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Ohio State University faces lawsuits over who knew about athlete sex abuse

More than 100 former Ohio State University students have alleged abuse by a former team doctor and professor, Richard Strauss. The investigation began in April with former members of the men's wrestling team coming forward. Since then, athletes from 14 varsity sports have made similar allegations, dating between the mid-'70s and '90s. Amna Nawaz talks with Jennifer Smola of the Columbus Dispatch.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now, a sexual abuse scandal from decades past blows wide open at Ohio State University.

    The university announced today that more than 100 former students are reporting firsthand allegations of abuse by a former team doctor and professor at the school.

    Amna Nawaz gets more details on the independent investigation at Ohio State.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    A law firm retained by Ohio State is conducting more than 200 interviews. The investigation began in April after former members of the men’s wrestling team said the team physician, Richard Strauss, abused them.

    Since then, athletes from 14 varsity sports have made similar allegations. Strauss killed himself in 2005.

    The former students and athletes said Strauss committed the abuse between the mid-1970s and ’90s.

    Jennifer Smola is a higher education reporter for The Columbus Dispatch who has been covering this story.

    I spoke with her earlier and asked her about the scope and the nature of the allegations.

  • Jennifer Smola:

    There are now athletes from 14 sports teams that have reported abuse by Dr. Strauss.

    Some of the wrestlers have been some of the most vocal. We know lacrosse, I believe volleyball, swimming, football, really, think of a men’s varsity sport in college, you name it, he may have worked with them.

    He was a doctor with the student health services, and saw students who went to the student health center on campus. And, as we know, he established private practice here in Columbus in the mid-’90s.

    It sounds as though that wasn’t in operation very long. But, through our reporting, we found that he did offer some work experience to some nursing students at Ohio State through his private practice, and that students did some part-time work for him, as well as he may have seen athletes at that center as well.

    And there have been reports of abuse through his time with the sports teams, through his time at the student health center, and through his time at the private practice.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Jennifer, tell me, now, the university faces two class-action lawsuits from some of those former wrestlers.

    What do we know about what they did or didn’t know about some of the alleged behavior?

  • Jennifer Smola:

    Right.

    Those lawsuits were filed this week on behalf of five former wrestlers. Each of them allege that they were abused by Dr. Richard Strauss and that the university knew about that abuse or that people within the university knew about that abuse, and yet Ohio State failed to stop that misconduct.

    The reports about what university administrators may have known vary, from athletes saying that this was commonly joked about, that his misconduct was joked about within the locker room or discussed openly within the locker room, and that coaches were very aware of it, to, most recently, this week, we reported on the first record of a written complaint that was filed by a student who saw Dr. Strauss at the student health center in the 1990s.

    He filed a complaint after having an uncomfortable experience with the doctor, and was told by administrators there that Dr. Strauss denied some of those allegations. As well, as in terms of accommodating for the inappropriate touching, he said he was just doing his job.

    That student felt that it was essentially his word against Dr. Strauss’, and that no action was taken, and that, at the time, administrators said no other complaints had been made previously about Dr. Strauss. So it really runs the gamut.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, the details from those lawsuits are really disturbing now. I was going through them earlier. There was one wrestler who you mentioned you said that he did flag another coach to some behavior from Dr. Strauss that he found inappropriate.

    Another said he went for a rib injury to see Dr. Strauss and was instructed to drop his pants.

    How are all these allegations and stories, as disturbing as they are, how are they landing in the OSU community?

  • Jennifer Smola:

    That still sort of remains to be seen.

    Ohio State has — has really encouraged students, former students, alumni to continue coming forward and contact independent investigators if they had an experience with Dr. Strauss.

    As we work through the investigation, which is still ongoing, the question just remains, who knew, when they knew what they knew, and what did they do about it? And this is kind of one of the first times we’re seeing a case like this play out with male athletes.

    And I think the accounts of athletes talking about it openly and joking about it is interesting, because some have said that they joked about it, they talked about it, and it made them feel like, because it was joked about, they didn’t need to make a point of reporting it formally, that they shouldn’t have to.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    There’s also the potential involvement of a congressman, of Jim Jordan, who’s been specifically named in one of the lawsuits. What do we know about his involvement?

  • Jennifer Smola:

    Jim Jordan was a former assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State from the ’80s into the mid-’90s.

    There have been a number of wrestlers who have said that, during Jordan’s time in that locker room, that he knew about the abuse by Dr. Strauss and that it was openly discussed. And a number of wrestlers have questioned why Jim Jordan hasn’t — hasn’t said that — acknowledged that he knew about that.

    A number of other wrestlers have come to Jim Jordan’s defense. So that’s still sort of playing out.

    In terms of the lawsuit, he’s been named in terms of news reports, that wrestlers have said that he was aware of the abuse. He has not been named as a defendant at this point.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And we should mention Representative Jim Jordan maintains he knew nothing about any of those allegations during his time at the university or after.

    Jennifer Smola, thanks for staying on this story from The Columbus Dispatch.

  • Jennifer Smola:

    Thank you.

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