COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — An Ohio State University team doctor who died years ago sexually abused at least 177 students over a period of decades so wantonly that students described his examinations as hazing — and their coaches, trainers, other team doctors and school leaders knew about it, according to an investigative report released Friday.
Dr. Richard Strauss abused the men from 1979 to 1997 — nearly his entire time at Ohio State — in episodes involving male students from at least 16 sports, plus his work at the student health center and his off-campus clinic, according to findings from a law firm that investigated the accusations, released by the university.
At one point he even appealed to various university officials, both formally and informally, to keep his job — including the office of the president at the time, Gordon Gee. A message was left Friday seeking comment from Gee.
Many of the accusers who have spoken publicly said they were groped and inappropriately touched during physical exams. Some also said they were ogled in locker rooms where athletes joked about Strauss’ behavior, referring to him with nicknames like “Dr. Jelly Paws .”
The law firm hired to conduct the investigation for the school interviewed hundreds of former students and university employees.
The report found many of the students thought the doctor’s behavior was an “open secret” and that their coaches, trainers and other team doctors knew about it. The students described the examinations by Strauss as being “hazed” or going through a “rite of passage.”
The case has drawn comparisons to the sexual abuse scandal that sent former gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar to prison and led Michigan State University to agree to a $500 million settlement.
In releasing the report, Ohio State President Michael Drake offered “profound regret and sincere apologies to each person who endured Strauss’ abuse.” He called it a “fundamental failure” of the institution and thanked survivors for their courage.
The university said it has begun the process of revoking Strauss’ emeritus status.
Previous to Friday’s release, his accusers had alleged more than 20 school officials and staff members, including two athletic directors and a coach who is now a congressman , were aware of concerns about Strauss but didn’t stop him. Most of those claims are part of two related lawsuits against Ohio State that are headed to mediation .
Neither that congressman, Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, nor any other coaches are mentioned by name in the report.
The university has said the law firm’s work included determining what Ohio State and its leaders knew during Strauss’ tenure.
But the independence of the investigation has been questioned by some of Strauss’ accusers, including some of the lawsuit plaintiffs, their attorneys and the whistleblower who helped to spur the investigation last spring.
Ohio State has sought to have the lawsuits thrown out as being time-barred by law, but university leaders have insisted they’re not ignoring the men’s stories.
The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights also is examining whether Ohio State responded “promptly and equitably” to students’ complaints.
Strauss, a well-regarded physician and sports-medicine researcher, killed himself in 2005.
No one has publicly defended him, though his family has said they were shocked at the allegations. Like the school, they said they were seeking the truth about him.
Employment records shared by Ohio State reflect no major concerns about Strauss before he retired in 1998. But alumni said they complained as early as the late 1970s, and Ohio State has at least one documented complaint from 1995.
The State Medical Board of Ohio said it never disciplined Strauss but acknowledged having confidential records about the investigation of a complaint involving him. Records of board communications indicate Ohio State reported Strauss to the medical board at some point but include no details.
Strauss’ personnel records indicate he previously worked at five other schools. None of those has said any concerns were raised about him.
By KANTELE FRANKO and JULIE CARR SMYTH
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