In the two weeks since former Ohio State wrestlers began to make public allegations about being repeatedly molested and assaulted by team doctor Richard Strauss, Congressman Jim Jordan – who spent eight years as an assistant wrestling coach at the school – has repeatedly claimed any suggestion that he was previously aware of the abuse is “fake news.” As I wrote here on Monday, the former wrestlers, who say Jordan knew they were being abused and took no action to stop it, have been slandered repeatedly by the congressman and his reflexive right-wing defenders – including accusations that the former wrestlers are part of either a “deep state” conspiracy or paid for by the Democratic Party to take down the powerful founder of the House Freedom Caucus. President Trump and several members of Congress, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, have leapt to Jordan’s defense, claiming he’s just not the kind of guy who would sit idly by while his wrestlers were preyed upon.
On Tuesday, Jordan’s public-relations crisis became a legal nightmare. Attorneys filed a massive class-action lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Ohio against Ohio State University on behalf of an as-yet-unnamed former OSU wrestler. The law firm Sauder Schelkopf is seeking to represent all the students and athletes “treated” by Strauss in his two decades at the school, from the late ‘70s to the late ‘90s – a number they estimate will amount to “at least 1,500.”
Jordan, the jut-jawed Republican and anti-gay crusader in the House, is singled out in the suit: He’s one of only three former school officials named, including Strauss, though the action is aimed at all the coaches, administrators and others in positions of responsibility at OSU who, it claims, stood by while students and student-athletes were repeatedly “sexually abused, harassed, and molested,” and “forced” to seek treatment from a well-known predator even after they complained. (Strauss was the sole team doctor for the wrestlers; the men say they either had to choose to let injuries go untreated, as the lawsuit says some did, or subject themselves to yet another assault.)
The lead plaintiff, “John Doe,” says he was groped, assaulted and molested at least 20 times. The other wrestlers have told reporters how Strauss allegedly used any excuse to make them expose themselves and grope them, and the lawsuit adds some sickening details:
“On one occasion, Plaintiff suffered a rib injury while wrestling and made an appointment to see Dr. Strauss for treatment. Dr. Strauss instructed Plaintiff to drop his pants so he could examine Plaintiff’s scrotum for a hernia. Plaintiff was young and believed that Dr. Strauss’ actions were medically necessary, but felt violated and helpless.”
The lawsuit alleges, among other things, that Strauss also took photographs of the men he was forcing to disrobe unnecessarily. It describes how he “regularly touched students’ genitals and breast areas, often at the same time, regularly measured students’ scrotums, all for the purpose of his own sexual arousal and gratification, and for no legitimate medical purpose and for no other reason than to satisfy his own sexual desires.” You can read the lawsuit here in its entirety.
So far, as more former wrestlers, including UFC champion Mark Coleman, have stepped out and told their stories, Jordan has wielded his mastery of right-wing media to try and inoculate himself against this career-threatening scandal. The congressman managed to contain the fallout from an eerily similar revelation last November, when one of his longtime Washington aides and protégées, Ohio state Rep. Wesley Goodman, was publicly unmasked as one of the capitol city’s most notorious sexual predators, stalking and abusing at least 30 young conservative men he promised to “mentor.” This was huge news in Ohio, but was buried nationally beneath the daily drumbeat of Trump atrocities.
The Goodman scandal alone could have been enough to force Jordan out of Congress. In April, Elizabeth Esty, a Democratic representative from Connecticut, had to resign because she kept a former chief of staff on her payroll for three months after another former aide accused him of harassment. The well-documented accusations against Goodman are much, much broader. He reportedly harassed or assaulted at least 30 young men. Jordan adamantly denied that he had any knowledge of Goodman’s notorious reputation – just as he’s now claiming, against the word of his ex-wrestlers, that he had no clue that Strauss (who committed suicide in 2005) was groping the athletes.
In recent public comments on the allegations, Jordan appeared to be banking on his former wrestlers’ silence and shame. But if he believed he could humiliate them back into submission, he was sorely mistaken. At least nine have spoken out so far. Dozens more will almost certainly be telling their stories in criminal and civil court along with Strauss’ hundreds of other alleged victims from 13 Ohio State teams. (A separate lawsuit was filed by four former wrestlers on Monday; this one didn’t call out Jordan by name, but he will almost certainly become involved if the case goes forward.)
Back home, where Jordan’s political future will be determined, local media are determined not to let him slide. “No more denials. Jim Jordan must acknowledge what he knew,” the Cleveland Plain Dealer editorialized this past weekend. Jordan has made it clear, though, that the truth will have to be pried out of him. (He says he is cooperating with independent investigators hired by Ohio State, though what he tells them may never become public.) If either or both of these lawsuits lands him in court, it will be.
Editor’s Note: This story has been revised to reflect a pair of corrections. Rep. Jim Jordan is not a member of Republican leadership in the House and the earliest accusations that Wesley Goodman harassed or assaulted young men took place two years after Goodman left Jordan’s office.