After attorney Billy Murphy claimed Wednesday night that punter Wade Lees punched punter Matt Barber “viciously in the face” during a spat related to the return of coach DJ Durkin, and Barber alleged in the Baltimore Sun that his teammates ganged up on him, a source with direct knowledge of the situation disputed both the cause and nature of the altercation.
According to the source, the fight was “100% unrelated” to Durkin’s reinstatement Tuesday, was between only Lees and Barber and lasted only a few seconds.
Murphy, the lead attorney of the Baltimore-based law firm representing the family of late offensive lineman Jordan McNair, described Barber as a “whistle-blower” against Durkin. Murphy said the senior, who hasn’t seen game action in 2017 or 2018 since transferring from Pitt, received stitches and underwent an MRI for a separated shoulder.
But the source told The Diamondback in a text message that Barber’s longstanding attitude problems left him with few allies on the team, and the fight was initiated after Barber “tried to bad talk a player” to Lees. When Lees “told him off,” the source said Barber jabbed at Lees, which began a brief altercation that was broken up by a coach.
A Baltimore Sun story published Thursday and quoting Barber alleged players had “mocked and insulted him, while others threw footballs at him” before Lees attacked him.
“My jersey was bloody,” Barber told the Sun. “I had blood all over my hands.”
Players widely disputed Barber’s account on Twitter.
“The scuffle lasted barely a few seconds with both guys throwing punches,” the source said. “Matt dislocated his shoulder when he missed swinging a punch.”
Lees has been a supporter of Durkin’s since arriving from Australia in 2016. Lees, who is the second-oldest player in Division I football, expressed support for Durkin in a Baltimore Sun story in August, shortly after Durkin was placed on administrative leave. Lees also liked tweets in support of Durkin on Tuesday.
“Obviously,” Murphy told reporters Wednesday, “he felt empowered to act that way because of the coach’s return.”
But Lees posted on Twitter Thursday that “there are many inaccuracies in the way [Barber] portrays that day,” and said he has “never tried to force my opinions on someone else.”
In a statement made to The Washington Post on Wednesday, athletic director Damon Evans acknowledged an incident happened and said “we are talking with the players involved and will take appropriate actions based on the facts.”
Barber told The Baltimore Sun that when observers attempted to intervene, they grabbed his arms and left his face exposed. That allowed Lees to punch Barber in the face, Barber said.
“No one assaulted Matt, nor did anyone hold him against his will while he was punched,” the source wrote in a text. “Matt was just as much an aggressor in the situation.”
This story has been updated.