COLUMBUS (AP/WCMH) — Several ex-wrestlers at Ohio State University on Tuesday countered allegations that U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan turned a blind eye to alleged abuse of athletes by a former university team doctor decades ago.
Some ex-wrestlers from the late 1980s and early 1990s have said in recent weeks they were inappropriately groped by doctor Richard Strauss during medical exams, and that Strauss participated in odd behavior such as showering with athletes from different teams several times a day.
Some of the accusers have said Jordan knew about the alleged abuse when he worked as an assistant coach from 1987 to 1995. Jordan, founder of the conservative Freedom Caucus and potential contender for House speaker, denies that and has said he and other coaches would have reported any alleged abuse brought to their attention.
Independent investigators commissioned by the university are reviewing allegations against Strauss by men from 14 sports and are also looking into his work for student health services and at his off-campus medical clinic.
Ohio State has said more than 150 former athletes and witnesses have been interviewed so far, and the school has urged anyone with information to contact the investigators from the Seattle-based law firm Perkins Coie.
Statements from 14 individuals released by a Virginia public relations firm Tuesday include comments from wrestlers who say they knew nothing of the allegations against Strauss, and those who acknowledge possible issues with the doctor at the focus of an investigation.
All back Jordan’s assertion he knew nothing of the alleged abuse when he was an assistant coach.
Strauss “conducted his transgressions behind closed doors and regretfully, I never told anyone except for my father. Jim Jordan is an honorable man that does not deserve this unwarranted attention,” Matt Mondalek, who wrestled at the school from 1995 to 1999, said in a statement released by PR firm Shirley and Banister.
Andy Stickley, a wrestler from 1983 to 1987, said he never heard a teammate say they’d been abused by Strauss.
“Not only was Jim a great wrestling coach, but he has also consistently proven to be a man of highest integrity and certainly would not have turned his back on any wrong-doing,” Stickley said in his statement.
One of the 14, Jim Picolo, who wrestled at Ohio State from 1982-87, told The Associated Press Tuesday he never heard about any abuse by Strauss. However, he did think the doctor was a bit odd.
“The only thing I remember is him showering a lot with different teams,” Picolo said.
He and Jordan trained together when both were in high school, and Jordan later became an assistant coach at Ohio State during Picolo’s senior year. He came to consider Jordan and head coach Russ Hellickson as friends.
“They fought for us in a lot of different ways on many occasions,” Picolo said. “If anyone had acted in that manner toward us, they would have taken action.”
Another of the 14, George Pardos, told NBC4 he too was unaware of any abuse during his time at Ohio State, from 1988-1993. Pardos said he does not believe Jordan was aware of it either.
“To not do something about one of his athletes getting, let’s say sexually abused and not do something would just be out of character,” Pardos said of the congressman.
On Monday, six former Ohio State wrestling coaches defended Jordan in a joint statement that said none of them was aware of abuse of wrestlers.
Also Monday, a watchdog group and a former special counsel to President Barack Obama sought an ethics review of Jordan . The request to the Office of Congressional Ethics said questions of dishonesty can bring discredit to the House in violation of House rules.
Strauss died in 2005, and it was ruled a suicide.
His family was shocked to learn of the allegations from news reports and is cooperating with the school’s independent investigation, according to a family statement over the weekend.