from the Buckeyes in 2017:
- After the season, Grimes, then a freshman, transferred from Ohio State to Florida. He had left the team that October, due to what Meyer called “family health issues.” His mother, Leah Grimes, had been diagnosed with cancer, UF later revealed.
- The NCAA gave Grimes immediate eligibility to play in 2018, declining to make him sit out the usual one year for underclass transfers. He got a hardship waiver, which is the NCAA’s usual tool to bend its rules for players dealing with difficult family issues.
The player’s estranged father, LeBron Grimes, now tells McMurphy his son didn’t actually transfer because of his mom’s health issues.
There’s a lot in McMurphy’s new story, but here’s the key passage:
On Sept. 26, 2017, Trevon Grimes, then a freshman wide receiver at Ohio State, called his father. “He was in tears,” LeBron said in a lengthy sit-down interview with Stadium in New Port Richey, Florida. “My heart was crushed.”
Over the next few hours, LeBron detailed his son’s departure from Ohio State and the “toxic” environment that led to it.
“Trevon said, ‘I want to leave.’ He was very emotional. He said, ‘I can’t take it anymore. I just want to leave.’ Trevon went up to Ohio State in August (2017) and in two months after I sent him up there – it’s supposed to be the greatest moment of his life and I’m feeling it’s a blessing – I get a phone call from him crying, angry and confused,” LeBron said. “His mom (Leah Grimes) was the first one to call me. That’s why I knew it was bad when his mother called me. Trevon said, ‘You have to get me out of this situation.’”
Trevon told his father he got into an altercation with Ohio State wide receivers coach Zach Smith at practice.
LeBron Grimes said his son told him that “Zach got up in his face and called him a ‘bitch ass n – – – – -’ and said, ‘I should have never recruited you.’ And then Trevon said something to Zach about him messing around with college girls.”
LeBron Grimes alleged to McMurphy that Meyer knew of Smith’s “alleged racially-charged altercation in September 2017 with his son Trevon and helped keep it quiet.”
McMurphy’s report challenges whether Leah Grimes was really as sick as the NCAA believed she was when it granted Trevon Grimes a hardship waiver.
He also wrote Leah “has had her share of past legal issues” and goes on to list a few of them. In turn, Leah Grimes provided McMurphy with this statement:
“I understand there is great interest in college football and the personalities involved. But that does not give anyone the right to invade the privacy and personal health information of mothers whose sons happen to play college football. The NCAA cleared TreVon for eligibility based on their rules after I provided the required documentation about my illness. My oncologist has attested to it. For anyone to accuse me of making up an illness for any reason is vile and hurtful. Coach Urban Meyer has been a good friend to both me and TreVon during this entire process, and to accuse him of misconduct in this case is unfair as well. He tried to help any way he could, including referring me to doctors at Ohio State he thought could help.
Trevon Grimes did not confirm McMurphy’s report. Zach Smith denied it.
I went to Gainesville, Florida, to speak with Trevon Grimes. After a September practice, I specifically asked him about the altercation and also Smith’s alleged use of the N-word. He answered both questions the same: “I have no comment on that.”
However, three of Grimes’ current Florida teammates, who would only talk on the condition of anonymity, said that Grimes has told them about the altercation in practice at Ohio State and Smith’s alleged use of the N-word.
Zach Smith: “I’ve never said that word (N-word) in my entire life. I’ve never been in a fight with a player in my life. Never. That never happened.”
A number of Ohio State players have refuted the version of events described by Grimes’ dad and reported by McMurphy.
These are all members of Ohio State’s offense. All were on the team in September 2017, when Grimes’ father says the incident with Smith took place:
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
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
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
Ohio State’s administration took the unusual step of denying the report by name. That included Meyer, the president, and the AD.
Meyer suggested legal action by the school was possible:
Urban Meyer: school is looking into legal action against Brett McMurphy.— Dave Holmes (@DaveHolmesTV) November 13, 2018
Urban Meyer says on the Big Ten teleconference that he was "irate" and his players were "over-the-top irate" when they found out about the report accusing Zach Smith of using a racial slur against Trevon Grimes. "Quite honestly, the most preposterous thing I've ever heard."— Dan Hope (@Dan_Hope) November 13, 2018
In a statement from the school, which president Michael Drake — who’s butted heads with Meyer over the Smith story before — tweeted out:
The Ohio State University unequivocally and vehemently disputes the unfounded allegations by Brett McMurphy. 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 added:
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...— gene smith (@OSU_AD) November 13, 2018
CONTINUED: ... 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.— gene smith (@OSU_AD) November 13, 2018