Dr. Richard Strauss groped or ogled young men while treating athletes from at least 16 sports and working at the student health center and his off-campus clinic, investigators from a law firm hired by the university found, The Associated Press reported.
“We are so sorry that this happened,” Ohio State President Michael Drake said at a news conference, using words like ,shocking,’ ‘horrifying’ and ‘heartbreaking’ to describe the findings.
He said there was a ‘consistent institutional failure’ at Ohio State, the nation’s third-largest university, with nearly 65,000 students and a half-million living alumni. The school “fell short of its responsibility to its students, and that’s regrettable and inexcusable.”
At the same time, Drake, who has led the institution since 2014, sought to distance Ohio State from what happened more than two decades ago: “This is not the university of today.”
The report on Strauss, who killed himself at age 67 in 2005 nearly a decade after he was allowed to retire with honors, could cost Ohio State dearly by corroborating lawsuits brought against it by a multitude of victims.
The findings put Strauss in a league with gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar of Michigan State University, who was accused of molesting at least 250 women and girls and is serving what amounts to a life sentence. Michigan State ultimately settled with his victims for $500 million.
Similarly, the Jerry Sandusky child sexual-abuse scandal that brought down legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno in 2011 has cost the university more than a quarter-billion dollars in settlements, fines, legal costs and other expenses.
The abuse at Ohio State went on from 1979 to 1997 and took place at various locations across campus, including examining rooms, locker rooms, showers and saunas, according to investigators.
Many told investigators that they thought his behavior was an ‘open secret’ and that they believed their coaches, trainers and other team doctors knew what was going on. The students described the examinations as being ‘hazed’ or going through a ‘rite of passage.’
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.
Ohio State Provost Bruce McPheron said the report does not address whether anyone went to law enforcement at the time or was required to do so under the law back then.
In the wake of the findings, some of Strauss’ victims called on the university to take responsibility for its inaction and the harm inflicted by the doctor.
“Dreams were broken, relationships with loved ones were damaged, and the harm now carries over to our children, as many of us have become so overprotective that it strains the relationship with our kids,” Kent Kilgore said in a statement.
Steve Estey, an attorney for some of the former students who are suing, said, “If OSU refuses to take responsibility we will continue with civil litigation and put this in front of a jury for 12 people to judge their actions.”
No one has publicly defended Strauss, though family members have said they were shocked by the allegations.
At least 50 members of the athletic department staff, including many coaches, corroborated victims’ accounts of Strauss’ abuse, the report said. But students’ allegations never left the department or the health center until 1996.
At that point, Strauss was investigated and let go as a team doctor and physician at the health center but was allowed to retain his tenured faculty position.