Coaches and athletic administrators at Ohio State University knew for two decades that Dr. Richard Strauss was molesting male athletes but failed to sound the alarm or stop him, a long-awaited independent investigation into the scandal revealed Friday.
“Students openly discussed Strauss’ examination methods or complained about his loitering presence in the shower and locker room, including in front of coaches and other Athletics Department staff,” the 180-page report states.
“Many of the students felt that Strauss’ behavior was an ‘open secret,’ as it appeared to them that their coaches, trainers and other team physicians were fully aware of Strauss’ activities, and yet few seemed inclined to do anything to stop it.”
Investigators from Perkins Coie, the law firm that was picked to conduct the independent investigation, reported that “Strauss sexually abused at least 177 male student-patients.”
“We find that University personnel had knowledge of Strauss’ sexually abusive treatment of male student-patients as early as 1979, but the complaints about Strauss’ conduct were not elevated beyond the Athletics Department of Student Health until 1996,” the report states.
Meanwhile, Ohio State president Michael Drake apologized on behalf of the university to the victims.
“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,” Drake said in a statement.
“This independent investigation was completed because of the strength and courage of survivors. We thank each of them for their willingness to share their experiences.”
The Strauss investigation was launched 13 months ago after a whistleblowing former OSU wrestler named Mike DiSabato came forward and said he was victimized by Strauss.
It became a national story last July when DiSabato and several other former wrestlers accused one of their former coaches, powerful Republican congressman Jim Jordan, of turning a blind eye to what Strauss was doing.
Reached by telephone, DiSabato told NBC News on Friday that he was still reading the report but what he has seen vindicates what he has been saying for months — that he and the other wrestlers were preyed on by Strauss and that Jordan and other coaches did not intervene.
“Jim Jordan knew, they all knew, and they did nothing,” DiSabato said.
Jordan does not appear to be named in the redacted report. But he has acknowledged in interviews that he cooperated with the investigators. And he has said repeatedly that he was not aware of what Strauss was doing and had not even heard any locker room talk about the abuse.
His communications director, Ian Fury, insisted the report absolves Jordan.
“The investigators concluded what we have said from the beginning: Congressman Jordan never knew of any abuse, and if he had he would have dealt with it,” Fury said in a statement.
Fury cited as proof a line in the report which states that investigators “did not identify any other contemporaneous documentary evidence indicating that members of the OSU coaching staff, including head coaches or assistant coaches, received or were aware of complaints regarding Strauss’ sexual misconduct.”
The Perkins Coie investigators, however, relied largely on “survivor accounts” which they corroborated as best they could with “contemporaneous records” and interviews with university staffers.
“With rare exception, we found the survivor accounts, concerning their experiences with Strauss to be both highly credible and cross-corroborative,” the report states. “Many, if not most, of the men who contacted us did so with great hesitation.”
Jordan’s alleged role in the scandal has now attracted the attention of the House Committee on Education and Labor, which has begun looking into it, a committee aide who asked not to be identified told NBC News.
Strauss, who signed on at Ohio State as an attending physician in September 1978 and served as the team physician in the athletics department from July 1981 to June 1995, died in 2005.
In the report, the Perkins Coie investigators thanked Strauss’ family for cooperating with the investigation.
Strauss’ abuse ranged from groping under the guise of a medical examination to “fondling to the point of erection and ejaculation,” the report states.
One athlete told the investigators that Strauss took him out to dinner and later performed oral sex on him.
“The student did not report his abuse to his coach or to others at the University, noting that the student-athletes were generally expected to be ‘the manliest of men’,” the report states.
Sixteen others reported that Strauss “solicited them to participate in private, individualized photography shoots.” according to the report.
Strauss also routinely showered alongside the athletes at Larkins Hall, an athletic facility on the campus that DiSabato and other wrestlers have called a “den of filth.”
“Larkins Hall was perceived to be a sexualized and, at times, predatory environment by many of the male students who frequented the facility, particularly in the men’s locker room, shower room and sauna,” the report stated. “We received credible statements from over 50 witnesses describing pervasive voyeurism and multiple incidents of public sex acts occurring at Larkins.”
One of those witnesses was retired wrestling coach Russ Hellickson, who also is not named in the report, sources said.
In an 11-minute video prepared by DiSabato, Hellickson said he complained to Ohio State administrators that strangers were coming to ogle the wrestlers in the showers at Larkins Hall. The former head coach also insisted later that Jordan did not know what Strauss was doing.
NBC also reported that Hellickson reached out to the wrestlers who accused Jordan of ignoring Strauss’ abuses and asked them to recant.
Of the 177 victims, 153 were student athletes or students affiliated with athletic programs at Ohio State, the report states. They included 48 members of the wrestling program, 16 from gymnastics, 15 from swimming and diving, 13 from soccer, 10 from lacrosse and seven each from hockey, track and field and baseball.