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Report says OSU doctor sexually abused students for decades — and school officials knew

Disturbing new details are emerging about another college athletics sex abuse scandal, this time at the Ohio State University. The school says a physician who worked in the student health center and served as a team doctor committed the abuse from the 1970s through the 1990s. John Yang talks to Mike Thompson, news director at WOSU public media, which is independent of the university.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We are learning new, disturbing details about the scope of another college athletics sex abuse scandal, as John Yang tells us, this one at Ohio State University.

  • And a warning:

    The story contains explicit language.

  • John Yang:

    Judy, the school says the abuse took place in the 1970s, '80s and '90s by a physician who was both a team doctor and worked in the student health center. The university also found that school officials knew of allegations as early as 1979, and, for nearly two decades, did nothing about them.

    The physician, Richard Strauss, left OSU in 1998. He committed suicide in 2005.

    In an e-mail to students, faculty and staff, university president Michael Drake apologized to those who were abused, and said: "The findings are shocking and painful to comprehend. 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."

    This is the fourth major investigation of an OSU coach or adviser in recent years.

    From Columbus, we are joined by Mike Thompson, who is news director at WOSU Public Media. It is independent of the university.

    Mike, thanks for joining us.

    The report says that this abuse took place in the guise of medical exams. What more can you tell us about what the report found?

  • Mike Thompson:

    The report found that the abuse started right after Richard Strauss began his tenure at Ohio State.

    He started in 1978, and the abuse started right after he arrived. He would examine student athletes. He would examine students on campus. All of his victims, according to the report, are male. And they would be under the guise of a physical exam, of a routine physical to make sure they could play the sport they were playing, or if the patient came in, the athlete came in complaining of an injury.

    And the abuse allegations include excessive fondling or asking athletes to strip completely naked for unrelated conditions. Like, there would be allegations of excessive fondling of the genitals, even though the athlete was being treated for cauliflower ear.

  • John Yang:

    And it says that these complaints — officials knew about allegations of complaints in 1979, but what happened to them? Why was nothing done?

  • Mike Thompson:

    Well, the report says at first coaches and administrators in the athletic department and the student health services were first aware of the complaints about Richard Strauss in 1979, but they really didn't do anything about it.

    They changed some of his work conditions over the course of years. But the report found that these complaints occurred regularly for the next 20 years. And the report says that some in the athletics department just dismissed these as unfounded rumors.

    But it was well-known, according to his accusers and according to the report, that Dr. Strauss was unusual in his examinations and some athletes were even urged to steer clear of him. So it was well-known, according to the accusers in the report, that Dr. Strauss was doing inappropriate things with athletes and students in the health services.

  • John Yang:

    And what does the report say about what they found about whether or not coaches or assistant coaches knew? I ask because this is getting some attention in the political world, because an assistant coach, wrestling coach, at the time, from 1987 to 1995, is now Representative Jim Jordan, a Republican from Ohio, founder of the Freedom Caucus, ranking Republican on the House Oversight Committee.

  • Mike Thompson:

    Yes, the report says the coaches knew. The report doesn't name any coaches by name. They say the head coach of this team, the head coach of that team, an assistant coach with this team or Coach A or Coach B.

    Oddly, none of the coaches are named in the report, even though Congressman Jordan has told The Washington Post that this completely exonerates him. He's not named. No coaches are named in the report, either in a favorable light or in a negative light.

    But — so the report says that coaches were well aware of at least abnormal behavior on the part of Richard Strauss.

  • John Yang:

    And he, Strauss, was suspended from his role as team physician and from working in the student health center in 1996. What was that it finally triggered that?

  • Mike Thompson:

    A student who went to the student health center complained of inappropriate fondling. And he complained about that, and that went to the university officials. It went to OSU human relations, and they took action. They quickly suspended him.

    He lost his roles as team physician and also with the student health services after a quick investigation. He still remained on the faculty of Ohio State University. But then he set up a men's clinic just off-campus and continued to treat OSU students.

    And the report found that the OSU officials didn't stand in the way of him setting up this men's clinic, despite the allegations against him that dated back to the late '70s.

  • John Yang:

    Mike, what's been the reaction on campus today?

  • Mike Thompson:

    Well, as bad as the report is, the investigators' report is, I don't think it's terribly surprising to folks who have been following this story for the past year.

    These are all things that we have heard from accusers over the past year. It's just that it's now in black and white. And we hear the university calling it inexplicable and inexcusable. And now it just sets the stage for a possible legal settlement down the road.

  • John Yang:

    Mike Thompson, news director at WOSU in Columbus, thank you very much.

  • Mike Thompson:

    Thank you.

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