COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A now-dead Ohio State team doctor sexually abused at least 177 male students over nearly two decades, and university officials knew what he was doing and did little to stop him, according to an investigative report released by the school Friday.
Dr. Richard Strauss committed the abuse from 1979 to 1997 — nearly his entire time at Ohio State — in episodes involving athletes from at least 16 sports, plus his work at the student health center and his off-campus clinic, the report said.
The report on Strauss, who took his life in 2005, could cost the university heavily by bolstering the 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 agreed to a $500 million settlement with his victims.
In issuing 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 victims for their courage.
Many of Strauss’ accusers who have spoken publicly said they were groped or otherwise inappropriately touched during physical exams, or ogled in locker rooms. Many told investigators that they thought his behavior was an “open secret” and that they believed their coaches, trainers and other team doctors knew about it.
The students described the examinations as being “hazed” or going through a “rite of passage.” Athletes joked about Strauss’ behavior, referring to him with nicknames like “Dr. Jelly Paws.”
On Friday, some of his victims called on the university to take responsibility for its inaction and the harm inflicted by Strauss.
“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 Ohio State should take care of the victims, as it promised six months ago.
“We hope that the report will force OSU to take responsibility for its failure to protect young students,” he 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.”
The law firm hired to conduct the investigation for the school interviewed hundreds of former students and university employees. The report concludes that university personnel at the time knew of complaints and concerns about Strauss’ conduct as early as 1979 but failed for years to investigate or take meaningful action.
As the allegations against him mounted, investigators said, Strauss pleaded with university administrators to keep his job. That included sending a letter in 1997 to then-university president Gordon Gee. A message seeking comment was left Friday for Gee, now president of West Virginia University.
Strauss, a well-regarded physician and sports-medicine researcher, was eventually let go as a team doctor and physician at the student health center. But he was allowed to retire from a faculty position at the university and received emeritus status, a mark of distinguished service. The university said it will revoke the honor.
No one has publicly defended him, though family members have said they were shocked by the allegations.
At least one of the students, a 14-year-old high school wrestler at the time of Strauss’ abuse, told investigators Strauss molested other minors during the course of the doctor’s work with high schools and an Ohio State wrestling camp. No other such accounts were included in unredacted portions of the report.
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.
Neither that congressman, Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, nor any other coaches are mentioned by name in the report.
Most of those claims are part of the lawsuits against Ohio State that are headed to mediation. They seek unspecified damages.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights also is examining whether Ohio State responded “promptly and equitably” to students’ complaints.
Ohio State alumni have said they complained about Strauss as early as the late 1970s, and the university had at least one documented complaint from 1995.
Ohio State Medical Board records indicate the university reported Strauss to the board at some point but include no details. The board said it never disciplined him.
Associated Press writers John Seewer in Toledo and Andrew Welsh-Huggins and Mitch Stacy in Columbus contributed to this report.