While the scandal surrounding football coach Urban Meyer has dominated the news, a handful of lesser-known sexual-misconduct scandals have rocked Ohio State University in recent years.
In April, the first accusations arose surrounding Ohio State physician Dr. Richard Strauss’s alleged serial molestation of up to 100 student-athletes across 14 different sports. In June, the school announced that it would permanently close its Sexual Civility and Empowerment unit after at least four employees working at the center told victims they were lying or deluded—and then failed to report the students’ sexual-assault complaints, according to The Columbus Dispatch. In July, at least two former divers sued the school, claiming that a former OSU diving club coach coerced and forced the divers into sex, saying: “You owe me this.” One of the victims was 16 at the time, according to that lawsuit.
By the time news broke Wednesday that Urban Meyer, the head coach of Ohio State’s renowned football team, may have known about his longtime assistant’s 2015 domestic-abuse allegations—after claiming he didn’t—it was another very large drop in the bucket. (He was put on paid administrative leave by the end of the day.)
Just a few years ago, the university fired its nationally-recognized marching band director, Jon Waters, after a 92-page investigative report conducted in 2014 found that the group’s culture had become “sexualized” and unsafe.
The predominantly male band had developed a number of sexual traditions, including the “Midnight Ramp,” when members ran into the football stadium nude or in their underwear. Waters was present for the naked run, according to the report. Other traditions allegedly included giving members sexual nicknames and posing in sexual positions on luggage racks in the band’s bus.
“Nothing is more important than the safety of our students,” Ohio State President Michael Drake said in a statement to The Cleveland Plain Dealer. “We expect every member of our community to live up to a common standard of decency and mutual respect and to adhere to university policies.”
The school started investigating its Sexual Civility and Empowerment unit in February 2016 and announced its closure in June 2018.
As a result, the university reportedly fired four people who worked at the unit and tasked a group of independent auditors to review what went wrong. Documents obtained by the Dispatch claim that survivors who went to the center suffered from re-traumatizing treatment and victim-blaming—or were told “they didn’t understand their own experience,” the newspaper wrote.
“Ohio State will do all that we can to be a national leader in preventing and responding to sexual misconduct,” Drake said in a statement to the Dispatch. “Our campuses must be safe places for all members of our community to learn, work and grow. We remain steadfastly and unwaveringly committed to this goal.”
By the time two former divers sued the school on July 11—coming forward with horrifying claims against a coach—their lawsuit became somewhat buried amid the myriad allegations against Dr. Strauss.
Estee Pryor, one of two former divers suing former coach Will Bohonyi, has accused Ohio State and USA Diving of ignoring allegations about the alleged rapist. Pryor has said she was 16 when she met Bohonyi, who within weeks began pressuring her for sex.
The coach was “telling me I was the most honest, and mature, and kind girl he's ever met,” Pryor said in an interview on NBC. Ohio State has said it opened an investigation in 2014 after learning about the allegations against the coach and that he was fired in August 2014.
Since April 5, more than 100 men have come forward to claim sexual abuse by Dr. Strauss, a physician at Ohio State who worked primarily with wrestlers but allegedly assaulted student-athletes across 14 different sports. Three lawsuits have been filed against OSU claiming that the school enabled a serial predator who saw thousands of victims in the decades he worked at the school, starting in the 1970s.
The lawsuits claim that athletes were forced by Strauss—who worked as a physician on the men’s wrestling team—to repeatedly experience abusive physical examinations involving “medically unnecessary fondling, touching, groping of the testicles and penis, and even penetration of the anus in his examinations.”
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), who worked as an assistant wrestling coach at the school from 1986 to 1994, was dragged into the fray after several victims claimed in national interviews that he knew of Strauss’s alleged abuse. The congressman, who is running for speaker of the House, has repeatedly denied those allegations.
In April, the university opened an investigation into the allegations about Strauss, who killed himself in 2005.
College-football reporter Brett McMurphy published an exclusive interview on Wednesday with Courtney Smith, the ex-wife and alleged abuse victim of longtime Ohio State coaching assistant Zach Smith. McMurphy obtained photos that allegedly showed the abuse and screenshots of text messages that indicated others knew about the violence, including Meyer, OSU’s head football coach.
Smith was served last week with a domestic-violence civil protection order filed by his ex-wife and is now prohibited from going within 500 feet of her. The 34-year-old was fired last week.
Though Meyer, who has since been put on paid administrative leave, admitted to Cleveland.com that he knew about 2009 abuse allegations concerning Smith, he’s denied knowing about the accusations from 2015.
“I was never told about anything,” Meyer said just last week during Big Ten Media Days. “Never anything came to light, never had a conversation about it. So I know nothing about it. I asked people back at the office to call and see what happened, and they came back and said they know nothing.”
But Courtney told McMurphy that “all the (coaches’) wives knew.”
“Shelley said she was going to have to tell Urban,” Courtney reportedly told McMurphy. “I said, ‘That’s fine, you should tell Urban.’ I know Shelley did everything she could.”