Updated with statement from Ohio State President Michael V. Drake at 2:30 ET.
“Thank you sir for your interest in my son’s story. … I’m sure Trevon will be honored to have you write a story on him. However, as his FATHER I can’t wait for that one reporter who cares about the TRUTH and where we came from!!”
That was the first response I received after messaging LeBron Grimes, the father of former Ohio State receiver Trevon Grimes, on Facebook on Sept. 10. LeBron wanted someone to finally expose – as he put it – the TRUTH. It gnawed at him, but he desperately wanted others to know this twisted tale of lies, secrets and deception. He wanted someone to, well, tell the truth.
The truth, LeBron Grimes says, is this: Ohio State coach Urban Meyer knew of assistant coach Zach Smith’s alleged racially-charged altercation in September 2017 with his son Trevon and helped keep it quiet. Ohio State officials and Zach Smith deny the allegations.
So what exactly is the TRUTH? Everyone has their version. What follows is my attempt to find the real story involving Trevon Grimes, who abruptly left Ohio State last fall, transferred to Florida in January and was ruled eligible to play six months later without sitting out a season. Getting to the truth proved difficult amid allegations of racism, fraud and conspiracy involving parties with sordid pasts.
Those parties: a convicted felon, a nurse who committed fraud and stole thousands of dollars from a dying elderly couple, and one of the nation’s most powerful college football coaches who hasn’t been entirely truthful in the past, especially when dealing with a disgraced assistant coach.
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.”
During that phone call, LeBron told his son he had booked a flight and would be in Columbus in three days. Trevon told him if he didn’t get there the next day he was leaving school.
So LeBron changed his flight. He left the next day from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, at 8 a.m. on Allegiant Air Flight 1722, arriving in Indianapolis at 10:38 a.m. In Indianapolis, LeBron met long-time friend Dennis Allen and they drove the 175 miles to Columbus, Ohio, arriving Wednesday Sept. 27, 2017.
“I drove LeBron up there,” Allen said. “I was there for support.”
Allen has known Trevon for nearly 12 years. Allen’s son, Dylan, and Trevon were best friends growing up in Indianapolis and played youth sports together. They still remain good friends. Allen coached Trevon in youth league football and said their families are so close that Trevon considers him an uncle.
“When LeBron and I went up to Columbus, I had never seen my nephew (Trevon) like that,” Allen said. “He lives and dies football. For him to not be enjoying himself, my parental instincts kicked in – I knew something wasn’t right.
“Trevon told us Zach called him a ‘bitch ass n – – – – -’ and a ‘prima donna’ among other things,” Allen said. “Coaching is coaching. That’s not the way you talk to athletes. When Tre told me he wasn’t getting along with his receivers coach, it was all Zach, mistreating him, calling him (racial slurs).”
LeBron said when Trevon told him what happened he “couldn’t believe it.”
“I had developed a close relationship with Urban and Zach and they assured me my son would be well taken care of, not only physically, but mentally,” LeBron said. “The men Meyer and Smith had represented as being: I felt honored to send my son to Ohio State and they didn’t turn out to be the men I thought they were. I felt like I had misled my son.”
LeBron Grimes said that after his son told him what happened, he called Meyer, but Meyer said he was “very busy” and would call later. LeBron Grimes said Meyer never called back.
“I also reached out to Zach and said, ‘What’s going on?’” LeBron said. “He said, ‘Your son isn’t coachable. He has this chip on his shoulder with whatever issues your family has.’”
Zach Smith denied he made that statement to LeBron Grimes.
Three days after LeBron met with his son in Columbus, Ohio State visited Rutgers on Sept. 30, 2017. Trevon, who had three catches in the previous two wins vs. Army and UNLV, was not on the Buckeyes’ travel roster. LeBron, who was still in Indianapolis, received a call from his son Tylan telling him that Leah Grimes was picking up Trevon at the Fort Lauderdale airport.
Trevon had decided his career was over at Ohio State.
What exactly happened that day at practice? It depends whom you ask.
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.”
