Attorney: Abused clients were football players
COLUMBUS, Ohio — An attorney preparing a lawsuit against Ohio State University on behalf of more than 50 former athletes who claim they were sexually abused by a team physician told The Associated Press on Saturday that most of those clients were football players from the school’s storied program, including some who went on to play in the NFL.
Dayton attorney Michael Wright said the abuse happened during required physical examinations at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center and during treatment for injuries and ailments by Dr. Richard Strauss at his off-campus clinic and at his home, where he insisted they be seen.
Strauss killed himself in 2005 nearly a decade after he was allowed to retire with honors.
A 232-page investigative report released Friday found that Strauss sexually abused at least 177 male students but made only one specific reference to football players while listing how many athletes from each team were abused. That list says three football players were interviewed.
Wright said he was not aware that any of his clients were interviewed by investigators from the Seattle-based Perkins Coie law firm.
An Ohio State spokesman declined to comment.
Investigators found that Strauss’ abuse went on from 1979 to 1997 and took place at various locations across campus, including examining rooms, locker rooms, showers and saunas. Strauss contrived, among other things, to get young men to strip naked and he groped them sexually.
The report concluded that scores of Ohio State personnel knew of complaints and concerns about Strauss’ conduct as early as 1979 but failed for years to investigate or take meaningful action.
“It was known he was seeing these athletes and there were issues,” Wright said.
Wright said he plans to file the lawsuit late next week and, for now, that his clients prefer to remain anonymous.
“Clearly they had good relationships with the university, and they believe the university will either retaliate or significantly distance themselves from these athletes,” Wright said.
Some of Strauss’ victims remain angry in the aftermath of the report’s release about how Ohio State has treated them in the decades after he ogled and groped them during physical examinations and medical treatment.
Former nursing student Brian Garrett said he worked for a short time at an off-campus clinic Strauss opened after he was ousted at Ohio State in the late 1990s. But Garrett quit after witnessing abuse by Strauss and then experiencing it himself.
The investigation, he said, left him angrier than before.
“We knew that it was systemic and it had been reported,” Garrett said Friday. “It’s even more widespread than we knew.”
Garrett compared the abuse carried out by Strauss to that of ex-Michigan State University sports doctor Larry Nassar, who was accused of molesting at least 250 women and girls and is serving what amounts to a life sentence in prison.
“We did not get to put him on trial. The police did not get to investigate. That’s why it’s worse than the MSU case,” Garrett said. “He took the easy way out.”
No one has publicly defended Strauss, though family members have said they were shocked by the allegations.
The whistleblower credited with prompting the investigation said in a statement he feels “vindicated” but has mixed feelings about the law firm’s findings.
Mike DiSabato, a former Ohio State wrestler, met with school officials in March 2018 to discuss the abuse that he and other athletes suffered at the hands of Strauss, prompting the school to hire Perkins Coie to conduct an investigation.
“Although a weight has been lifted off my back, I am deeply saddened to hear and relive the stories of so many others who suffered similar abuse by Dr. Strauss while Ohio State turned a blind eye,” DiSabato’s statement said.
He says the Perkins Coie report gives him “courage and strength to keep fighting to ensure Ohio State is held accountable for the damage and trauma they caused me and my family.”
Steven Snyder-Hill, who is “Student B” in the report, remains angry about the lack of cooperation he has received from Ohio State in obtaining records he finally received Friday. The report details how Strauss molested him during a student health center visit in 1995, prompting him to file a complaint with university medical officials.
“It feels like to me that the No. 1 concern (of Ohio State) is not the kids they’re supposed to protect there,” Snyder-Hill said. “Their No. 1 concern is their reputation. They need to convince us now that they’re going to do the right thing in 2019.”
Ohio State President Michael Drake said there was a “consistent institutional failure” at the school, the nation’s third-largest university. He apologized and commended victims for their courage.
Nick Nutter, an All-American wrestler at Ohio State in the mid-1990s, said he hasn’t had a chance to read the entire report, but said based on what he knows that Perkins Coie “did their homework well.”
“I was glad Drake didn’t sugar coat it and took responsibility,” Nutter said. “He’s bearing the cross for past mistakes and that’s admirable.”
Nutter said Strauss molested him virtually every time he saw him for physical exams and treatment for the various injuries he received during his five years on the wrestling team.
He said he was taught to be respectful to authority figures like coaches and doctors, which made him the “perfect victim” for an abuser skilled at using his authority to abuse young men who didn’t know any better.
Nutter said he knew what would happen when he needed treatment.
“Your co-pay is fondling,” Nutter said. “I viewed every single injury like that.”
Three federal lawsuits have been filed thus far against the university. Two of those suits are headed for mediation. A third was filed last week with five plaintiffs. They seek unspecified damages.
Drake said the investigation alone has cost the school $6.2 million.
Separately, the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights is examining whether Ohio State responded promptly and fairly to students’ complaints. The department could cut the university’s federal funding if it is found to have violated civil rights protections.