“Politics has never been a place for sissies,” Jim Jordan told an Ohio sports magazine a few years back. For a quarter-century, since he first won a seat in the state legislature while coaching wrestling at Ohio State, the leader of the House Freedom Caucus has built his entire political franchise on being the polar opposite of a “sissy” – a loud, scrappy, often-brutal champion for “traditional values” and “normal people,” bravely combatting the scourges of same-sex marriage, women’s reproductive rights, immigration, public assistance, Hillary Clinton, the IRS, the FBI, establishment Republicans, and the effete and godless liberal media (to name a few). His high-pitched displays of macho bluster and Christian moralizing have made Jordan “the perfect incarnation of the GOP in 2018,” as Jennifer Rubin observed not long ago at The Washington Post: “unhinged, bullying, unbound by facts and unconcerned with the norms of democratic government.” Fellow Ohioan John Boehner, the former Republican House speaker, put it more succinctly last year in a Politico interview, calling Jordan an “asshole” and “a legislative terrorist.”
Since he arrived in Washington in 2007, Jordan has put a particular emphasis on his disdain for queer folk as he’s risen to House leadership. It’s never been enough for him to mouth the usual platitudes about “traditional marriage” and Christian values; Jordan prefers the grand gesture, like inviting Kim Davis, the Kentucky registrar who was jailed for refusing to register same-sex couples, to the 2016 State of the Union. Or trying, in 2011, to overturn same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia through congressional action. Or loudly withdrawing from a speaking slot at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) because a gay conservative group was permitted to attend.
Now, on the cusp of a longshot bid for House speaker, Jordan stands accused of turning a blind eye for eight years while his Ohio State wrestlers were sexually abused, routinely and repeatedly, by the team doctor. So far, at least nine former wrestlers have come forward publicly, joining the members of 13 other OSU athletic teams in accusing Richard Strauss (since deceased), who treated athletes at the university from 1978 to 1998, of groping or raping them – while coaches like Jordan did nothing to stop him. NBC News estimates the number of abused men may rise to “1,500 to 2,000,” dwarfing even the number of victims (more than 300) of women’s gymnastics doctor Larry Nasser at Michigan State.
Jordan insists that he knew nothing. “I never saw, never heard of, never was told about any kind of abuse,” he told Fox News. “If I had I would have dealt with it. A good coach puts the interests of his student-athletes first.”
His wrestlers – even the few who’ve come forward to publicly defend him in recent days – all agree that he’s lying. “It was very common knowledge in the locker room that if you went to Dr. Strauss for anything, you would have to pull your pants down,” one ex-wrestler, Shawn Daily, told NBC News. “For God’s sake, Strauss’s locker was right next to Jordan’s,” said Dunyasha Yetts, who wrestled at Ohio State in 1993 and 1994 (the same year Jordan rode his All-American wrestling renown to a seat in the state legislature). “Jordan even said he’d kill him if he tried anything with him.” The future congressman was hardly the kind of coach who distances himself from his athletes; as Politico reports, he “used to work out with the students and use the sauna with them, even creating his own jocular ‘King of the Sauna’ award at the end of the year for the wrestler who was best at trash talking his opponents and boasting of his successes post-practice.” One of their frequent topics of conversation, the athletes all agree, was the serial-molesting “Doc Strauss.” As former UFC champion Mark Coleman told The Wall Street Journal, “There’s no way unless he’s got dementia or something that he’s got no recollection of what was going on.”
The wrestlers didn’t come forward because they wanted to attack Jordan or lay blame on him. He was their hero, mentor, and friend, they say, and when they were motivated by the Nasser scandal and the Me Too movement to finally come forward and tell their stories, they expected him to help them, to add his voice and lend credibility to their allegations against Strauss and OSU. “We don’t blame Jimmy,” said one of Jordan’s former wrestlers, Michael Alf. “But the guys are saying, ‘Jim, why didn’t you just tell that you heard about this as it was going along? We know you were young and you didn’t put it together.’”
But they didn’t reckon on the kind of man Jim Jordan had become. Rather than lending his credibility to their accusations, he’s responded by slandering the wrestlers in the media, mock-pitying them (“I feel sorry for him,” he said of Coleman, the UFC champ), and claiming they’re being paid by mysterious forces to destroy him. Jordan, an aide told reporters, feels he’s being “bullied” by his former charges. Mike DiSabato, the first wrestler to come forward, scoffed at that. “Jim Jordan is a world-class athlete who is very aggressive in his actions – he’s a bulldog, let’s be honest,” he told CNN. “So for him to say he was being bullied by Mike DiSabato is somewhat laughable.”
