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Richard Strauss Accusers Say Independent Report Provides 'Validation'

Brian Garrett at his home in Powell, Ohio. Garrett is one of the lead plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Ohio State.
Mike Householder
Associated Press
Brian Garrett at his home in Powell, Ohio. Garrett is one of the lead plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Ohio State.

An independent report says The Ohio State University officials heard complaints of sexual abuse by former team doctor Richard Strauss as early as 1979 and failed to properly act.

After more than a year of work, investigators released a damning 200-plus page report of Struass’ tenure at Ohio State. The report states Strauss abused at least 177 men under the auspices of providing medical care.  It goes on to say students began complaining as early as 1979—only about a year into Strauss’ tenure at the school.

“This is amazing. I mean it’s what we said—you know, he abused all these people and university officials repeatedly failed to investigate or act on complaints,” says Brian Garrett, one of the lead plaintiffs in a lawsuit regarding Strauss.

The reportcame out Friday, just after a bill was filed in the state legislature to remove the statute of limitations in the civil case against Ohio State. Dozens of men have sued Ohio State, saying school officials knew about and declined to act on reports of abuse by Strauss.

“It’s what we’ve been saying—they’ve failed to act—investigate or act, and now we have validation,” Garrett says.

University president Michael Drake called the findings “shocking and painful to comprehend.”

"We find that there were multiple people who over many, many years failed to meet their minimum responsibilities to ensure student safety, and this is inexplicable and inexcusable in my book," Drake said in an interview Friday.

The independent investigation says Strauss’ boss, former head team physician Bob Murphy, began fielding complaints about the doctor from student trainers in the late 1970s. Strauss’ behavior over the next 20 years was an “open secret,” according to the report.

At least 22 coaches confirmed they were aware of rumors or complaints about the doctor, but the report doesn’t name them, noting investigators couldn’t find documentary evidence.

In 1994, former head team physician John Lombardo wrote a letter about Strauss to then-associate athletic director Paul Krebs detailing concerns about unnecessary genital exams raised by the fencing coach. In the letter, Lombardo told Krebs he talked to the coach and decided her concerns were based on rumors.

The case wasn’t reported outside the athletic department, and Strauss “voluntarily” stepped down as the fencing team doctor. He continued to work at the Student Health Center.

Ohio State released Strauss’ employment records last June. They depict a physician well-liked by his supervisors who progressed to a tenured faculty position at Ohio State.

But the independent investigation shows that, despite repeated complaints of Strauss engaging in medically unnecessary genital exams, “no meaningful action was taken by the university to investigate or address concerns until January 1996.”

That action came after Steven Snyder-Hill’s visit to the Student Health Center.

“I felt that this doctor had all the power, and I just sat there and had to—I mean, it’s you just kind glaze over and you let this stuff happen to you and you know it’s not right, you feel like that you should stop it, but you don’t know what to do,” Snyder-Hill says. “You just don’t prepare yourself for that.”

Snyder-Hill reported Strauss, and insisted on documenting the interaction. He says he had no idea about previous complaints.

“If I had known that, I can tell you that my actions back then would’ve been so much more—I wouldn’t have given them an inch,” Snyder-Hill says.

A year after Snyder-Hill’s complaint, another student reported Strauss. This time, the school placed him on administrative leave. Strauss got a lawyer and threatened legal action against the student and the university. No students were included in the resulting disciplinary hearing.

Strauss was dropped from Student Health Services and his role in the Athletics Department in 1996, but the school kept him on as a tenured professor until he retired with emeritus status in 1998.

Nothing about those complaints or discipline against Strauss was included in the employee files the university released.

President Drake doesn't have an answer for why not.

"I couldn't answer how or what was done 20 years ago or 25 years ago," Drake says. "As I said earlier, some of the things that we found are inexplicable from my point of view."

I asked him if those records would be part of employee files now. He allowed there could be exceptions,"but I would say that we would want those records to be complete, yes."

In his letter to students, Drake says the school has begun the process to revoke the emeritus status it conferred on Strauss. Strauss died of an apparent suicide in 2005.

This story has been updated. 

Nick Evans was a reporter at WOSU's 89.7 NPR News. He spent four years in Tallahassee, Florida covering state government before joining the team at WOSU.