If you are a football fan, and perhaps even if you are not, you have read the allegation that current Ohio State head football coach, Urban Meyer, and athletic director, Gene Smith, knowingly employed an assistant coach, Zach Smith, who was battering his now ex-wife, Courtney Smith. The story continues to unfold as new information regarding the events from 2015 are released.
(Editor’s Note: As of Aug. 14, Meyer remained on administrative leave from his coaching job as the university continued to investigate how he handled the situation.)
My goal here is not trial by journalism. My focus is not even on the most recent reports. I want us to look back at the undisputed account from 2009, when Zach Smith was on Urban Meyer’s coaching staff at the University of Florida. Meyer has said that in Gainesville in 2009, after Smith was arrested for domestic violence, he and his wife, Shelley Meyer, “both got involved with the relationship with that family and provided counseling, and wanted to help them moving forward.”
This may sound like a good part of the story: Someone in a position of authority cared enough about a subordinate to try to help that person and his wife in a difficult time. But this is not a good part of the story — in fact, it highlights something very dangerous.
Marital therapists distinguish between common couple violence and battering. Common couple violence, as the name suggests, is present in many romantic relationships. It involves such things as one person shoving the other during a moment of frustration. Common couple violence is not something that should be accepted. It is harmful to the relationship, can cause emotional harm — particularly in women — and while not intended to cause physical harm, physical harm is possible. Note that because on average men are larger and stronger than women that women are more likely to suffer physical harm from common couple violence than are men. Common couple violence is engaged in by men and women at approximately equal rates, though it is not equal in its effects. It would be appropriate for a trained therapist to address common couple violence during counseling.
Anyone who has seen the photographs of the injuries that are alleged to have occurred from abuse can recognize that if Mr. Smith caused those injuries to Ms. Smith common couple violence is not what occurred, but battery. The vast majority of batterers are men. Most are boyfriends rather than husbands. The context of battery is domination and control over the woman.
Battery is not something that should be addressed in couples or marital therapy and no ethical therapist would knowingly treat a couple when battery was part of the relationship. This is because battery is not a problem with the couple but with one person. The sole responsibility for battery lies with the person doing the battering. Furthermore, discussing relationship issues in therapy could anger the batterer, resulting in still more violence.
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