The Buckeyes have become the latest in a sad, expanding list of colleges, universities, and other institutions to reach big settlements over students’ long sexual abuse by twisted medical staffers, with Ohio State University agreeing to pay $41 million to 162 male athletes for two decades of molestation and mistreatment by a team doctor.
After years of complaints and an outside investigation by a prominent law firm, OSU fessed up and said it should have done far more to listen to aggrieved wrestlers, football players, and others as they told coaches and other adults about the perverse conduct about assaults committed by Richard H. Strauss, a doctor to various men’s sports teams and professor from 1978 to 1998. He died by suicide in 2005.
During his time, students would testify to university trustees and investigators, the doctor’s inappropriate transgressions included activities that “ranged from groping to requiring them to strip unnecessarily to asking them questions about their sexual behavior under the guise of medical treatment,” the New York Times reported.
The young men told coaches and others about him — investigators estimated more than four dozen individuals in authority knew about Strauss. But the collegians were told to ignore the doctor’s unseemly behavior, which included showering with athletes in team facilities that also became areas for outsiders to seek sexual activity and leer at members of the football and wrestling squads.
Jim Jordan, a onetime OSU assistant wrestling coach and now a leading conservative of extreme views in the U.S. House, has denied knowing about the abuse that occurred during his time at the school. Students have said they told him about the wrongdoing that investigators say may have affected more than 170 youths.
The announced settlement with 162 parties does not resolve all the claims pending, and those who agreed to accept the payments said the sums were too small and failed to give them a sense of closure or justice. As the newspaper reported of yet others of the aggrieved:
“Rocky Ratliff, who represents 38 former athletes who were not part of the agreement, called the $41 million settlement ‘pathetic,’ comparing it unfavorably to the nearly $30 million the school will pay the football coach Ryan Day over the next four years of his contract. ‘We’re not going away on some peanut number that Ohio State throws out there,’ said Ratliff, a former wrestler who said he was abused by Strauss and has filed a separate lawsuit. ‘Ohio State makes more than that with the revenue from one football game.’”
In my practice, I see the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, including the sustained injury inflicted on them by sexual misbehavior by doctors, other medical caregivers, and others in positions of leadership and trust. It is unacceptable for our young people to be sexually exploited by adults and especially by those trained and licensed to provide them medical care.
The roster of shame keeps expanding, though, including the Boy Scouts, Penn State, Michigan State, Michigan, UCLA, the University of Southern California, the women’s Olympic gymnastics team, and the Roman Catholic church. Billions of dollars now have been paid out to women and men who were victimized and whose lives were forever, wrongly, changed. How did responsible adults not intercede? The abuses went on for years and were ignored or covered up. Lawsuits provided a means for thousands to seek some measure of justice.
But we have much work to do to protect the vulnerable young from heinous predation by adults, especially those who hold special positions of trust as medical caregivers.