Ohio State would not allow Jaylen Harris, Grimes’ roommate at Ohio State last year, to be interviewed for this story. Harris, in a statement from the school, said, “At no time did I ever witness a physical altercation or racially insensitive language as alleged.”
When LeBron was in Columbus, Harris told him he didn’t witness the altercation because he was on the other side of the field. After LeBron and Dennis Allen met Trevon and Jaylen in their dorm room, they went to Buffalo Wild Wings that night.
“Jaylen was confirming everything Trevon was saying,” Allen said. “Jaylen said, ‘I told him he needed to call his father.’ Jaylen even remarked, ‘Ohio State doesn’t want my father coming up here because there would be some problems,’ and that they don’t talk to [Jaylen] that way because his father was close by (in Cleveland).”
On Nov. 2, 2018 after Leah Grimes contacted Ohio State, Buckeyes Athletic Director Gene Smith reached out to Stadium. He said the use of the N-word in Ohio State’s program “doesn’t exist. Urban doesn’t allow that.” Later that day, Gene Smith provided a statement: “Since our conversation I have looked into some of your questions. We have found no evidence that there was a physical altercation or racially charged remarks between Zach Smith and Trevon Grimes, and to reinforce my earlier comments to you on the phone, racially charged behavior is not accepted or tolerated within our program.”
Four days later, through OSU spokesman Jerry Emig, the school now admitted there was an “interaction” between Zach Smith and Grimes. Emig’s statement: “The university initiated a series of interviews over the last four days with players and staff who witnessed the interaction. No one corroborated that there was a physical altercation or that there was racially offensive language used.”
Eli Goins, a senior wide receiver at Ohio State last season, said he witnessed the altercation at practice that players had to “break up” but did not hear Smith use the N-word: “Coach Smith might have said something that pissed off Tre about his previous route. He was always known for saying s – – -, you had to have tough skin.
“It didn’t get like they were throwing punches, but we did have to break them up,” Goins said. “He curses and uses profanity, but he never took it to that level with me. He knew his boundaries.”
Despite multiple attempts, Leah Grimes refused comment on what Trevon told her about what happened at Ohio State. Meyer, through Emig, refused comment for this story.
A few days after Trevon left Ohio State and had returned home to Florida, a round-trip flight reservation was created by Director of Internal Operations Amy Nicol on Meyer’s behalf on NetJets to travel on Oct. 9, 2017 from Columbus to Fort Lauderdale, according to an Ohio State travel expense report obtained through a public records request.
The passengers were Meyer, Zach Smith and Ryan Stamper, Ohio State’s director of player development. The names of the student-athletes who were also on the trip were redacted on the report.
The total cost for the trip on the private jet, leaving for Fort Lauderdale at 5:42 a.m., and returning to Columbus at 3:30 p.m., was estimated at $20,064.
Nearly three months ago, Stadium submitted another public records request with the school, seeking text messages from Meyer and Director of Football Operations Brian Voltolini relating to “Zach Smith, Trevon Grimes, Leah Grimes, N-word and fight.” Ohio State’s university communications office has not fulfilled that request.
When Meyer came and visited Grimes and his mother, he had to cancel his Monday media responsibilities and disrupt his game preparation on Oct. 9 – five days before a Big Ten road game at Nebraska.
It was the first time in Meyer’s 17-year coaching career that he cancelled his weekly press conference, and he did so for a freshman wide receiver that his position coach allegedly said “isn’t coachable” and had all of three career receptions.
Ohio State didn’t have a game the following Saturday, so Meyer could have visited a week later during the Buckeyes’ open date. Why the urgency to disrupt his game preparation?
In addition to Meyer, Zach Smith and Stamper, Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas Athletic Director George Smith said Ohio State backup quarterback Tate Martell and wide receiver Jaylen Harris were among those who met with Grimes and his mother Leah. They met in Smith’s office at the high school, where Grimes was a football and track standout during his time there. Allowing Ohio State’s student-athletes to accompany the coaches to visit another student-athlete is not an NCAA violation.
The reason for the visit? Again, it depends whom you ask.
