Investigators Find Abuse Claims Going Back Decades Against OSU Doctor

Aug 8, 2018
Originally published on August 8, 2018 8:50 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The Ohio State University is dealing with multiple athletic scandals. Its football coach, Urban Meyer, is on paid leave while the school investigates whether he mishandled domestic violence allegations against an assistant coach in 2015. The school is also facing lawsuits tied to a former diving coach and another set of lawsuits involving a now-deceased athletic doctor. As investigators have dug into that doctor's past, they have found more than 100 cases of abuse dating back to the 1970s. We have more now from Nick Evans of member station WOSU.

NICK EVANS, BYLINE: Mike DiSabato looks like a fighter. In a black hoodie and gym shorts, he carries himself like a loaded spring, ready to jump back onto the mat. He wrestled for Ohio State University beginning in the late 1980s, but he first met Dr. Richard Strauss before that. DiSabato says Strauss was conducting a body fat study among high school athletes.

MIKE DISABATO: But Strauss went a step further and did a full genital exam, which was par for the course from what I had heard from my cousins previously - that he was...

EVANS: And this was in high school?

DISABATO: This was 14 years old. Yes.

EVANS: DiSabato says the alleged sexual assaults continued the entire time he was at OSU, and he outlined the accusations against the former team doctor in a lawsuit filed against the university earlier this year. Since then, Ohio State has launched an independent investigation that now includes athletes allegedly abused by the doctor in 14 different sports. Strauss left the school in 1998. He died in 2005. School officials have refused repeated interview requests for this story and not granted interviews elsewhere either. But at a June trustees meeting, University President Michael Drake insisted student safety is their primary concern.

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MICHAEL DRAKE: These are deeply troubling allegations, and we are committed to get to the bottom of this and appreciative of our independent investigators.

EVANS: In another lawsuit, a different wrestler alleges he complained about the doctor in 1978. In DiSabato's legal filing, he contends Strauss' behavior was widely known. DiSabato's claims have reached Washington, D.C., too, because of who was on the coaching staff at the time. Republican Congressman Jim Jordan, the conservative firebrand making a bid to be the next House speaker, was the team's assistant coach. In a statement last month, the congressman said he never heard about any abuse. Yet another student at OSU, Steven Snyder-Hill, filed a complaint against the school in 1995. He visited a school clinic for chest pain and says Strauss molested him during the exam. After Strauss denied the incident, a school administrator wrote to Snyder-Hill telling him they'd only ever received positive comments about the doctor. In a press release, the school says it, quote, "remains actively committed to uncovering what may have happened and what university leaders at the time may have known." That characterization - what may have happened - frustrates Snyder-Hill.

STEPHEN SNYDER-HILL: If you've gone through this, that is the most insulting language that you could use to somebody, and it basically is another way, in 2018, of invalidating me - the same thing that they did in 1995, and that's not fair anymore. You can't do that. I have a letter to prove that you knew.

EVANS: OSU still has a strong pull on Strauss' accusers. Many look back fondly despite their interactions with the doctor. But Carly Smith, a clinical psychologist at Penn State, says when an institution fails to protect its members from abuse, the sense of betrayal cuts deeper. Smith says when people come forward, it gets easier for others, and that means cases like these won't disappear.

CARLY SMITH: I think, in fact, we're probably going to continue seeing these waves of people coming forward to report what happened to them. And I think it just could be a real opportunity for the way our society and our institutions handle abuse to really shift.

EVANS: The university faces a number of lawsuits related to Strauss, including two class-action cases. Investigators have already uncovered 100 accounts of abuse, and they expect to interview another hundred people at least. For NPR News, I'm Nick Evans in Columbus.

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GREENE: And we should say Nick's employer is WOSU, which is licensed to Ohio State University, but it's news department does operate independently from the university.

(SOUNDBITE OF SLOW FADE SAILORS' "ONE FINAL DRINK, ONE FINAL SMOKE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.