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Wrestlers file lawsuit against Ohio State, claiming a 'cesspool of deviancy'

Eric Adelson
Columnist
This file photo shows a 1978 employment application information for Dr. Richard Strauss, from Ohio State University personnel files. Strauss, who died in 2005, has been accused of sexual misconduct by former college student athletes. (Ohio State University via AP, File)

We may find out how closely Jim Jordan was paying attention.

We will definitely find out how closely other universities are paying attention.

Four former Ohio State wrestlers have filed a federal class-action lawsuit claiming the school knew former team doctor Richard Strauss sexually abused athletes more than 20 years ago, and didn’t do anything to stop it.

The suit goes far beyond wrestling, alleging students in 14 sports were subject to “excessive and medically unnecessary fondling, touching, and groping.” But the attention will continue to gravitate to Jordan, the powerful congressman from Ohio who coached wrestling at the school before his political career took off. Jordan is not named in the suit, however a lawyer for the accusers told NBC News he expected him to be called as a witness.

“If I were Jim Jordan, I would be very concerned about this lawsuit,” says Katie Phang, partner at Berger Singerman in Miami. “The plaintiffs will want to depose him, and if he tries to avoid being deposed, a judge will most likely force him to sit for a deposition.”

It may not come to that, as there’s always a chance Ohio State will settle. However, this is a class-action suit, meaning other plaintiffs could join. That could pile up the testimony saying Jordan and others ignored the alleged abuse, but more importantly it could gather more evidence against Ohio State. Keep in mind the Larry Nassar allegations at Michigan State began with only a few accusers, and that number eventually grew into the hundreds.

The suit brings damning allegations to buttress what has already been reported. It states Strauss was nicknamed “Dr. Jelly Paws” for his “notoriously hands-on physical examinations,” and a former coach described Larkins Hall — a now demolished university recreation center — as a “cesspool of deviancy.” It adds that two wrestlers went so far as to meet with then-athletic director Andy Geiger and offered drawings of the locker room that would help with privacy and safety. According to the suit, Geiger promised to assist and did not follow through. (That meeting is said to have occurred during the 1994-95 season; Jordan was at the school from 1986 to 1994.) One student allegedly complained to the student health center about Strauss as far back as 1978.

Ohio State announced in April it would start an investigation, and reportedly interviews have already begun. Jordan has publicly and strongly denied knowledge of abuse, insisting he would have “dealt with it” had he known. Strauss killed himself in 2005.

The message beyond Ohio State is clear: athletic departments must do better at prevention of sexual abuse. Scandals at Penn State and Michigan State have shown the tendency of those universities to play defense, which often makes situations more embarrassing and more expensive. It’s far better to be proactive than reactive. (The lawsuit against Ohio State requests that the university adopt a program to protect future student athletes.)

“Until schools realize that prevention is a more lucrative business model than their traditional reactive responses, these lawsuits will continue and victims will rightly be compensated for the abuse,” says Katherine Redmond, founder of the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes.

That may mean bringing in Title IX experts who are well-versed in prevention and communications rather than legal response.

It also means paying more attention to lower-profile sports. Universities like Michigan State and Ohio State have behemoth programs in football and basketball, but these allegations came from gymnastics and wrestling. Athletes in those sports clearly felt overlooked or even ignored.

Accusers and victims everywhere have been emboldened by the #MeToo movement and the bravery of the former gymnasts who came forward to testify against Nassar in Michigan. That saga had an effect on what’s happening now in Columbus, and the dominoes may keep falling elsewhere around the nation. Ohio State has seemingly been aggressive in investigating, however other schools must make sure their reporting procedures are clear and reliable.

Many will want to know what Jim Jordan knew and when he knew it. It’s more crucial to find out what athletic departments will do and how they will do it.

Read the entire complaint here:

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