The far right has (mostly) circled its wagons behind its hero, however. “I believe him,” said President Trump soon after the allegations began to surface. “Jim Jordan is under attack, with false accusations, because he threatens the elite,” Ginni Thomas, spouse of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, wrote on Facebook. House Speaker Paul Ryan called Jordan “a man of honesty, a man of integrity.” Kevin McCarthy, in line to be the next House speaker, said on Tuesday: “Jim and I came into Congress together 12 years ago and I have always found him to be a good and honest man. I believe Jim when he says if faced with charges of abuse, he absolutely would have acted.” Freedom Caucus bomb-thrower Matt Gaetz told Lou Dobbs that the wrestlers “are people that have some loose affiliation with the deep state that are out to get Jim Jordan, and this is the way they are manifesting their hatred for a man who is doing everything to fight for the regular folks in this country.”
Others, like Louie Gohmert of Texas, chose to suggest that the wrestlers are either liars or weaklings who shouldn’t have let themselves be molested, if in fact they really were: “Unlike the Olympians who were minor children at the time they were abused, these former wrestlers were adults at the time they claim they were sexually abused,” Gohmert spewed forth in a statement defending his buddy.
Last Wednesday, like clockwork, Jordan took to Twitter to claim he was the victim of “fake news” outlets like CNN:
— Rep. Jim Jordan (@Jim_Jordan) July 11, 2018
Among many others, singer John Legend pointed out that such a thorough investigation is the precise opposite of fake news:
Definition of real news: calling a bunch of sources so you're confident that you're getting to the truth. Definition of fake news: making shit up to fit your narrative. My fellow Ohioan seems to be a bit confused. https://t.co/raf2665zEK
— John Legend (@johnlegend) July 11, 2018
Jordan’s aggressive response has been perfectly in character. But on another level, for a politician of such prominence, it seems utterly inexplicable. The allegations, after all, were not against Jordan, but against the team doctor. The wrestlers wanted his help. His best PR move was so obvious, the script writes itself: “Yes, I was aware that Doctor Strauss had a reputation for touching athletes inappropriately, from jokes and rumors I heard in the locker room. At the time, I didn’t understand that this indicated sexual abuse. I should have taken it seriously and stood up for my student-athletes. I deeply regret the pain they’ve suffered, and I’m going to do everything I can to help the victims going forward.” Easy-peasy. No scandal at all. Jim Jordan would still get to look like a stand-up dude.
So why couldn’t Jordan bring himself to say that one simple thing that would have immediately exonerated him, given him a halo rather than horns, and allowed him to move on to his long-shot bid for House speaker? Maybe he’s simply become so addicted to lying and right-wing victimology that he went straight into Freedom Caucus default mode, as former Republican consultant Steve Schmidt suggested in a series of exasperated tweets:
The lives of many young men were profoundly devastated by the sexual abuse they were subjected to in the Ohio State wresting program. Jim Jordan’s lies and cowardice are another form of abuse against the victims. Looking forward to seeing his smirk get wiped off his face.
— Steve Schmidt (@SteveSchmidtSES) July 11, 2018
But it has to go deeper than that. A politician as practiced as Jim Jordan in the dark arts of right-wing public relations does not commit unassisted political suicide – which he almost certainly has – just because he’s incapable of telling the truth, or because he’s a world-class jerk. For the Twitterverse, which spent the past week snickering at “#GymJordan,” the “King of the Sauna,” the obvious explanation, of course, is that Jordan is covering up his own hidden homosexuality or, far worse, that he may have participated in the abuse himself. There’s no evidence of either – but Jordan should have known he was opening himself up to practically everyone on Earth suspecting it. If Jordan was hiding his own sexuality under his blustering macho moralism, though, you’d expect that he’d be pretty darn skilled at it by now, hardly prone to making such a rookie mistake.
It seems more likely that it was Jordan’s swaggering, posturing machismo and virulent homophobia that led him to commit unassisted harakiri. He knew the whole notion of wrestlers being molested would bring immediately to mind the disgraced former GOP House Speaker Dennis Hastert, the wrestling coach who molested countless boys on his Illinois high-school team before becoming a moral crusader in Congress. Jordan surely couldn’t bear the thought of being lumped in with the disgraced Hastert, whom a judge declared a “serial child molester” during his sentencing.
