For nearly two decades, Dr. Richard Strauss treated athletes and students at Ohio State University as a team doctor in the athletics program and a physician at the student health services center.
Over the years, Strauss — who died by suicide in California in 2005 at age 67, according to records — was lauded as a national and international expert in sports medicine.
Now university officials are trying to piece together whether Strauss was a predator who sexually abused students in his care between 1978 and 1998.
Investigators hired by the university’s legal team have received confidential reports of sexual misconduct by Strauss from former student-athletes from 14 varsity sports teams.
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“One of the challenges in a case like this for investigators is trying to find out what happened so many years ago,” said Mark Weaver, a crisis communications expert who has also prosecuted sex offenders. “Records are properly destroyed pursuant to record retention schedules so they’re not available. Memories fade. And in this case, the person being accused is not around to give his perspective. That makes investigating these sort of allegations very difficult.”
The investigation follows other high-profile cases, including that of Larry Nassar, the USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor convicted of molesting gymnasts in his care.
The administration appears to be taking an aggressive approach. Here is a timeline:
April 5: Ohio State announces it has opened a comprehensive investigation into allegations against Strauss. Outside attorneys are hired.
May 3: The university discloses that reports of abuse had been made by former varsity athletes affiliated with eight teams. OSU President Michael Drake sends a campus-wide email urging witnesses and victims to come forward.
May 21: Drake sends an email to OSU alumni, asking those with information to contact investigators.
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June 7: Ohio State announces that investigators scheduled or held interviews with more than 130 former students and others who came forward. The university said former athletes from 14 teams have made reports. In a campus wide email, Drake again urges those with information to come forward.
The university launched a website with updates, Strauss’ personnel records and other documents. Likewise, anyone with information is urged to contact investigators at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Attorney Kathleen Trafford of Porter Wright, the law firm hired by the Ohio Attorney General’s office to conduct the investigation, delivered a two-page update to Drake and Provost Bruce McPheron on Wednesday.
She said the investigation is two-fold: identify and evaluate sexual misconduct claims against Strauss while he worked for OSU; and determine what the university knew about the allegations.
“It’s obviously a timely issue because of Penn State and Michigan State and other schools,” Weaver said. “And it’s one that deserves attention and I think Ohio State is doing the right thing by trying to find out what it can.”
Nassar, the former Michigan State doctor, was sentenced in December 2017 to 60 years in federal prison for child pornography charges. Weeks later he was sentenced to more than 40 years in prison by two county courts in Michigan for sexual assaults. Michigan State agreed to pay a $500 million settlement to Nassar’s 300-plus victims and the university’s long-time president and athletic director resigned.
In 2012, Penn State University former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was convicted as a serial child molester and sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison. Then, university president Graham Spanier was forced to resign and the school ended its contract with legendary head coach Joe Paterno.
Weaver said universities need to send a message that they take seriously allegations of sexual misconduct.
“The lessons are that schools now know — if they didn’t already — that they need to have robust reporting systems and then they need to take action quickly to investigate credible claims,” Weaver said. “I’ve said for years that schools are poorly suited to investigate cases of sexual assault. That’s not what universities are meant to do. These things should be handed to law enforcement whenever possible and let the professionals investigate.”