The dozens of reporters who cover the Ohio State Buckeyes had never seen Urban Meyer so angry — not after the 31-0 loss to Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl or the 55-24 loss at Iowa earlier this month. At least, the Buckeyes suffered self-inflicted wounds on those days. This was different.
Meyer left the sideline after a 31-20 victory against Michigan on Saturday with a big smile on his face, heading to greet Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh at midfield after his sixth straight victory in The Game. Twenty minutes or so later, that grin had vanished. Meyer was upset, which everyone discovered when the first question at the postgame press conference was about quarterback J.T. Barrett’s injury.
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Barrett left the game after a tackle in the third quarter. Everyone assumed the injury happened on that play. Meyer surprised the crowded room with his answer, kicking off #CameraGate.
“It was a non-football injury,” Meyer said. “Too many damn people on the sideline. A guy with a camera hit him in the knee. I’m gonna find out who. Think about that. So I’m so angry right now. I’ve got to move on. (Angry) that I let that happen.”
The press conference turned into one to remember with Meyer pledging a full investigation and Barrett explaining his view of the situation, even getting up from the table with a microphone and walking reporters through the incident step by step.
I was on the field for the entire game shooting photos — let’s get this out of the way, I didn’t hurt Barrett — so I know how something like this could have happened, but it’s still surprising. The Michigan sideline doesn’t give anyone room to operate. The Ohio State band was crammed into one corner, leaving barely enough room for cameramen or photographers to squeeze past on their way from one end zone to another.
Many photographers like to be in front of Ohio State’s offense. In case of a big play, they can shoot photos of the players coming at them. When Ohio State’s on defense, they have to choose between being behind the Michigan offense — that’s a good way to get photos of sacks or defensive scores — or in front of the offense to get potential big plays by Michigan.
That’s why photographers are constantly on the move from one end of the field to the other. It’s relatively easy at Ohio State. The area behind the benches is wide, though it can be dangerous. Last season, a photographer got ran over by one of the carts that drive the network TV cameras from one end of the field to the other and suffered a knee injury.
Texts I got. Answer: No! pic.twitter.com/qp2ggGwCl5— David Jablonski (@DavidPJablonski) November 26, 2017
Still, at Ohio State, there’s no reason to come anywhere close to the players. That’s not the case at Michigan and many other stadiums. There was only a small gap between the back of the Ohio State bench and the stands. There are also hundreds of people on the field — players, coaches, cheerleaders, trainers, photographers, VIPs with sideline passes, etc. It’s a crowded place. Some stadiums are worse than others. Michigan’s was about as crowded as it gets Saturday.
That doesn’t excuse a photographer hitting Barrett, who said he was warming up behind the bench when someone tried to squeeze between him and the bench. He said it was someone wearing gray. That’s not much of a help because all the photographers on the sideline were wearing gray vests. The TV cameramen wore brown vests, so I guess they’re in the clear.
The blow to Barrett’s knee aggravated an injury he has been dealing with for a while.
“My knee just kind of shifted in, twisted up on me,” Barrett said, “and we was able to lock it out and put it back in, but that’s how it was.”
Barrett’s injury and Meyer’s anger were big subjects in the photo room after the game. As photographers worked, they debated how this could have happened, who might have done it and how Meyer might find that person.
A number of photographers pleaded innocent on Twitter. I had about nine different people send me text messages or ask me on social media if it was me. I wasn’t in the area. Plus, my two cameras hang from my shoulders — my wife tells me my neck and back will pay for this someday — and not off straps hanging from body like some, so there’s no way my cameras could have hit Barrett unless he was 10-feet tall.
My bosses breathed a sigh of relief when I informed them I wasn’t involved. No one wants to on the wrong side of Angry Urban.