Gene Smith: “Coach Meyer and others went to support Leah Grimes and Trevon on Monday, Oct. 9, an off day for our (players) because Leah was struggling with her health and they were going through a very stressful time.”
Emig, OSU’s spokesman: “Coach (Meyer) is very close with Leah and she and Trevon were struggling with news of her cancer. They went then to show support for her and Trevon. Coach also contacted the James Cancer Center that week to put her in touch with their doctors.”
LeBron Grimes, who was not in town that day: “Trevon threatened them (to go public with the altercation and alleged racial slur) like Zach threatened Trevon (at Ohio State).”
Trevon and Leah have not commented on the meeting.
If the altercation became public, it could possibly damage Ohio State’s and Meyer’s ability to recruit, especially at St. Thomas Aquinas High School, where Meyer signed elite stars at both Florida and Ohio State, including Nick and Joey Bosa.
Trevon was personally recommended to Meyer by former Ohio State and NFL great Cris Carter. Trevon starred at St. Thomas Aquinas, which is among the nation’s top-producing high schools of college talent. Aquinas currently has 16 alumni on active NFL rosters, double more than any other high school in the country, and had 71 players sign with Power 5 programs in the past 10 years, easily the nation’s most of any high school.
At the time of the meeting in Fort Lauderdale, based on Stadium’s original reporting and a subsequent Ohio State-issued investigation and report, Meyer knew the following about Zach Smith on Oct. 9, 2017:
* In 2009, Smith had been arrested in Gainesville for aggravated battery of a pregnant female, his then wife Courtney Smith. The charges were eventually dropped.
* On May 8, 2014, in connection with a recruiting trip to Florida, Smith spent at least $600 at a Miami strip club with high school coaches and former Ohio State assistant/current Texas coach Tom Herman.
* Between 2014-16, Smith’s credit cards and replacement cards were declined numerous times when he was booking rental cars for recruiting trips. He also was delinquent paying for his iPhones and costs associated with bowl games.
* In October 2015, Smith was investigated by the Powell (Ohio) Police Department on two charges of domestic violence against Courtney Smith. He was not charged.
* In 2015 and 2016, Zach Smith was regularly late to practice and workouts and failed to appear at scheduled recruiting visits to high schools, despite incorrectly reporting internally that he had.
* In June 2016, based on advice from Meyer, Smith was admitted to a drug treatment facility in Mason, Ohio, for addictions a source said cost the school about $40,000.
Meyer knew all of this about Smith’s disturbing past. It would be nearly eight months before any of that became public.
If Trevon remained quiet about the practice altercation, LeBron said, Ohio State would allow him to transfer anywhere. In 2017, coaches could block student-athletes from receiving an athletic scholarship from another school. That rule changed a few weeks ago.
A few days after the Ohio State contingent traveled to Fort Lauderdale, Meyer told local reporters that he had visited Trevon Grimes, who had a “family health issue.” Shortly after that, LeBron Grimes began getting calls from friends and family asking if his ex-wife was OK.
LeBron said he had no idea what they were talking about.
Between Sept. 10 and Sept. 13, 2018, I left Leah Grimes a voicemail, sent one text and two direct messages via Twitter, since she was following me on Twitter. She did not respond.
On Sept. 18, Will Pantages, the University of Florida’s football spokesman, called me and said Trevon Grimes, whom I had interviewed eight days earlier in Gainesville, asked that I stop trying to contact his mother.
Pantages then added that Trevon knew I had spoken to his father LeBron and said, “Don’t believe anything he tells you,” and also that he had not “seen or talked to his father in more than two years.”
Less than a year earlier was when LeBron says Trevon called him, upset about what had happened at Ohio State, asking him to fly immediately to Columbus where they met with Dennis Allen and Jaylen Harris.
On Oct. 21, 2018, I sent a text to Leah Grimes. I told her as a courtesy that I wanted to give her a final opportunity to respond to what I was reporting.
The next day in Gainesville, after Florida’s Monday practice, Trevon and Pantages had a “heated exchange,” according to several media members who witnessed the conversation. It’s unknown what they were discussing.
