COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Attorneys representing more than three dozen former Ohio State male student-athletes, including at least 26 Buckeyes football players, filed a Title IX lawsuit against the university Wednesday, alleging OSU officials didn't do enough to stop a sports medicine director who allegedly sexually assaulted the men while conducting preseason physical exams and treatment for injuries.
According to the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Columbus, "OSU had actual notice of and was deliberately indifferent to the fact that Richard Strauss, M.D., an OSU employee, tenured faculty member, and the Associate Director of OSU's sports medicine program, sexually assaulted and abused hundreds of male OSU student-athletes and other male OSU undergraduates for over nineteen years. Moreover, OSU officials aided, abetted, and actively concealed Strauss' sexual predation on OSU's students."
Strauss worked with OSU athletics from 1979 to 1997. He killed himself in 2005.
Former Buckeyes wrestler Mike DiSabato, who alerted OSU officials to Strauss' alleged behavior in March 2018, is the only named plaintiff in the case. The other 36 victims are identified in the lawsuit as John Does. They participated in wrestling, football, swimming, gymnastics and volleyball at Ohio State.
The lawsuit was filed by attorneys Michael Wright, Robert Gresham and Dennis Mulvihill of the Wright & Schulte firm in Dayton, Ohio.
An investigation conducted by Seattle law firm Perkins Coie found that Strauss abused at least 177 male students during his 20 years at the university. There was only one reference to a football player in the report and only three former football players were interviewed.
The Perkins Coie report alleged that Strauss sexually abused male student-athletes in exam rooms, showers, saunas and his off-campus office.
After the release of the report earlier this month, Ohio State president Michael Drake acknowledged that there was "consistent institutional failure" in failing to stop Strauss' alleged sexual abuse.
"Today, I filed suit on behalf of victims that were abused at the hands of Dr. Strauss," Wright said. "We agree with OSU President Drake that there was an 'institutional failure' on the part of Ohio State to protect these athletes. It is our hope that OSU takes full responsibility for that failure."
The lawsuit filed Wednesday alleges Strauss abused athletes during preseason physicals and when treating them for injuries at both the OSU Athletics Department or the university's Sports Medicine Clinic at Student Health Services.
"He also sexually harassed student-athletes in the locker rooms and showers of Larkins Hall, where many teams were based, including wrestling, gymnastics, and swimming," the lawsuit said. "OSU designated Strauss as a team physician for many sports.
"Student-athletes could not avoid him if they wanted medical treatment. OSU funneled Plaintiffs and other student-athletes to Strauss with assembly-line efficiency, whereupon Strauss cornered and sexually assaulted them. He sexually assaulted/abused most of the Plaintiffs more than once, and some wrestlers between 20-50 times."
The lawsuit says Ohio State officials "turned a blind eye" to numerous red flags, including Strauss insisting on examining patients without other staff being present; Strauss performing notoriously long and thorough hernia checks during team physicals; and ignoring frequent complaints by student-athletes about Strauss making them drop their pants regardless of medical needs and him taking multiple showers a day with athletes.
The lawsuit says Ohio State assigned Strauss multiple lockers in Larkins Hall.
The lawsuit alleges at least 14 football players reported concerns about Strauss' behavior to Billy Hill, a former football team trainer. Hill worked as an assistant athletic trainer, co-head athletic trainer and head football trainer at OSU from 1971 until his death in 1995. There is an athletic training scholarship for OSU students named in his honor.
"Some of the Plaintiffs and other student-athletes reported Strauss' examination methods to team trainers -- particularly football trainer Billy Hill," the lawsuit says. "While precise responses differed, the gist was almost always the same: it was not a big deal. Strauss did things his way; Strauss was just being thorough; this had gone on for years. Other benign explanations were offered. Some Plaintiffs came to believe that Strauss' examinations were a necessary part of their participation in intercollegiate athletics that was like a 'hazing.'"
The lawsuit says OSU student-athletes referred to Strauss by several monikers, including "Dr. Drop Your Drawers," "Mr. Long Fingers" and "Mr. Touchy Feely."
According to the lawsuit, Strauss made John Doe No. 6, a wrestler, drop his pants and fondled his genitals when John Doe No. 6 saw Strauss for finger and eye injuries. Strauss allegedly told John Doe No. 6 he was "checking lymph nodes, for skin problems and for other health conditions."
When John Doe No. 15, a football player, saw Strauss for a common cold and for a sore throat, the lawsuit says, Strauss insisted on a genital exam.
Strauss treated John Doe No. 17, another football player, approximately four or five times and required genital exams even if he had recently examined his genitals. "As Plaintiff puts it, 'There was a genital exam for everything,'" the lawsuit says.
Strauss also sexually assaulted John Doe No. 19, a wrestler, by conducting an unnecessary rectal exam and then rotating his finger to press hard on his prostate.
"More than 34 years later, John Doe No. 19 remembers word-for-word Strauss telling him, 'I can learn more from a thermometer in the mouth and a finger up the butt than with all my other tools,'" the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit alleges that Strauss watched wrestling practices, was the first one in the shower once practice ended and stayed in the shower area until the last wrestler finished.