Ohio State wrestlers describe abuse by Dr. Strauss in wrenching video

"I never had a physical like this before,” one of the former Ohio State wrestlers said in the video.
by Corky Siemaszko /  / Updated 
Image: Former Ohio State wrestler Mike DiSabato
Former Ohio State wrestler Mike DiSabato created the video to collect accusations of abuse against Dr. Richard Strauss. Andrew Welsh-Huggins / AP

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.

A video that was created to spur on the internal university investigation into a former Ohio State University wrestling doctor — and last week led to questions about what Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a former coach, knew about the alleged abuse at the time — is an emotional recounting of what one former athlete has called a "cesspool of sexual deviance."

The heavily edited 11-minute video, excerpted here, features wrenching descriptions of the alleged misconduct by Dr. Richard Strauss from two former wrestlers whom Jordan coached more than two decades ago, and from former head coach Russ Hellickson and a former Ohio State student who worked with Strauss at a clinic and who says he, too, was molested by the doctor.

Jordan, who was the assistant wrestling coach under Hellickson, is not mentioned by name nor referred to in the footage, which was obtained by NBC News from former Ohio State wrestler Mike DiSabato, the initial whistleblower. DiSabato says he created the video in June to collect accusations of abuse against Strauss and turned it over to Ohio State. The video received by NBC News did not include the unedited interviews.

In the original video given to NBC News, Hellickson says he confronted Strauss directly about his misbehavior, telling the doctor he was too "hands on" with the wrestlers and that his showering with the team made them uncomfortable. He also says inappropriate behavior in the wrestling room and showers extended beyond Strauss and that he complained about the behavior, which included people having sex in the wrestling room and watching athletes in the shower, to then-Ohio State intramural sports and recreation director Fred Beekman.

“Certainly all my administrators recognized it was an issue for me,” Hellickson says in the footage. “I’m sure that I talked to them on numerous occasions about my discontent with the environment. I know I had a lot of conversations with Fred Beekman about it. But nothing ever changed.”

Beekman died in 2010 and NBC has not been able to reach his surviving relatives for comment.

Strauss killed himself in 2005. In a statement, Strauss’s son, Scott, said his family was “shocked and saddened to hear the allegations of misconduct against the late Dr. Richard H. Strauss.”

It's not clear from the footage whether Hellickson says he specifically reported abuse by Strauss to higher-ups. Hellickson has not returned calls for comment since NBC News first reported last week that several wrestlers were accusing Jordan of turning a blind eye to Strauss's alleged behavior.

DiSabato, who recounts on the video the abuse he says he himself endured, filmed the footage before questions emerged about what Jordan knew about the alleged abuse at the time.

“We didn’t think Jim would lie about not knowing what everybody knew was happening when we made the video,” DiSabato told NBC News. “It didn’t occur to us that he would lie.”

DiSabato and some of the other athletes who say they were molested by Strauss are now being represented by the Sharp Law firm, which is based in Prairie Village, Kansas.

Jordan, who coached at the university from 1986 to 1994, denied knowing about any abuse after Ohio State announced on April 5 that it had launched an investigation. He has continued to deny knowing about the alleged abuse over the past week, as six former wrestlers have contradicted the congressman's claims to NBC News, saying Strauss' inappropriate behavior was common knowledge in the locker room. One wrestler said he reported the alleged abuse directly to Jordan, an account corroborated by a second wrestler to NBC News.

“Conversations in a locker room are a lot different than allegations of abuse,” Jordan told Fox News on Friday. “No one ever reported any abuse to me. I would have dealt with it.”

Asked if he heard any locker-room banter about Strauss, Jordan replied, “No. No. No type of abuse. We did not hear that.”

Jordan, who confirmed in the Fox interview that he will be speaking this week to the OSU investigators, also appeared to assert that his accusers were lying and suggested there might be political motives for them doing so.

A founder of the conservative House Freedom Caucus and a staunch ally of President Donald Trump, Jordan is considered a possible replacement for Rep. Paul Ryan as the next speaker of the House.

Six former wrestlers who have spoken with NBC News said they admired and respected Jordan and were dismayed that he denied knowing anything about Strauss's misbehavior. At least three other wrestlers, who spoke with other publications and whose accounts have not been verified by NBC News, have expressed similar sentiments about Jordan.

Reid Delman, 50, who attended Ohio State in the early '90s said Strauss “never left me crying in the shower,” but gave him “thorough” checkups that made him “uncomfortable.” Though he doesn’t fault Jordan, Delman told NBC News that Jordan was “part of the talk.

