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Harbaugh issues statement in wake of Big Ten Media Days controversies

Wolverines Wire logo Wolverines Wire 7/20/2019 Isaiah Hole
Jim Harbaugh wearing a suit and tie: File Photo © File Photo File Photo

Appearing on Tim Kawakami's podcast on Thursday morning, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh said that former Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer has controversy follow him everywhere.

Then, over the next 36-some hours, Harbaugh, himself, had controversy follow him everywhere.

Harbaugh's turn at Big Ten Media Days came Friday, starting with his 15 minute session on the dais. He fielded questions both about his comments to Kawakami about Meyer as well as about transfers departing the program - with that instance being a question about Oliver Martin, who transferred to Iowa last month. In the latter, he shared that he has an idea for how the NCAA could change transfer rules to benefit the student-athlete.

But things got a little heated during the hour-long podium session, which is like a mix between a scrum and formal press conference. Harbaugh fielded multiple questions from Ohio State media about his Meyer comments, finishing with a Twitter post from Meyer's daughter, who suggested that Harbaugh is merely deflecting from other issues in talking about her father, like about how he's winless as a coach vs. the Buckeyes.

In why he chose to say what he did about Meyer, Harbaugh said he's merely speaking his mind and not introducing any new content.

"I don't see why people are so afraid to say what they think," Harbaugh said. "Maybe that's something that's worthy of being examined."

But he fully dismissed the tweet from Meyer's daughter, reiterating:

"It was me saying what I think. Question answered. You've asked your question, I've answered it."

However, that wasn't the end of any of the controversy, as a new one arose shortly after.

The final question asked was similar to the Oliver Martin one, but about James Hudson, who departed the program this fall, citing mental health issues. He eventually ended up at Cincinnati, but the NCAA declined his request to be granted immediate eligibility.

He answered quite similarly to how he had to the Martin question.

"To be clear, as a coach, I don't have any say in that," Harbaugh said. "Not any involvement. Compliance departments talk. They talk to each other through statements and counter-statements and statements. Then the NCAA decides, but as a coach, I'm not involved in it."

But earlier in the day, Harbaugh appeared on SiriusXM radio where he said he feared that student-athletes would claim mental health issues to get to forgo the one-year NCAA transfer penalty.

"And the other piece that bothers me about it is, the youngster that says 'this is a mental health issue, I'm suffering from depression.' Or that's a reason to get eligible. And once that's known that 'hey, say this or say that' to get eligible. The problem I see in that is you're going to have guys that are 'OK, yeah, I'm depressed.'

"Say what they've got to say. But down the road I don't see that helping them if it's not a legitimate thing. But nobody would know. But what are you going to say? Ten years down the road 'I just had to say what I had to say?' And I think you're putting them in a position that's unfair, not right. And, as you said, you're saying it just to say it. And that's not truthful. That's not necessarily truthful. It's not something we should be promoting at the college level. Telling the truth matters. Especially at a college.

"You can't have experiments that aren't truthful. You can't lie about equations. Shouldn't be lying in football. That's a message that we should be teaching. I got a little long-winded there. But I think that would help all concerned.

"And can I add, please don't write a bunch of letters," he said. "I care very deeply about mental health. I'm not saying everybody's lying about that. Just saying 'OK, this is America. You started at this school, you didn't like it and for whatever the reason is, you're freely allowed to transfer to any other school like any other human being would have a right to do.' That's really the bottom line."

Since all this was realized, social media became a firestorm. James Hudson's mother, Glenda, spoke out.

But, given what he had to say about the transfer process, Harbaugh is coming out and saying: Hey, I'm advocating for the right thing here.

He took to Twitter on Saturday morning, saying that with his proposal, student-athletes wouldn't have to worry about coming out and claiming mental health issues, thus also avoiding the stigma of that getting out in public. In the same fell-swoop, he addressed, in essence, what Meyer's daughter claimed, that he was deflecting from other aspects of his program.

"In response to some who say I am deflecting and dodging or pushing an agenda, they could not be more wrong. Rather I am choosing to be forthright and transparent. As asked multiple times yesterday at Big Ten Media Day, I offered an opinion. My belief is that a one-time transfer should be allowed for all student athletes. I am clearly advocating for rights that college football players have not had. This would put the decision totally in the hands of the student-athlete and family and would protect all from disclosing information and rights afforded under HIPPA and FERPA."

While his initial discussion on SiriusXM might not have been elegantly stated, Harbaugh does have a point that his proposal - as he said much earlier in the day on Friday - would nullify situations like Hudson's current ordeal, and it would also create a sense of privacy for players who are undergoing something under the radar.

His statement might not be enough to satiate those currently out for blood, but it's increasingly clear that he had no ill intent towards Hudson, and that his Meyer statement is merely a topic because he's the Michigan coach talking about a former Buckeyes coach.

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