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Canadian swimmer alleges he was groomed by sex-abusing Ohio State doctor Richard Strauss

Derek de Jong said the predator used a spot in a prestigious program as bait, according to a lawsuit.
Image: Derek de Jong
Derek de Jong, one of many former Ohio State swimmers who say they were sexually abused by a team doctor from 1978 to 1998.Courtesy Derek de Jong

It was a gift with some awful strings attached.

Toward the end of his sophomore year at Ohio State University, then-star swimmer Derek de Jong discovered that he was a lock for one of just a dozen spots in the school’s prestigious exercise science program — and that the team physician, Richard Strauss, had made it happen.

De Jong said he had not even considered applying because his grades were nothing special and this was a highly competitive program.

“Strauss found out that I was interested in medicine,” de Jong told NBC News. “He intervened on my behalf without my request.”

But Strauss wanted something in return, he said.

“When I got in he congratulated me and asked, ‘When do you want to repay me for it?'” de Jong said.

De Jong said he knew what Strauss was after.

Now, the former swimmer has joined the growing legion of men who say they were sexually abused by Strauss while he worked at Ohio State from 1978 to 1998 — and are suing the university for failing to protect them from a predator. Strauss died in 2005.

De Jong, 48 and living in Nova Scotia with his wife and teenage daughters, attended the university in the early 1990s and was recruited from abroad because of his athletic prowess.

De Jong said that because of the abuse he suffered at the hands of Strauss, he gave up swimming, was unable to focus and set out on a self-destructive path that included a disastrous stint in the Royal Canadian Navy and a lifetime of anger issues from which he is still trying to recover.

In his complaint, filed on Dec. 20, de Jong says Strauss abused him four times from 1990 to 1995.

The first time Strauss abused de Jong, according to the complaint, was during a routine physical where Strauss “pressed his body” against him and assaulted him. When de Jong objected, Strauss insisted, “I have to give you a good exam,” the complaint states.

On another occasion, Strauss accosted the swimmer in the shower, masturbated in front of him and took photographs of de Jong, the complaint states.

In 1994, he said he had to fight Strauss off when he sought treatment for a sinus infection.

“I had a severe sinus infection and he wanted to examine all my glands for swelling. So he had me drop my pants. When he went for my back again, I pushed him off and barked at him,” de Jong said.

Strauss backed off and after making de Jong wait an hour, wrote him a prescription for penicillin. That afternoon, de Jong said he had an allergic reaction to the medication and rather than face the doctor again, he got in the pool and swam with a swollen throat and hands.

“I got in the pool and swam, with a severe anaphylactic reaction to penicillin that Strauss gave me and swam because of fear of him,” he said.

De Jong said he never directly told athletic staff members the specifics of how he’d been abused by Strauss because he was too embarrassed and feared losing his scholarship. But about two weeks after the first assault during a 1990 physical, de Jong said he complained to a member of the athletic staff about Strauss ogling athletes in the locker room and showering with the team.

“Derek, what do you want us to do about it?” de Jong recalled the staff member replying.

From then on, de Jong said he would routinely inform staff members whenever Strauss was loitering in the locker room but neither intervened.

“They knew what Strauss was doing because everybody talked about it, and they knew he was hanging out with the athletes because he was so brazen about it,” de Jong.

NBC News has reached out to the staff members for comment but did not hear back.

Dr. Mark Chrystal, who came from England to attend Ohio State on a soccer scholarship from 1992 to 1997 — and is also suing the school — said foreign students are "very vulnerable to all kinds of influences, including sexual predators." In an email to NBC News, he said it was "common knowledge that Dr. Strauss was a sexual predator" and "his behavior appeared to be tacitly approved by the institution."

"In my case, I didn't feel that there was anywhere to turn," Chrystal said.

Last year when the Perkins-Coie law firm, which was hired to independently investigate allegations that OSU failed to stop Strauss, released a 180-page report that found the school knew for two decades that Strauss was molesting male athletes but failed to stop him.

“Many of the students felt that Strauss’ behavior was an ‘open secret’ as it appeared to them that their coaches, trainers and other team physicians were fully aware of Strauss’ activities, and yet few seemed inclined to do anything to stop it,” the report states.

It is unclear if de Jong’s coaches were among the former coaches who were questioned by the investigators.

When asked for comment on de Jong’s allegations, the school responded by saying that it “has led the effort to investigate and expose Richard Strauss’ abuse and the university’s failure at the time to adequately respond to or prevent it.” De Jong and Chrystal lawsuits were both filed after the release of the Perkins-Coie report.

Since the release of the Perkins-Coie report, Ohio State has apologized repeatedly and insisted it was “actively participating in good faith in the mediation process directly by the federal court.” The school has not yet reached a settlement with the 300 or so Strauss victims who have filed federal lawsuits against the school.

De Jong said his swimming career tanked after the abuse and he went from being Ohio State's most promising swimmer on the undefeated 1990 team to not swimming at all when he graduated in 1995.

De Jong said his dream was to compete for his native Canada in the Olympics. Raised in a Toronto suburb, de Jong was recruited by Ohio State two years after he swam in the 1988 Olympic qualifying trials at age 17.

After graduating, de Jong returned to Ontario where he said he isolated himself from family and friends and took a job driving a truck to make sure he had as little contact with people as possible. In 2005, he joined the navy.

But, de Jong could not shake the rage building inside him. And in 2012, de Jong said he snapped after weeks of harassment by fellow officers that culminated in a female officer urinating on the floor of his cabin.

When de Jong complained, he said his superiors laughed at him and made derisive cracks like, “Some men have to pay for a service like that.“

De Jong eventually deserted by jumping ship in Key West, Florida, and flying back to Canada to turn himself in to the Military Police.

De Jong later pleaded guilty to desertion and was ordered to pay a hefty fine. He was eventually given a medical discharge in 2017, leaving the navy at the rank of lieutenant.

One year later, de Jong said he was watching TV when he learned that Ohio State had launched an investigation into Strauss after whistle-blowing former wrestler Michael DiSabato reported he had been sexually abused by the doctor.

“My first reaction was anger,” said de Jong, who had not even told his family about the alleged abuse by Strauss. “I thought I was going to die with this secret.”