By NICOLAS IPARRAGUIRRE
College football writer Brett McMurphy has had an impressive career and gained the respect of many college football fans for his outstanding reporting. In 2017, after spending five years at ESPN, McMurphy was included in the round of layoffs that saw many writers and analysts let go by ESPN.
Since leaving ESPN, McMurphy saw his notoriety rise when he published a story about former Ohio State assistant football coach Zach Smith and his alleged history of domestic assault. McMurphy’s report led to an internal investigation by Ohio State and eventually a three-game suspension of head coach Urban Meyer stemming from his role in potentially covering up Smith’s alleged indiscretions. Unfortunately, this week McMurphy published another story about Ohio State that was irresponsible and exemplified his disdain for the program.
McMurphy’s story surrounded former Ohio State receiver Trevon Grimes and an altercation he may have had during a practice. According to McMurphy’s reporting, an altercation during an Ohio State practice ended in Smith directing the N-word towards Grimes, which led to his decision to transfer to the University of Florida. Before this story, it is widely believed that Grimes, a South Florida native, transferred due to his mother having been diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer and his desire to be closer to home.
The story also alleges that the waiver Grimes’ received from the NCAA that allowed him to play right away due to his mother’s condition may have been based on false, and that his mother does not have cancer at all. McMurphy’s main source for the story was Grimes’ estranged father Lebron Grimes, who Trevon claims he has not spoken to in over two years.
In reading the story, it is clear McMurphy was extremely diligent in his research for the story. He reached out to various players on the Ohio State team, Ohio State’s Athletic Department, friends of Grimes, and attempted to contact Grimes and his mother. Unfortunately, he wrote a story that was at the very least incomplete, and at the worst irresponsible.
He was also reckless in conducting his research, badgering both Grimes and his mother despite both of them personally, and through a University of Florida spokesperson, requesting he stop reaching out. McMurphy admitted as much in his actual story. McMurphy also gave a lot of credence to the story presented by Lebron Grimes despite his description of Grimes’ legal indiscretions and the allegations of domestic abuse that had been made against him by his ex-wife, Grimes’ mother.
Since the story has been published, Grimes, Ohio State’s Athletic Department, and all of his former Ohio State teammates have publicly denied the accusations in the story. While this is to be expected, McMurphy’s ultimate error was publishing a story prior to verifying the allegations in said story. Without a single Ohio State player or even Grimes agreeing to corroborate the Smith incident, it was irresponsible to publish that part of the story based on Grimes’ estranged fathers account.
As to the allegation regarding Grimes’ mother potentially lying about having cancer, McMurphy once again published a baseless accusation and badgered a woman who is not a public figure. While McMurphy’s research allowed him to create context for this story, without any evidence that Grimes’ mother actually lied about her condition, it was an irresponsible accusation to publish.
While the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996 makes finding medical information about an individual very difficult, McMurphy had a responsibility not to publish the accusation without a source other than Grimes’ estranged father.
The story illustrated that McMurphy is a talented writer who conducts extremely thorough research, but it also showed his judgment has been clouded by a deep contempt of the current Ohio State program. The story was so diligently researched and transparently written that his own conclusions were both debunked. McMurphy’s search for the truth can be seen as a noble crusade, but he published a story with conclusions that he may have been able to prove or even disprove had he waited for further evidence.