Ohio State Finds Team Doctor Sexually Abused 177 Students – The New York Times

Ohio State said Friday that an investigation had confirmed — in voluminous details gleaned from hundreds of interviews — that a team doctor had sexually abused at least 177 men, including many varsity athletes, while working for the university in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s.

The university also revealed that dozens of Ohio State officials, including more than 50 athletic department staff members, were aware of the doctor’s actions during his nearly two-decade tenure yet did not act to stop them.

In a 182-page report issued on Friday, Ohio State detailed how the doctor, Richard H. Strauss, had groped students, required them to strip unnecessarily during examinations, and asked intimate questions about sexual practices under the guise of providing medical treatment.

“The findings are shocking and painful to comprehend,” the Ohio State president, Michael V. Drake, said in a statement.

“Our institution’s fundamental failure at the time to prevent this abuse was unacceptable,” he added, “as were the inadequate efforts to thoroughly investigate complaints raised by students and staff members.”

The university said that college personnel knew about the accusations against Dr. Strauss, who committed suicide in 2005, as early as 1979. In fact, many former students interviewed for the report said they believed Dr. Strauss’s actions were an “open secret” on campus and among athletes, coaches, trainers and other team physicians. But again and again, the report made clear, those in position to take action against Dr. Strauss seemed unwilling or unable to intervene.

Some of those interviewed, for example, said there was much talk about Dr. Strauss’s tendency to shower with students, sometimes several times a day, and to loiter in the locker room area. Two students said that their reports of abuse had been relayed to higher authorities in the athletic department, including at least two former athletic directors.

But the report also revealed that a “self-described” investigation in 1994 by Ohio State’s director of sports medicine, Dr. John Lombardo, dismissed accusations against Dr. Strauss as “unfounded rumors.” Dr. Lombardo, who said he had conducted the investigation after a former fencing coach had raised concerns about Dr. Strauss’s interactions with fencers, declined to be interviewed by the investigators.

“Despite the persistence, seriousness and regularity of such complaints, no meaningful action was taken by the university to investigate or address the concerns until January 1996,” the report said.

That summer, Dr. Strauss was first suspended and then removed from his post, but he remained a tenured faculty member. Dr. Strauss then opened an off-campus clinic, where he continued to abuse students. He was still a professor emeritus at the time of his death, though Ohio State said Friday that it would begin the process of revoking that status.

This is the second time in less than a year that the Ohio State’s athletic department has faced scrutiny for failing to address its knowledge of abuse more forthrightly. Last summer, Urban Meyer, then the Buckeyes’ football coach, was found to have known for years that one of his assistants, Zach Smith, had been accused of assault by his former wife.

Meyer insisted that he had “always followed proper protocols and procedures” by “elevating the issues to the proper channels,” but he was placed on administrative leave during an investigation and suspended for three games for failing to appropriately manage an employee. In December, he announced his retirement.

In the Strauss report, investigators laid out how, starting as early as 1979, athletes reported coming in for treatment for a variety of ailments, including one who had a sore throat, only to find that Dr. Strauss would touch their genitals. The accounts were so numerous, the report said, that investigators elected not to include an exhaustive accounting of each one. But those that were included — a student who reported going for treatment of an ear problem and having his genitals fondled as part of the examination, a wrestler required to strip naked and walk across a room so Dr. Strauss could evaluate his gait — were clear red flags to the coaches and trainers later told about them.

“From roughly 1979 to 1996,” the report said, “male students complained that Strauss routinely performed excessive — and seemingly medically unnecessary — genital exams, regardless of the medical condition the student-patients presented.”

The report also said that in one case, when a student responded to abuse “with anger and some physicality,” Dr. Strauss accused the student of assaulting him.

An Ohio State investigation found that Dr. Richard Strauss, a team doctor employed by the university for two decades, sexually abused 177 men.CreditUncredited/Ohio State University, via Associated Press

Still, as late as 1995, Dr. Strauss received nothing lower than “excellent” on his performance evaluation.

The report released Friday was based on a yearlong investigation by Perkins Coie, a law firm that said it had conducted more than 500 interviews. “With rare exceptions, we found the survivor accounts concerning their experiences with Strauss to be both highly credible and cross-corroborative,” the report said.

There are numerous lawsuits pending against the university from victims of Dr. Strauss.

Nick Nutter, a heavyweight wrestler at Ohio State, said last year that Dr. Strauss groped him “19 exams out of 20.” He said he was inspired to come forward after watching gymnasts accuse Larry Nassar, a former Michigan State doctor, of sexual abuse.

Other wrestlers also spoke out about their abuse, including Michael Rodriguez, who said, “When you’d get a lesion or breakout or infection on your face, you took a rough elbow, whatever, the intimacy with which he would conduct that examination was as creepy and inappropriate as the ‘turn your head and cough’ stuff.”

Strauss was team physician for several sports, including the men’s swimming, wrestling, gymnastics, fencing and lacrosse teams, and sometimes treated athletes from other sports as well. Wrestling had the most victims, according to the report, with 48, but athletes from more than a dozen sports were sexually abused, the university said.