U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) continued on Wednesday to deny accusations by former wrestlers that he turned a blind eye to sexual abuse when he was an assistant wrestling coach at The Ohio State University from 1986-1994.
An investigation announced by Ohio State in April involves accusations about Dr. Richard Strauss, who died in 2005. Strauss is accused of abusing wrestlers when he was the Buckeyes’ team doctor from the mid-1970s to the late-1990s.
Jordan, a rural Urbana resident and four-time state champion wrestler at Graham High School, has denied knowledge of the abuse and has said he first learned of the accusations when former Ohio State students began speaking out about Strauss in April.
On Tuesday morning, Jordan’s office released this statement in response to a story published by NBC News in which a former Ohio State wrestler accused Jordan of lying: “Congressman Jordan never saw any abuse, never heard about any abuse, and never had any abuse reported to him during his time as a coach at Ohio State. He has not been contacted by investigators about the matter but will assist them in any way they ask, because if what is alleged is true, the victims deserve a full investigation and justice.”
According to The Columbus Dispatch, the Seattle-based law firm Perkins Coie – which was hired to conduct an independent investigation into the allegations about Strauss – attempted to contact Jordan via phone and email but received no reply. Jordan’s spokesman Ian Fury refuted that assertion on Tuesday night, sending media outlets this statement: “Despite claims to the contrary, Congressman Jordan’s office has not received a request for interview from the investigative team. We have demanded that they send us the supposed communication and remain willing to assist in any way that we can.” Fury told the Urbana Daily Citizen on Wednesday that Jordan’s staff is still working to determine what might have happened to the communications from investigators.
Former wrestlers level accusations against Jordan
According to NBC News, three former OSU wrestlers said that it was common knowledge that Strauss showered regularly with the students and inappropriately touched them during appointments, and said it would have been impossible for Jordan to be unaware; one wrestler said he told Jordan directly about the abuse.
Former Ohio State head wrestling coach Russ Hellickson, Jordan’s mentor, said in a video created by Mike DiSabato – a former OSU wrestler – that Hellickson had told Strauss that he was being too “hands on” with students, NBC News reported. DiSabato, whose allegations against Strauss prompted Ohio State to open its investigation, called Jordan a “liar.”
“I considered Jim Jordan a friend,” DiSabato told NBC. “But at the end of the day, he is absolutely lying if he says he doesn’t know what was going on.” DiSabato wrestled for Ohio State from 1987 to 1991 and has five brothers who also wrestled there, according to published reports.
DiSabato said he reached out to Jordan earlier this year, before going to the university, to tell Jordan that he planned to go public with his allegations. Jordan told him to “please leave me out of it,” DiSabato told NBC. “He asked me not to get him involved.”
Ohio State’s student newspaper The Lantern reported in 2009 that DiSabato had a rocky relationship with Ohio State due to unsuccessful marketing and business ventures which prompted DiSabato to sue the university in 2008. Jordan’s office released a statement on Wednesday from Karen Mendoza, the surviving widow of Major Ray J. Mendoza, USMC, that echoed The Lantern’s reports: “My experience with Mike is a person who bullied and manipulated me under the disguise of honoring his former teammate and my late husband. I do believe Mike’s initial intent was pure, but later tarnished with his personal greed and objectives.” Karen Mendoza added, “(DiSabato) never fulfilled his financial promise (2007) for an endowment at The Ohio State University that also holds my late husband’s name.”
Dunyasha Yetts, who wrestled at Ohio State in 1993 and 1994, told NBC he and others warned Jordan about Strauss.
Yetts said he and his teammates talked to Jordan numerous times about Strauss.
“For God’s sake, Strauss’ locker was right next to Jordan’s and Jordan even said he’d kill him if he tried anything with him,” Yetts told NBC News.
Yetts admitted that he later did prison time for bilking investors out of nearly $2 million.
“I am not a perfect person, but ask any of the wrestlers and they will tell you everybody knew about Doc,” said Yetts, who served 18 months in prison.
As for Jordan, Yetts said: “He’s a great guy. We would have all these great talks with him and he talked about how one day he’d be the president of the United States.”
“So it’s sad for me to hear that he’s denying knowing about Strauss,” he said. “I don’t know why he would, unless it’s a cover-up. Either you’re in on it, or you’re a liar.”
