John Simon Calls SI Article “Big Misunderstanding”
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Like the rest of Ohio State, John Simon waited anxiously for Sports Illustrated to release what was expected to be a groundbreaking new piece on the scandal and subsequent cover-up in Columbus.
This was supposed to be the big one—the story that would explain why OSU Head Coach Jim Tressel was forced to resign on Memorial Day after more than 10 seasons at the helm of the Buckeyes.
Photo by Dan Harker
After all the team had been through since December when allegations first surfaced that a number of his teammates had accepted improper benefits from the owner of a local tattoo parlor, Simon had prepared himself for the worst.
Even that could not equip Simon for what he would see when he opened his computer to the story one day after losing his head coach.
“I was upset,” Simon admitted recently.
“I would say I was more shocked than anything that it could happen.”
As he stared at the page in disbelief, Simon saw the one thing he never could have expected—his own name.
Along with the six players who admitted to trading memorabilia for tattoos or cash at Fine Line Ink, the Sports Illustrated piece quoted an unnamed source who alleged that Simon and eight other active players also received similar hookups.
Simon’s father, also named John, quickly came to his son’s defense, disputing any legitimacy to the article written by George Dohrmann.
“It's just more or less disbelief on how something like that can come out, how a reputable publication can write something like that without any proof at all,” he told The Columbus Dispatch.
The elder Simon claims his son was never “even close” to Fine Line Ink or owner Edward Rife, who recently plead guilty to charges of conspiracy to distribute marijuana and money laundering. The hulking Simon does have tattoos on both of his biceps, which his dad says he got back in his hometown of Youngstown, Ohio.
“I understand mistakes happen and it seems like that thing was a big misunderstanding but how my family had to answer questions day-in and day-out was probably the hardest part for us,” Simon said.
“Mistakes happen and you have to move on.”
That wasn’t Simon’s first reaction.
The junior defensive lineman out of Cardinal Mooney High School wanted to lash out. His reputation had been tainted, along with those of teammates C.J. Barnett, Dorian Bell, Jaamal Berry, Bo DeLande, Zach Domicone, Storm Klein, Etienne Sabino and Nathan Williams.
He wanted to fire back, to defend his name against the accusations made by Dohrmann, who was standing behind a former Fine Line Ink employee known only by the pseudonym Ellis. Ohio State did not want the players entering into a war of he-said, she-said with the media.
“We have to do what they tell us to do,” Simon said in his first interview since the article was released.
“That thing was just a big misunderstanding and we have to move forward.”
Simon could not speak directly about the ongoing NCAA investigation or whether his name had been cleared of all involvement with Rife and Fine Line Ink following the SI report. He did speak with NCAA investigators, but said there was no reason to worry about his status heading into the fall.
Assuming Simon is—or has already been—cleared by the NCAA, he will be one of the key returning starters on defense for the Buckeyes this fall. Like the rest of his teammates, he is looking forward to putting this offseason behind him, but that won’t erase the pain or embarrassment that was caused by the Sports Illustrated “bombshell.”
“It was a rough time, especially for my family with them having to answer questions and things like that,” he said.
“It was a misunderstanding and we have to move forward.”
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