According to the 232-page investigative report made public Friday, 177 Ohio State students — including 48 Buckeye wrestlers, along with male athletes from 15 other intercollegiate sports — reported that they had been sexually assaulted by Dr. Richard Strauss, Ohio State team doctor from 1978 to 1998.
A total of 520 interviews were conducted. In addition the 177 students who had been abused, the law firm conducting the investigation — Perkins Coie LLP of Seattle — also interviewed 94 student witnesses, 169 former Ohio State employees and 53 current employees, and 27 others not affiliated with the Columbus-based school.
Ohio State president Michael Drake apologized on behalf of the university to the victims.
“Our institution’s fundamental failure at the time to prevent this abuse was unacceptable — as were the inadequate efforts to thoroughly investigate complaints raised by students and staff members,” Drake said in a statement.
“This independent investigation was completed because of the strength and courage of survivors. We thank each of them for their willingness to share their experiences.”
Drake said the investigation alone has cost the school $6.2 million.
Strauss retired from Ohio State on March 1, 1998. He committed suicide in 2005.
The university said it has begun the process of revoking Strauss’ emeritus status.
Allegations against Strauss
The report issued Friday shares stories from dozens of individuals, describing behavior on the part of Strauss ranging from inappropriate (seeking to conduct photo shoots of some athletes out in public) … to sexually abusive.
One example that is indicative of the latter came from an Ohio State student athletic trainer, who told investigators that Strauss would instruct patients to remove their pants so he could examine lymph nodes in a patient’s groin. In one specific example, the patient was seeking treatment of a cauliflower ear. Yet another got that same treatment when he came to Strauss with a sore throat. Other students interviewed by investigators said these exams of their genitalia would last at least five minutes.
On page 107 of the report, a team physician confirmed to investigators that he was aware of stories in the 1990s that Strauss was “infatuated” with the Ohio State wrestling team and that Strauss would time his workouts to coincide with the wrestling team’s workouts so that he could shower with the team at Larkins Hall, a multipurpose facility built in the 1930s that was home to a number of Buckeye sports teams, including the wrestling program. (Larkins Hall was demolished in 2005. The Ohio State wrestling program had relocated to the Steelwood Athletic Training Center west of campus in 2002, and, as of May 21, will move to the just-completed Covelli Center near Schottenstein Center on campus.)
The Perkins Coie report details illicit behavior at Larkins Hall beyond allegations against Strauss, on the part of individuals who were not student-athletes, trainers or coaches. This behavior took place in locker rooms, showers and saunas at Larkins.
“A significant number of witnesses reported to us that the environment in Larkins Hall was perceived to be a sexualized and at times predatory environment …” according to a description on page 163. “We received credible statements from over 50 witnesses describing pervasive voyeurism and multiple incidents of public sex acts …”
“Our review of OSUPD (Ohio State University Police Department) records yielded approximately 20 potentially relevant incidents occurring at Larkins between 1988 and 1998, including reports of public indecency, assault, disorderly conduct, criminal trespassing and criminal mischief.”
“One part-time assistant wrestling coach indicated he reported one aggressive voyeur to the head wrestling coach at some point between 1993 and 1998 and shortly after the OSUPD conducted a ‘sting operation’ at Larkins which resulted in the arrest of several voyeurs.”
Wrestlers helped launch the investigation
In March 2018, Mike DiSabato, a former Ohio State wrestler, met with school officials to discuss the abuse that he and other athletes suffered at the hands of Strauss.
InterMat first reported on initial allegations of abuse of Ohio State wrestlers in early April 2018.
In July 2018, InterMat wrote that four former Ohio State University wrestlers had filed a class-action federal lawsuit against the Columbus-based school, claiming administrators were aware of alleged sexual abuse by team doctor Richard Strauss and did nothing about it.
That lawsuit is one of three federal suits filed thus far against the university. Two of those lawsuits are headed for mediation. A third was filed last week with five plaintiffs. They seek unspecified damages.
Reactions to the report
At least three individuals who had personal contact with Dr. Richard Strauss have offered their analysis of the investigative report.
