A message of "silence" shared on Ohio State football's Twitter account Wednesday drew criticism on social media and from national advocates for victims of sexual abuse and relationship violence.
The football team's account shared a graphic ahead of its top-10 matchup at No. 9 Penn State this Saturday featuring the word "silence," along with a message that said "silence the white noise." It later deleted the post.
"As we have done in the past and in preparation for Saturday's game, we issued a message to our fans via the football social media outlets," read a subsequent tweet from the Ohio State athletic department. "The message has been interpreted in ways we absolutely did not intend, and we have removed it from our channels."
That was the second attempt at an explanation. The first, posted and also later deleted from the football account, included a final sentence: "We understand why people were critical." That sentence was left off the latter post on the athletic department account.
Before the initial "silence" post was deleted, an athletic department spokesman said the message was the same one that the team shared two years ago when the Nittany Lions visited State College, Pennsylvania, for another big game. The "white noise" is a reference to Penn State's plans to host a "whiteout" where all fans wear white.
"That message is the same message we used before the 2016 whiteout game at Penn State," football spokesman Jerry Emig told ESPN on Thursday. "And that message is directed to our team to play really well to silence an incredible whiteout crowd at Penn State."
The context creating controversy stems from head coach Urban Meyer's recent suspension for how he handled a former assistant coach accused of domestic violence. Courtney Smith, the ex-wife of former Buckeyes assistant Zach Smith, accused Meyer and others in the athletic department of failing to help her and trying to tamp down her accusations.
"Even if this is about a game, in light of the domestic violence & sexual assault scandals at OSU, this is inappropriate," tweeted Brenda Tracy, an advocate and public speaker who travels the country speaking to football programs about sexual assault issues. "Messaging matters."
A university investigation found that Meyer did not accurately answer questions about Courtney Smith's accusations when asked about them at Big Ten media days in July. The same investigation revealed that Meyer and a staff member discussed deleting his old text messages on the same day that he was out on administrative leave this summer. Meyer has since denied deleting text messages and said the investigators didn't accurately portray that conversation.
Meyer missed the first three games of Ohio State's season as a result of the investigation. Penn State coach James Franklin said earlier this week that he hopes for a loud, intimidating and respectful crowd for Saturday night's game.