Nov 10, 2018; East Lansing, MI, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer stands on the sidelines during the second half of a game against the Michigan State Spartans at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

When something terrible happens in the sports world and it hits the mainstream news cycle, that story needs to be dealt with whenever that team plays a game. It’s the metaphorical “elephant in the room” and the best announcers can adequately discuss what happened in a matter of fact way that clearly separates whatever the story was from what is taking place on the field. Then, they can just worry about calling the game happening directly in front of them without trying to shoehorn the off-field story into their play by play.

During Fox’s broadcast of Michigan vs. Ohio State, the topic of Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer’s suspension for how he handled assistant coach Zach Smith’s domestic violence allegations came up numerous times, and play-by-play announcer Gus Johnson made it sound like he was pitching a movie to Disney about Meyer’s last few months as coach, seemingly praising what Meyer dealt with in 2018 and kicking around the “redemption” narrative.

“Give credit to Urban Meyer. What a challenging season it’s been for Coach Meyer. Suspended for the first three games by the university after his handling of the domestic assault allegations against former wide receivers coach Zach Smith. When he came under scrutiny during the three-game suspension, one of the best players in college football, Nick Bosa, lost for the year. He gets back. Now he has to deal with a first year sophomore starting quarterback, that’s a pro style quarterback. He had to change his entire style. And that doesn’t include his own health issues…”

I know Gus is a very passionate commentator, but that was a moment where his passion should have been set aside. There is no reason that Smith’s domestic violence situation and the way Meyer reacted to it should have been mentioned in the same breath as Meyer starting a sophomore quarterback.

This isn’t the first time Johnson has combined college football with a serious off-field situation and failed miserably at separating one from the other. A couple years ago, Johnson tried to equate Penn State winning the Big Ten championship as a form of healing after Jerry Sandusky was convicted for sexually molested underage boys for decades as an assistant coach and remarked, “With all that has happened with this program regarding the sexual abuse scandal, this is a reckoning, a revival, a regeneration, a milestone in the healing process.”

Yeah, I’m sure those people Sandusky molested were thrilled that Penn State won the Big Ten. Add a trophy to the cabinet, and the healing process is over.

Johnson’s apparent lackadaisical approach to the Smith situation and his pushing of the comeback story narrative for Meyer rubbed more than a few people the wrong way.

At the risk of being completely off-base on the man, Gus Johnson gives off the perception that he is the kind of person who believes that there is nothing more important than sports, and on this day, there’s nothing more important than football. Maybe that’s because Gus is doing his job as a sports announcer, which is totally understandable. But at the same time, Johnson has minimized some rather horrible acts multiple times, and has tried to tie on-field success to off-field healing and/or redemption.

While it is most important to know about the two teams on the field, having at least some awareness of current events and knowing how to discuss serious things without looking completely tone deaf is important too. In that regard, Johnson failed miserably on Saturday.

About Phillip Bupp

Producer/editor of the Awful Announcing Podcast and Short and to the Point. News editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing. Highlight consultant for Major League Soccer as well as a freelance writer for hire. Opinions are my own but feel free to agree with them.

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