Former athletes who wrestled for U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan when he served as an assistant coach at Ohio State now say he knew team doctor Richard Strauss sexually abused athletes but Jordan failed to report it.
Jordan, R-Urbana, founder of the ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus, denies knowing anything about the allegations.
Ian Fury, a spokesman for Jordan, said in a written statement that Jordan “never saw any abuse, never heard about any abuse, and never had any abuse reported to him during his time as a coach at Ohio State.” Fury said in the statement that Jordan has not been contacted by investigators but will assist them in any way they ask.
However, Kathleen Trafford, an attorney representing Ohio State in its investigation of Strauss, said investigators reached out to Jordan’s office by email and telephone to request an interview with him. “To date, Rep. Jordan has not responded to those requests, but we understand from public statements issued on his behalf today that Rep. Jordan is willing to talk to the investigative team.”
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Jordan said this spring: “I had not heard about any type of abuse at all.” He said then that “no one reported any type of abuse” to him.
Former wrestler says Jordan ‘knew it all’
“He knew it all. It’s frankly unbelievable that he would make such a statement. It’s beyond comprehension that he is — it’s just unfortunate,” said Mike DiSabato, 50, of Columbus, who joined the OSU wrestling team in 1986. “I consider Jim a friend. I’ve stayed in touch with him over the years. I respect him as a former athlete, as my coach in college and as a person. However, he’s now gone on the record twice saying he knew nothing about Dr. Strauss and the deviant training environment to which we were exposed on a daily basis.”
Ohio State in April announced it was investigating accusations against Dr. Richard Strauss, who treated athletes and students as a team doctor in the athletics program and a physician at the student health services center between 1978 and 1996. Jordan worked as an assistant wrestling coach for part of that time. Strauss, who retired as a professor emeritus on July 1, 1998, died in California in 2005.
DiSabato said the university allowed faculty and staff to use the showers and locker rooms at the same time as student-athletes. “Every day at 3:30 the showers would fill up with deviant, lewd male predators who wanted to come in and shower with elite male wrestlers. Happened every day. Deviant acts in front of us, excessively soaping themselves in their groin area, public masturbation. All kinds of deviant behavior. Voyeurism.”
He added that Strauss routinely gave medically unnecessary, extensive groin examinations and who took as many as half a dozen showers a day with athletes in different sports complexes. DiSabato said Jordan’s “locker was located right next to Doc Strauss. It was an open, running joke that Doc Strauss was a serial groper.”
One wrestler said he told Jordan directly about the abuse.
Three Strauss victims and former head coach Russ Hellickson appear in a 12-minute private video, describing the abuse. Hellickson recounts telling Strauss that he showered too frequently and too long with student-athletes.
“I caught people having sex in our wrestling room, in the stairwell to the wrestling room, in the bathroom adjacent to our wrestling facility and I caught people in masturbation,” Hellickson said. “It became a real problem because it affected their mental state, a lot of our wrestlers.”
Hellickson, who served as head coach from 1986 to 2006, said in the video that “Certainly, all of my administrators recognized that it was an issue for me. I’m sure that I talked to all of them on numerous occasions about my discontent with the environment.”
One victim describes Strauss examining his genitals when being seen for heartburn.
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. The investigators are also looking at whether, and to what extent, Strauss may have examined high school-aged students during his time at OSU.
iSabato said he brought his complaints to university leaders multiple times over the years but got no where.
“The university is following what I call the Big 10 playbook for cover-up, incompetence and gross moral negligence. I would like you to please quote that,” he said.
The university turned the 12-minute video over to investigators.
“We remain steadfastly committed to uncovering the truth. We encourage anyone with information about incidents relating to Dr. Strauss and his time at Ohio State to please come forward and contact the independent investigators at firstname.lastname@example.org,” the university said in a written statement.
Jordan, a six-term lawmaker whose western Ohio stretches from is a leader of the Freedom Caucus, a group of ultra-conservatives in the House of Representatives. He has said he is considering running for House Speaker after current Speaker Paul Ryan retires at the end of this year.
Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, urged caution, saying, “every one of us deserves the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.”
“I can’t tell you who’s telling the truth or how much of it is the truth,” he said. “We’ll just have to let it come out.”
He said the news isn’t likely to quash Jordan’s chances of becoming the speaker of the House, saying Jordan was “very unlikely” to become speaker in the first place.
In a statement on her website, Democrat Janet Garrett, who is running against Jordan, said “any allegation of sexual abuse against minors — or complicity regarding such abuse — is very serious. That damage cannot be undone. For any teacher, protecting kids is the absolute first priority — and I say that as a former kindergarten teacher. Ohio State has an obligation to get to the bottom of this with a thorough and fair investigation. Jim Jordan has an obligation to cooperate fully with that investigation.”
Jennifer Smola of the Columbus Dispatch and the Associated Press contributed to this report.