Home Top Stories Faced with more lawsuits, Ohio State denies covering up sex abuse scandal years after paying out millions in damages

Faced with more lawsuits, Ohio State denies covering up sex abuse scandal years after paying out millions in damages

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Faced with more lawsuits, Ohio State denies covering up sex abuse scandal years after paying out millions in damages

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Ohio State University has paid out $60 million in settlement money in the last few years to hundreds of former students and athletes who say they were sexually abused decades ago by a school doctor.

Its former president has publicly apologized “to each person who endured” abuse at the hands of the late Dr. Richard Strauss.

And the university has repeatedly said it was on the side of the hundreds of men that Strauss preyed on from the 1970s to the 1990s, mostly under the guise of performing medical exams like hernia checks, which require a doctor to examine a patient’s genitals.

But faced with at least five more lawsuits from some 236 men alleging they too were molested by Strauss, OSU is now denying it ever “admitted” to any wrongdoing.

Image: Dr. Richard Strauss
Dr. Richard Strauss from a 1978 Ohio State University employment application.Ohio State University via AP

In a response to the lawsuits filed Tuesday in the federal court for the Southern District of Ohio by OSU’s attorney Michael H. Carpenter, the university says now it never admitted “Dr. Strauss committed 1,429 sexual assaults and 47 rapes.” The settlements that the university paid out were without admission of liability and were reached through mediation.

It also denies covering up the abuses by Strauss, who died by suicide in 2005, and said it cannot corroborate the conclusions of the independent law firm picked to probe the scandal, Perkins Coie, which declared in its 2019 report that OSU coaches and administrators knew for two decades that Strauss was molesting male students but failed to stop him. 

The university issued an apology following the release of the report saying, “Our institution’s fundamental failure at the time to prevent this abuse was unacceptable — as were the inadequate efforts to thoroughly investigate complaints raised by students and staff members.”

And as for the abuse claims of the hundreds of students whose lawsuits are outstanding against the university, “Ohio State states is it without knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief as the truth of the remaining allegations.”

In addition, OSU requested in the court papers that the former students suing the school pay the school’s legal fees.

Strauss survivor Steve Snyder-Hill, one of the men suing OSU, called the university’s demand that they shoulder the legal costs “a slap in the face.” But what he said truly angers him is the suggestion in the court papers that some of their claims should be dismissed because they didn’t realize at the time they were being sexually abused.

“That is an insult to the #MeToo movement and blatantly spits in the face of every person who experienced sexual assault,” Snyder-Hill said.

Former OSU wrestler and Strauss victim Tom Lisy wasn’t surprised and said he “expected Ohio State to lie in their filing.”

“They have done it throughout to protect their brand,” he said. “That’s why they covered up Strauss from the beginning.”

Matt Reed, a former OSU gymnast suing the school, said he was “disgusted with the continuing lies and victimization” of Strauss victims by the university and by Ohio Attorney General David Yost, whose name appears at the bottom of the answer. 

“I expected Ohio State to continue the war against us,” Reed said. “I did not expect a complete denial.”

Ohio State spokesman Ben Johnson declined to answer specific questions about the university’s response. “The court filings speak for themselves,” he said via email.

Neither Carpenter nor Yost responded to requests for comment by phone and email from NBC News.

Legal experts said it’s not uncommon for defendants to deny allegations in a complaint after a case against them moves forward. In this case, it was the Supreme Court that pushed the case forward in June by refusing OSU’s request to reconsider a lower court ruling that said former students should be allowed to sue the school for failing to protect them from Strauss in the 1980s and 1990s.

But OSU’s fresh denials come more than four years after then-university president Michael V. Drake expressed, on behalf of OSU, “profound regret and sincere apologies” to the Strauss victims and praised “the strength and courage of (the) survivors.”

“The difference between the answer and OSU’s public position is still striking,” said Ilann Maazel, one of the attorneys involved in the remaining lawsuits against the university.

Tommy James, an attorney who has taken on big institutions like the Alabama Department of Youth Services, said he’s seen language like this before.

“Even when defendants, such as Ohio State, have previously acknowledged a failure to prevent abuse, they frequently deny similar allegations involving the same perpetrators in subsequent lawsuits,” said James, who is not involved in any of the lawsuits against OSU.

Rocky Ratliff, a former Ohio State wrestler and Strauss victim who is also a lawyer representing some of the plaintiffs, said OSU lacks “a moral compass and they continue to demean and belittle survivors.”

“It’s disappointing that the school that we love and have bled for keeps fighting against its most loyal alumni while pretending to care,” added Will Knight, another former OSU wrestler who says he was abused by Strauss and is suing OSU.

Ohio State has been playing defense since 2018 when whistleblower and former OSU wrestler Mike DiSabato came forward with allegations that Strauss molested him and many of his teammates during physicals.

The scandal spread to Washington, D.C., when DiSabato and several other wrestlers accused their former assistant coach, powerful Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, of turning a blind eye to Strauss’ abuses.

Jordan, who is named in several of the lawsuits filed against OSU, has repeatedly denied any knowledge of what Strauss was doing. And he continued to reiterate that story on Tuesday when Ratliff and three other former OSU wrestlers told NBC News that Jordan betrayed them and that he lacks the necessary “character” to be the next speaker of the House, a nomination Jordan secured Friday following a vote by House Republicans. But his future in getting the required number of votes on the floor remains uncertain.

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