The next morning, Oct. 23, I was contacted by Ron Kozlowski, who is an attorney based in Gainesville. He told me he had been retained by Leah Grimes.
Last year after Trevon left Ohio State, he spoke with some former high school teammates who now go to school at Miami about the possibility of joining the Hurricanes. Trevon learned that coach Mark Richt doesn’t take transfers.
So Trevon turned his attention to Florida. LeBron’s concern, wherever his son ended up, was Trevon had missed two-thirds of the 2017 season after leaving Ohio State and now would have to sit out the 2018 season as a transfer at his new school.
“Trevon said there’s nothing to talk about it,” LeBron said. “I told him, ‘This is the NCAA, who do you think you are? You can’t just do this (and play next year).’”
The only way Trevon could play in 2018 was to receive a hardship waiver from the NCAA. The most common method is if an injury or illness to a family member is life-threatening and the student-athlete can assist with the day-to-day care of the family member.
Trevon received an NCAA hardship waiver at Florida to play immediately based on the information provided to the NCAA by Leah. Ohio State supported the transfer.
Stadium obtained a copy of NCAA Case Summary #998226 (available below) that outlines the NCAA’s rationale in awarding the hardship waiver. It was approved because “SA’s (student-athlete’s) mother was diagnosed with a debilitating injury/illness (stage IV cancer).”
The summary doesn’t specifically identify Grimes or the schools involved, but all of the information including the timetable is identical with Trevon’s appeal, including the exact distance between Fort Lauderdale, Ohio State and UF, and it also references his initial desire to transfer to Miami.
The NCAA’s three-page Case Summary indicated “the SA’s (student-athlete’s) mother was diagnosed with stage IV epithelial ovarian cancer (and his) mother underwent surgery to remove the cancer. In early September 2017, (his) mother’s doctors discovered that the surgery was not successful in removing the cancer.”
According to the American Cancer Society, “stage IV epithelial ovarian cancer has spread to distant sites, like the liver, the lungs, or bones. These cancers are very hard to cure with current treatments, but they can still be treated. The goals of treatment are to help patients feel better and live longer.
“Stage IV can be treated with surgery to remove the tumor and debulk the cancer, followed by chemo (and possibly the targeted drug bevacizumab) for up to about a year. Another option is to treat with chemo first. More often, three cycles of chemo are given before surgery, with at least three more after surgery.”
Lynda Roman, director of the Division of Gynecologic Oncology at the University of Southern California, said, “The cure rate would be very, very low, less than five percent.”
Lee P. Shulman, chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology-Clinical Genetics and a professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Northwestern University, said the outlook for an individual in this condition would be poor.
“The prognosis for Stage IV ovarian cancer – whether or whether not any surgery was successful – is dismal,” Shulman said. “There would be a five percent chance they would still be alive five years later. These patients tend not to do well.”
On July 10, the NCAA approved Trevon’s hardship waiver and on Aug. 2, Florida officially announced he was eligible for this season.
Terrance McCray, Leah’s 26-year old son from her first marriage who lives with his mother and Tylan, declined comment.
LeBron and Leah first met about 20 years ago in Indiana. They were married in 2008 in Panama City. They have two sons: Trevon, 19, and Tylan, 8. The marriage didn’t last long. They were divorced less than three years later, but remained together until 2015 because of their sons and currently live about a mile away from each other in Coral Springs, LeBron said.
Leah Grimes would not be interviewed for this story, but instead issued the following statement. Ohio State also later provided the same statement to Stadium on Leah Grimes’ behalf.
“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.
“If my ex-husband is the person spreading these rumors, everyone should know that neither I nor TreVon have any contact with him whatsoever. He knows nothing about my health and nothing about TreVon’s transfer to UF. He is an abuser and the worst kind of role model, and he is no longer in TreVon’s life.
“I know that stories about college football coaches and players will continue to be news, but I ask that my health be kept out of it. I did not ask to be in the spotlight, and I am angry that someone has tried to put me there.”
