Two class-action lawsuits filed this week by former wrestlers claim Ohio State University turned a blind eye to a doctor’s alleged sexual abuse of student athletes.
In recent weeks, several former OSU athletes have publicly claimed Dr. Richard Strauss, who died by suicide in 2005, sexually abused them under the guise of a medical examination.
Some accusers have also claimed former OSU athletics staff – including US Rep. Jim Jordan, a former OSU assistant wrestling coach – knew about the abuse. Jordan has repeatedly denied having any direct knowledge of sexual abuse. Jordan is not named as a defendant in either lawsuit.
Ohio State released a statement Tuesday evening in response to both lawsuits. The statement said, in part, that OSU remains “actively committed to uncovering what may have happened and what university leaders at the time may have known” about Strauss’ alleged actions.
Here are key details from the two lawsuits filed this week:
The first lawsuit
In a complaint filed Monday, four John Does – formerly a part of the wrestling team – claim they were “sexually assaulted, battered, molested, and/or harassed” by the team doctor in the 1990s.
One plaintiff said he was abused in about 50 physical examinations in the late 1980s and 1990s.
The lawsuit claims OSU is culpable in part because an “appropriate person” of OSU, including but not limited to former athletic director and assistant university vice president Andy Geiger and former head wrestling coach Russell Hellickson, “had actual and/or constructive notice of sexual assault, battery, molestation, and harassment committed by Dr. Strauss.”
The suit says complaints of sexual abuse involving Strauss “were not left unreported at the level of the coaches,” adding “rampant sexual abuse and culture of sexual abuse was reported to Ohio State administrators and to the head of the Athletic Department.”
“But these officials turned a blind eye to the abuse,” the complaint says.
Hellickson has previously said he did not ignore reports of abuse. In an interview with CNN, he said he told Strauss that his wrestlers were uncomfortable showering with the doctor.
Neither Geiger nor Hellickson are named as defendants – only OSU.
The lawsuit alleges that during the 1994-95 season, two wrestlers met with then-Athletic Director Geiger and complained about the “voyeuristic and lewd” conduct of men in the locker room and sauna. The suit says Geiger promised to look into doing something about the situation. “But OSU did nothing,” the complaint reads.
CNN’s attempts to reach Geiger have not been successful.
The lawsuit filed Monday seeks compensation for damages in an amount to be determined at trial.
The second lawsuit
On Tuesday, a separate lawsuit was filed by a former OSU wrestler identified as John Doe 1. He was suing “individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated.”
The plaintiff said he was inappropriately touched and sexually harassed multiple times while receiving care from Strauss. He was a wrestler for OSU from 1982 to 1984.
The complaint says Strauss posed a “substantial risk of sexual abuse, harassment and molestation to the young male student-patients who sought treatment through OSU.”
The defendants in this lawsuit are listed as “The Ohio State University, and Does 1-100.”
When asked about “Does 1-100,” plaintiff’s attorney Joseph G. Sauder said more defendants might be named later.
The response from OSU
In its statement responding to those lawsuits, Ohio State said: “We are aware of reports that individuals at the university did not respond appropriately during that era. These allegations are troubling and are a critical focus of the current investigation.”
The university said it’s reviewing the litigation.
The statement also said an independent investigative team “has received confidential reports of sexual misconduct committed by Strauss from former varsity men student-athletes in 14 sports, and from former patients of Student Health Services. These reports date from 1979 to 1997 during Strauss’ time at Ohio State. Ohio State remains actively committed to uncovering what may have happened and what university leaders at the time may have known.”