Jordan’s reaction was also warped, no doubt, by the fact that his former aide, Wesley Goodman – an Ohio state representative who previously worked in Jordan’s Washington office for six years – has recently been accused of serial sexual misconduct. The scandal erupted in Ohio last November after Goodman, a straight-married man whom Jordan had endorsed for a seat in the statehouse, was caught having sex in his office with another man – and was then revealed to have been one of the most infamous and widely known predators in Washington, going after young conservative college students under the guise of “mentoring” them. (Goodman was Jordan’s point man on the attempt to quash D.C.’s same-sex marriage law, among other things. Layers upon layers…) If Jordan lost his little mind when his former wrestlers began to tell their stories, it surely had something to do with fears of his Goodman connection gaining far more national exposure than it received last fall.
But I think Jordan’s denials go deeper still – straight to the heart of everything that’s wrong with the “traditional masculinity” that Jordan has so ably and eagerly embodied for so long. Jordan must have assumed, when DiSabato began emailing him “begging for help” in April, that none of his other former wrestlers – or very few – would ever dare to come forward and admit they’d been abused. These are men, after all! In Jordan’s world, the idea that a bunch of jocks would publicly admit they were “weak” enough to be repeatedly assaulted by some queer doctor would seem inconceivable. DiSabato, as Jordan knew, had some ugly marks on his personal record (who knew that abuse could cause people to have problems later in life!?), and he surely figured he could swat away his accusations with ease. When Jordan began to issue his blanket denials in public – saw nothing, heard nothing, knew nothing – DiSabato was still the only team member to go public. Now there are nine, and counting.
Not many people – even conservatives in Congress – will mourn for Jim Jordan if he has, indeed, sabotaged his career. Nobody more richly deserves to be laughed out of Washington and permanently tarnished as the liar and moral coward Jordan has long shown himself to be. Justice happens sometimes, even in Trumpworld.
But even if Jordan’s dreams of House leadership are over, it’s conceivable that he won’t go the way of Rep. Elizabeth Esty or even Sen. Al Franken – that he’ll retain his seat in a heavily gerrymandered Ohio district and continue to be a congressional terrorist for years to come. If that happens, it’ll send a strong signal that the sexual abuse of men is still considered a non-issue, a Thing We Don’t Talk About – despite the fact that 38 percent of sexual-abuse victims, in one recent survey, are men.
Even a measure of justice for Jordan won’t necessarily translate to justice for the hundreds of men alleging abuse at Ohio State – or to a clear victory for the male version of #MeToo. On the one hand, it would send a potent message that a man as powerful as Jordan can be brought low for ignoring sexual abuse on his watch. But the wrestlers who’ve come forward have been assaulted all over again by Jordan and his defenders, and in the most public of ways – on cable TV, in the halls of Congress, all across social media. Will this case ultimately make it easier for men to speak up, or even more reluctant? Men have typically been more wary of reporting their abuse; the stigma, in a society that venerates Jim Jordan’s towel-snapping brand of machismo, is too much for some. “I worry that many other men watching this will remain silent,” Michael Arceneaux writes at NBC.com, “assuming the powers that be will work as feverishly to deny their efforts” as they have in this instance.
Being sexually abused by another man makes victims question their own virility, and – if they’re straight – their own sexuality. And they know what people will think. Why didn’t you kick the shit out of the guy? I would have. How could you be such a pussy? And now, at the very moment when a record number of men are coming forward at Ohio State, Jordan and his repugnant defenders have reinforced that message:
Imagine getting molested, holding the shame for decades, going public, and then being accused by a congressman of fabricating a plot in concert with nefarious government officials. https://t.co/YDyQsF5MxM
— Tim Miller (@Timodc) July 12, 2018
The real coward of this story – the real pussy – is, thankfully, obvious to most who aren’t House Republicans or their reflexive apologists. Jim Jordan’s homophobia, his paranoia and professional victimhood, his aggressive dishonesty, and his bullying were precisely the qualities that fueled his rise, that made him the white knight of the extremist right. Now they’ve come back to haunt him. For the rest of his life, Gym Jordan will be remembered as the King of the Sauna – a lying, sniveling, say-what’s-convenient coward, a preening patriarch who abandoned his comrades when they needed him most. Traditional masculinity is toxic indeed. And Jim Jordan drank the hemlock.