Pantages, of UF, and Leah Grimes indicated LeBron has not spoken with Trevon for more than two years and they have not had “any contact whatsoever.” The call history on LeBron’s cell phone indicates that LeBron received calls from Trevon’s phone twice on Oct. 19 during Florida’s open week before playing Georgia. One call lasted six minutes, the other for eight minutes. LeBron says it was Trevon on the other end of those calls.
As referenced in Leah’s statement, LeBron, 46, admits he has experienced his share of legal issues.
Between 2011 and 2015, LeBron was the defendant in two domestic violence cases with two different women: his step-sister and Leah Grimes, according to the Broward County Court of Clerks. Each case was dismissed and he was not convicted or found liable.
In 1999, LeBron was arrested in Broward County for battery on a community college security officer and theft of less than $300. He also was charged for theft between $100 and $300, according to the Broward County Court of Clerks.
In 1994, when he was 22, he was arrested for possession and selling cocaine, according to court records in Marion County, Indiana. He also pled guilty to cocaine possession in 2004 in Marion Superior Court in Indiana.
“It’s true I sold drugs when I was younger and it landed me a trip to prison,” LeBron said. “But I am a truthful and stand-up guy. They can never say I’m a liar.”
On Nov. 2, Leah filed and received a “temporary injunction for protection against domestic violence with minor child” against LeBron. LeBron volunteered a copy of the protection order, which was filed with the Broward County Clerk of Courts.
LeBron said his ex-wife filed this claim as retaliation to not let him see their 8-year old son Tylan, because LeBron is exposing what happened at Ohio State and how Trevon obtained his hardship waiver at Florida.
Leah, 43, also has had her share of past legal issues.
Between 2007 and 2010, Leah Grimes had her nursing licenses revoked and suspended in Washington and Indiana for stealing from an elderly couple and being charged with “dishonorable and unethical conduct, moral turpitude, misrepresentation and fraud,” according to the Washington Department of Health.
Between May 2005 and April 2006, Leah was a private caregiver in Washington for a married couple in their 80’s – the wife suffered from severe dementia, the husband had Alzheimer’s. During this time, according to the Washington Department of Health, Leah used the couple’s credit cards and banking account without their knowledge, racking up nearly $10,000 in purchases. Included was a Northwest Airlines round-trip ticket from Seattle to Indianapolis ($362.20), clothes from Abercrombie ($921.66) and services at a tanning salon ($103.42). The couple’s credit cards were also used by Leah to pay Leah’s personal electric bills ($512.85), personal credit card ($995) and a Wells Fargo Account ($927.06).
Leah also transferred from the couple’s banking account $1,189.65 and $1,498 to collection agencies, according to the Washington Department of Health.
When the husband passed away in December 2005, Leah continued to steal from the wife for the next five months.
The couple’s daughter could not determine exactly how much money Leah stole, but said it was significantly higher than the $9,426.55 the family could document, according to the Washington Assistant Attorney General.
In June 2007, Leah was terminated from her position at St. Vincent’s Women’s Hospital in Indianapolis and had her nursing license revoked. Leah was placed on indefinite probation by the Indiana State Board of Nursing for lying on her RN application about whether she had “ever been terminated or demoted as a Nurse or as another health professional.” That probation was lifted in 2010, according to Indiana’s Deputy Attorney General.
Leah is currently a nurse at Cleveland Clinic Florida in Weston, Florida. Her son, Trevon, has played in all 10 games for the No. 15-ranked Gators. He has 17 receptions for 194 yards, including a 34-yard touchdown on his very first touch as a Gator in the season opener against Charleston Southern.
“I knew there was a lot of covering up. Trevon just wanted to play ball, whatever story they wrote up,” LeBron said. “I looked at him and I was like, ‘Wow.’ Not one person ever questioned the truth.
“If Urban says it, people say it’s true. Urban is more powerful than the truth. No one questioned it. I didn’t want to be part of (it) because I knew it wasn’t true.”
What is the truth? It depends whom you ask.
The following statement was released by Ohio State President Michael V. Drake via his Twitter account on Tuesday morning:
University statement on Brett McMurphy story
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.