Thirty seven former male athletes filed a Title IX lawsuit against Ohio State on Wednesday that alleges university officials did not intervene enough or stop Dr. Richard Strauss from sexually abusing students during preseason physicals or medical treatments.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Columbus and named only one plaintiff, former wrestler Mike DiSabato, while listing the other 36 as "John Does."
"OSU had actual notice of and was deliberately indifferent to the fact that Richard Strauss, M.D., an OSU employee, tenured faculty member, and the Associate Director of OSU's sports medicine program, sexually assaulted and abused hundreds of male OSU student-athletes and other male OSU undergraduates for over nineteen years. Moreover, OSU officials aided, abetted, and actively concealed Strauss's sexual predation on OSU's students," the lawsuit said.
Strauss allegedly abused over 177 male students between 1979 and 1997 at Ohio State. The alleged abuse spanned his time working with athletes from 16 sports, as well as working at the student health center and his off-campus clinic. Strauss committed suicide in 2005 and was never prosecuted for his alleged crimes.
The lawsuit said Strauss was assigned a locker in every room used by teams in Larkins Hall and took showers with teams. Athletes were subject to long hernia checks by the doctor and were asked to drop their pants during medical inspections with him, regardless of their injuries or needs. The lawsuit stated that some athletes referred to Strauss as "Mr. Long Fingers" and "Mr. Touchy Feely."
John Doe No. 6 alleged in the lawsuit that he was abused by Strauss more than twenty times and was once required to drop his pants when he visited Strauss "for finger and eye injuries." According to the lawsuit, John Doe No. 23 was assaulted 40-50 times by Strauss, who started every medical visit with a hernia check. John Doe No. 23 also alleged that Strauss watched wrestling practices and would be the first one in the showers and the last to leave.
John Doe No. 19, a wrestler, alleged experiencing "constant harassment" in Larkins Hall, feeling ogled during showers and finding notes in his locker propositioning him to meet up for sex. When he complained to an assistant coach about being harassed in Larkins Hall, John Doe No. 19 was told to "grow up."
The lawsuit said former wrestling coach Russ Hellickson complained to Ohio State officials about "the environment in Larkins Hall because the conditions seriously impacted the psyche and morale of his wrestlers." Hellickson requested his team shower in a separate area or be moved to a different building, and administrators denied his requests.
According to the lawsuit, multiple football players complaining about Strauss's behavior to former team trainer Bill Hill, who did not tell athletes that the doctor's behavior was improper. Other personnel also brushed off complaints about Strauss.
"While precise responses differed, the gist was almost always the same: it was not a big deal. Strauss did things his way; Strauss was just being thorough; this had gone on for years. Other benign explanations were offered. Some Plaintiffs came to believe that Strauss’ examinations were a necessary part of their participation in intercollegiate athletics that was like a “hazing," the lawsuit said.
According to the lawsuit, students and OSU staffers complained about Strauss's behavior as early as 1979. Athletic department personnel knew Strauss showered with teams, performed long genital examinations on athletes and refused to let a third person sit in on the exams.
"OSU, however, dismissed, disregarded, minimized, refuted, denied, silenced, and even concealed complaints about Strauss’ sexual misconduct. At best, OSU chose not to act on information that alerted University faculty, staff, and administrators to a substantial risk that Strauss was sexually abusing Plaintiffs and other male OSU athletes."