“I’ve tried to imagine [the coaches] not knowing," Delman continued. "I don’t want to be part of something that’s getting Jim out of office. I don’t even like the idea of it. I do find it surprising that he would even take that approach. Because the times were different. It’s easy enough to say, looking back, we should have done something.”

Another former wrester who attended Ohio State in the late 1980s and asked to remain anonymous told NBC News he “can't imagine,” Jordan didn't hear the constant “locker-room banter" about Strauss.

Some former wrestlers, including two who spoke to NBC News, and other people involved with the wrestling program have defended Jordan, saying he would not have turned a blind eye to reports of abuse.

On Monday, Shirley & Banister Public Affairs, a Virginia-based public relations firm that supports conservative politicians and causes, distributed a series of statements in support of Jordan from Hellickson and five former Ohio State assistant coaches.

“At no time while Jim Jordan was a coach with me at Ohio State did either of us ignore abuse of our wrestlers,” Hellickson reportedly said. “This is not the kind of man Jim is, and it is not the kind of coach that I was.”

According to Shirley & Banister, all six of the former coaches, including Hellickson, signed a statement saying that "None of us saw or heard of abuse of OSU wrestlers.”

Hellickson also reportedly told The Hill this week that “a whole lot of people were in the dark” about the alleged Strauss abuse. “Jim Jordan didn’t know anything,” Hellickson said, according to The Hill. “I didn’t know anything, and I don’t think any of the other coaches knew anything.”

On the video, Hellickson says that he complained to Ohio State administrators that strangers were coming to ogle the wrestlers in the showers at Larkins Hall, where the team worked out.

“I caught people having sex in our wrestling room, in our stairwell to the wrestling room, in the bathroom adjacent to our wrestling facility,” the coach says on the video of the building, which was demolished in 2005. “It became a real problem…. There were times when some of the athletes themselves would confront people and say, ‘Get out of here. You’re here all the time. You’re watching me. I don’t like it.'"

Mark Coleman, a former Ohio State wrestler and a former UFC world champion, describes in the footage how Strauss allegedly molested him under the guise of giving him a physical and how he was too afraid to protest.

"And then he actually grabs your penis and looks at your penis," he says. "I don't know what the f--- he's looking for. I never had a physical like this before.”

DiSabato says on the tape that it was common knowledge in the locker room that Strauss was allegedly molesting the wrestlers.

“Everybody knew before you were going into the room that Doc Strauss was going to touch you,” he says. “It was like the joke before you went in there…you got a sore shoulder, drop your pants.”

Strauss’ alleged excessive showering with the team was also well known in the locker room, DiSabato says.

“Larkins Hall was a cesspool of sexual deviancy that guys like Doc Strauss loved to be in,” DiSabato says.

Choking up, DiSabato adds, “I’d never considered myself to be a victim….It’s hard for me to sit here today.”

The video also features former Ohio State nursing student Brian Garrett, who worked with Strauss at a university clinic and told the Associated Press the doctor had molested dozens of athletes.

In the video, Garrett says Strauss groped him when he went to the doctor complaining about heartburn.

DiSabato’s video is among the items that have been turned over to the Perkins Coie law firm, which is overseeing the probe for the university and has interviewed 150 former students and witnesses so far, sources familiar with the investigation said.

Citing the ongoing investigation, a spokesman for OSU declined to comment on the DiSabato video or on Hellickson’s statement that he spoke to Beekman about Strauss. OSU has confirmed that former athletes from 14 Ohio State sports have reported abuse by Strauss.

The statements of support for Jordan circulated by Shirley & Banister included one from former assistant Ohio State coach Rex Holman, who called Jordan "a man of high integrity and courage."

“I fully believe that Jim did not know of any allegations of sexual abused by Dr. Richard Strauss at the Ohio State University," Holman reportedly said. "Jim is a leader and very protective of his athletes.”

Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, also expressed support for Jordan while saying the accusations from the wrestlers do not pass “the smell test.”

“These former wrestlers were adults at the time they claimed they were sexually abused by the Ohio State team doctor,” Gohmert said in a statement. “Note that they do not claim they reported specific abuse to Jim Jordan or to anyone else. To the contrary, they specifically state they did not tell Jordan but instead say he should have known because there was talk around the locker room.”

But one of the accusers, former wrestler Dunyasha Yetts, told NBC News he did tell Jordan and Hellickson after Strauss tried to pull down his pants during an examination for a sprained thumb. The others interviewed by NBC News say Strauss was the subject of widespread gossip that they say Jordan could not have missed.

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
  • Contributors
  • Brandy Zadrozny
MORE FROM news