Adding fire to the debate over whether Rep. Jim Jordan knew about the rampant sexual abuse on male student-athletes during his time at Ohio State University, four former wrestlers have filed a class-action federal lawsuit claiming the school knew about team doctor Richard Strauss’ alleged serial molestation and took “no steps to protect students.”
The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio against the Ohio State University. Despite alleged knowledge of Strauss’ alleged abuse, the lawsuit claims Ohio State and Athletic Director Andy Geiger failed to take action to stop him from assaulting student-athletes. Athletes at the school allegedly felt that complaints about Strauss were “futile” and that he was “above reproach in the eyes of Ohio State,” according to a press release issued by the four lawyers who filed the suit.
“Our investigation has conclusively demonstrated that Ohio State turned a blind eye to Dr. Strauss while he freely used his position of trust and authority to regularly sexually assault, batter, molest, and harass male athletes over the entire course of his career at Ohio State,” said Robert Allard, one of several prominent attorneys who filed the suit.
Student athletes at OSU often called Strauss “Dr. Jelly Paws”—for his “notoriously hands-on physical examinations,” according to the lawsuit. “For decades, Dr. Strauss was a fixture in the locker rooms, showers, and saunas of Larkins Hall, the former student and faculty recreation center on the Ohio State campus that housed the wrestling, gymnastics, and swimming teams.”
Strauss sexually assaulted, battered, molested, or harassed “potentially” thousands of students across 14 different sports, according to the lawsuit. The complaint contends that athletes were forced to repeatedly experience abusive physical examinations by Strauss. The lawsuit describes the abuse as “medically unnecessary fondling, touching, groping of the testicles and penis, and even penetration of the anus in his examinations.”
“These officials turned their backs on the students, choosing instead to continue fund-raising and treating athletes as commodities to be exploited for commercial gain,” lawyer Steve Estey said in a Tuesday morning press release.
Two wrestlers allegedly met with Geiger in his office during the 1994-1995 season and complained about “the voyeuristic and lewd conduct of the men in the lockers and saunas” of the gym, including Strauss. Those wrestlers even allegedly gave him drawings of changes to the locker room that would enhance safety and privacy for student athletes, according to the lawsuit. Geiger allegedly promised to do something about it, but did not.
One former OSU wrestling coach allegedly described the gym as “a cesspool of deviancy,” saying “coaching my athletes in Larkins Hall was one of the most difficult things I ever did.”
The four John Does described in the suit contend that they were separately assaulted by Strauss in the 1980s and 1990s during physical examinations. John Doe 2 said he was first abused by Strauss at the age of 14 and that the abuse occurred during up to 50 examinations.
“It’s like someone was pretty much feeding us to him,” one former athlete described, according to the complaint. “I didn’t have a choice to say, ‘I want somebody else to do my physical because I didn’t feel like I had any power in that position.’”
When Strauss was first hired by OSU in 1978, at least one wrestler left the exam and immediately went to the student health center to complain about the inappropriate fondling he’d experienced. According to the lawsuit, the doctor “shrugged him off.” The complaint details more reports, including to the Head Wrestling Coach Russ Hellickson in 1993.
The school reportedly mounted a hearing on Strauss in 1997, but took no legal or disciplinary action against him.
U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, a former assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State from 1986 to 1994, has been publicly called out by several former student-athletes who claim that he knew about Strauss’ abuse. Jordan has repeatedly denied those allegations, claiming that if he’d known, he would have informed authorities.
The university announced in April that it would open an investigation into the allegations involving Strauss, who worked as a physician on the men’s wrestling team in the 1980s.
Through the probe, investigators have reportedly interviewed more than 150 former students and witnesses. Strauss killed himself in 2005.
The lawsuit contends that the plaintiffs have suffered “shock, emotional distress, physical manifestations of emotional distress, embarrassment, loss of self-esteem, disgrace, fright, grief, humiliation, loss of enjoyment of life, post-traumatic stress disorder resulting in physically manifested injuries including anxiety, depressions, sleep disorders, nightmares, psychological injuries, and physical injuries.”
“The university must take immediate responsibility for the alleged deliberate indifference to the suffering of hundreds of its male athletes across at least 14 sports who endured flagrant and repeated sexual abuse,” said lawyer Rex Sharp.
The plaintiffs have demanded compensatory damages to be determined at a trial, as well as injunctive relief to force the school to prevent future sexual abuse of student-athletes.