In a statement to the Associated Press, former Ohio State wrestler Michael DiSabato who first raised the issue of Strauss’ behavior with his alma mater more than a year ago said, “Although a weight has been lifted off my back, I am deeply saddened to hear and relive the stories of so many others who suffered similar abuse by Dr. Strauss while Ohio State turned a blind eye.”
DiSabato added that the final report gave him “courage and strength to keep fighting to ensure Ohio State is held accountable for the damage and trauma they caused me and my family.”
Nick Nutter, an NCAA All-American wrestler at Ohio State in the mid-1990s, said he hasn’t had a chance to read the entire report, but, based on what he has seen, believes that Perkins Coie “did their homework well.”
“I was glad (Ohio State president) Drake didn’t sugarcoat it and took responsibility,” Nutter said. “He’s bearing the cross for past mistakes and that’s admirable.”
Nutter said Strauss molested him virtually every time he saw him for physical exams and treatment for the various injuries he received during his five years on the wrestling team.
The former Buckeye wrestler admitted he was taught to respect authority figures like coaches and doctors, which made him the “perfect victim” for an abuser skilled at using his authority to abuse young men who didn’t know any better.
By contrast, former nursing student Brian Garrett doesn’t have much in the way of positive feelings about the Ohio State/Strauss investigative report.
Garrett worked for a short time at an off-campus clinic Strauss opened after he was ousted at Ohio State in the late 1990s. But Garrett quit after witnessing abuse by Strauss and then experiencing it himself.
The investigation, he said, left him angrier than before.
“We knew that it was systemic and it had been reported,” Garrett told Associated Press on Friday. “It’s even more widespread than we knew.”
Garrett compared the abuse carried out by Strauss to that of ex-Michigan State University sports doctor Larry Nassar, who was accused of molesting at least 250 women and girls, many who were gymnasts. In their case, there was a trial … Nassar was found guilty … and he is now serving what is essentially a life sentence in prison.
As Garrett points out, there was no police investigation of Dr. Richard Strauss and his crimes. Garrett and other Strauss victims did not have the opportunity to put Strauss on trial. Instead, Strauss took his own life long before any of the developments of the past 13 months.
“That’s why it’s worse than the MSU case,” Garrett said. “He took the easy way out.”
A note about naming/not naming names …
The Perkins Coie report goes into some detail as to how it chose to reveal the names of some individuals involved in the Richard Strauss/Ohio State allegations, while the identity of others has been withheld.
In essence, victims — along with their coaches — are NOT named in the investigative report … while top Ohio State administrators have been identified by name, including Dr. Gordon Gee, whose first stint as school president from 1990-1997 coincides with the end of Strauss’ time at the Columbus-based university.
Why is this being raised here? Some former Ohio State wrestlers — including DiSabato — have said that they had told Jim Jordan — Republican Congressman who was an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State under head coach Russ Hellickson from 1986 to 1994 — of Strauss’ behavior at the time it was reportedly taking place.
Jordan’s Washington, D.C. office declared that the report absolves the Congressman because he is not named in the report.
“The investigators concluded what we have said from the beginning: Congressman Jordan never knew of any abuse, and if he had he would have dealt with it,” Ian Fury, communications director for Rep. Jordan, said in a statement.
Fury cited as proof a line in the report which states that investigators “did not identify any other contemporaneous documentary evidence indicating that members of the OSU coaching staff, including head coaches or assistant coaches, received or were aware of complaints regarding Strauss’ sexual misconduct.”
However, the Perkins Coie investigators relied largely on “survivor accounts” which they corroborated as best they could with “contemporaneous records” and interviews with university staffers.
“With rare exception, we found the survivor accounts, concerning their experiences with Strauss to be both highly credible and cross-corroborative,” the report states. “Many, if not most, of the men who contacted us did so with great hesitation.”
Jordan’s alleged role in the scandal has now attracted the attention of the House Committee on Education and Labor, which has begun looking into it, a committee aide who asked not to be identified told NBC News.
A redacted version of the complete, 232-page report issued by Seattle law firm Perkins Coie LLP titled “Report of the Independent Investigation: Sexual Abuse Committed by Dr. Richard Strauss at the Ohio State University” is available online. Note that it contains graphic descriptions of groping and other sexual abuse which some may find disturbing.