According to a story by The Associated Press on June 29, the firm investigating former athletes’ allegations of sexual misconduct by Strauss is reviewing whether he also examined high school students, Ohio State officials confirmed.
Because of the ongoing inquiry, Ohio State cannot share details about what prompted independent investigators to look into Strauss’ potential interactions with high school students, university spokesman Benjamin Johnson said.
Male athletes from 14 sports at Ohio State have reported alleged sexual misconduct by Strauss, who was on the faculty and medical staff and published a variety of research.
The Columbus Dispatch reported this week about the contents of the private video made by DiSabato which details Strauss’ actions and the alleged culture of deviancy that existed around the Ohio State athletic facility. According to published reports, Ohio State received the video and turned it over to the firm Perkins Coie that is independently investigating the Strauss cases. The Dispatch reported that Hellickson is captured on DiSabato’s video detailing lewd, exploitative and abusive sexual activity experienced by his team in the training facility, locker room, showers and stairwells.
On Wednesday, Jordan’s communications director Ian Fury released this statement from Hellickson: “From the first day I met Jim Jordan as a student athlete, he has been the most honorable man I have ever known and my respect and admiration for all he has done and accomplished is at the very highest level. We dealt with many challenges together when he was one of my assistant coaches, and it’s important to know that neither Jim nor I would sidestep or avoid challenges for our wrestlers just because the circumstances were painful or uncomfortable – in fact, those are the kind of circumstances that motivated Jim the most. At no time while Jim Jordan was a coach with me at Ohio State did either of us ignore abuse of our wrestlers. That is not the kind of man Jim is, and it is not the kind of coach that I was.”
When asked if he had viewed DiSabato’s video, Fury told the Daily Citizen he had not, but that he believed Congressman Jordan had viewed it. Jordan was unavailable to answer questions about the video on Wednesday because he was visiting the 4th District community of Fremont on Independence Day.
One study by Strauss and two colleagues looked at weight loss in male amateur wrestlers, including one high school wrestler, according to a 1985 article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It doesn’t specify the wrestlers’ schools or whether or how each of the authors interacted with the athletes.
Strauss died in 2005, and it was ruled a suicide. Messages left by The Associated Press seeking comment from his surviving relatives about the allegations against him haven’t been returned.
Allegations also have been raised about his work in student health services and his private, off-campus medical office later in his career.
Ohio State has not released details about the claims but said more than 150 former students and witnesses have been interviewed so far.
The school has urged anyone with information about Strauss to contact the independent investigators Perkins Coie.
A statement from the university said it is “deeply concerned for everyone who may have been affected by his actions” and remains “steadfastly committed to uncovering the truth.”
The investigators are looking into what happened and what, if anything, the university knew about the allegations.
Strauss joined Ohio State in 1978 and was affiliated with the university in various roles until retiring from the faculty as professor emeritus in 1998.
His Ohio State employment records indicate he previously had researched, taught or practiced medicine at Harvard University, Rutgers University, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Washington and the University of Hawaii.
In a note saved in his personnel file, Strauss said he had acted as a part-time team physician at the universities with which he was associated. He didn’t specify the teams with which he worked or in what capacity.
Strauss did post-doctoral research in physiology at Washington from 1968-70, taught at Hawaii from 1972-74 and did one year of medical residency at Rutgers from 1974-75, according to those schools.
His resume said he taught physiology at Penn between 1970-72; was a research fellow in medicine at Harvard Medical School and Boston’s Peter Bent Brigham Hospital from 1975-77; and was a fellow in sports medicine at Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Boston before moving on to Ohio State.
A spokesman for Penn said it has no record of Strauss working with athletics or in clinical care there. Representatives for Harvard Medical School and what is now Brigham and Women’s Hospital have said they couldn’t provide further information about Strauss’ work or whether any concerns were raised about him.
Jordan’s November opponent weighs in
Jordan’s opponent on the November ballot in Ohio’s 4th Congressional District, Democrat Janet Garrett, released this statement after the NBC News story broke on Tuesday: “Any allegation of sexual abuse against minors – or complicity regarding such abuse – is very serious. That damage cannot be undone. For any teacher, protecting kids is the absolute first priority – and I say that as a former kindergarten teacher. Ohio State has an obligation to get to the bottom of this with a thorough and fair investigation. Jim Jordan has an obligation to cooperate fully with that investigation.”
Brenda Burns can be reached at email@example.com.