COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – The former college athletes who claim an Ohio congressman covered up sexual abuse want a political newcomer to unseat him on Nov. 8.
Some survivors of sexual violence at the hands of former Ohio State University physician Richard Strauss have taken their advocacy to Ohio’s 4th U.S. House District race, where Democratic hopeful Tamie Wilson faces an uphill struggle against incumbent Republican Jim Jordan.
Abused by the team doctor under the guise of medical exams from 1978 to 1998, the survivors – some of whom donned “#MeToo Jordan Knew” T-shirts outside Ohio Stadium on Saturday during an Ohio State football game – argued Jordan’s failure to protect them from a predator makes him unfit for office.
“Character matters,” said Wilson, of Delaware. “If this guy is going to be a part of sexual abuse, he’s not going to defend the Constitution or our country.”
Jordan, who served as an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State from 1987 to 1995, has repeatedly denied accusations that he knew of Strauss’ misconduct. His office did not respond to requests for comment by the time of publication.
When the allegations first broke in 2018, Jordan said, “The number of wrestlers who have reached out to me, who’ve said this is complete bologna, we’ve got statements that have been sent to us, people willing to help and tell the truth. We’ll continue to get that information out.”
‘Used as pawns:’ Jordan knew of abuse, survivors say
A May 2019 investigation by law firm Perkins Coie LLP detailed acts of Strauss’ sexual abuse against at least 177 former Ohio State students – information that had not yet been widely known by the public, including some Strauss survivors themselves. The firm also concluded that university personnel at the time had knowledge of complaints and concerns about Strauss’ conduct as early as 1979, but failed to investigate or act meaningfully.
Whether those acts took place in the wrestling team’s locker room showers or in Strauss’ home, hundreds of victims recalled invasive, medically unnecessary genital exams performed by Strauss from as early as 1979 to as late as 1996.
“When we were 18 years old, we were easy to manipulate and be lied to and used as pawns in a sense,” former wrestler and Strauss survivor Tom Lisy, 53, of Bay Village, said.
From young assistant coaches like Jordan to then-student health director Dr. Ted Grace, dozens of survivors said they complained about Strauss’ abuse to university officials – to no avail.
“His coverup of the OSU sexual assault is the real crime, the real slight,” Lisy said. “There’s guys I know who trained with him every day and they went through a journey together and he has completely turned his back to them.”
Lisy said it’s important to remember that Jordan, who was 23 or 24 at the time, was on the bottom of the team’s totem pole, with more powerful figures ahead of him in the hierarchy.
“That was Jim Jordan as a 20-something-year-old,” Lisy said. “Now, he’s not a 20-something-year-old anymore, and he knows what happened. Now, he’s gonna lie.”
With Strauss survivors’ support, can Wilson sail to victory?
Jordan has represented Ohio’s 4th congressional district – whose shape resembled a duck before the latest round of redistricting – since 2007.
Because lawmakers redrew Ohio’s congressional maps this year, Wilson said more than 53% of people living in Jordan’s district, U.S. House District 4, are new constituents – a stat that Wilson said is in her favor. Many of them live in the Columbus suburbs in Delaware County.
But Dr. David Niven, an associate professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati, said the district’s new shape has again been heavily gerrymandered in Jordan’s favor, giving him an expected margin of victory of 35% or more in November.
“The bottom line … Jim Jordan gets the benefit of Ohio geography, which is there’s an awful lot of Republicans in the rural, western half of Ohio,” Niven said. “And he gets the benefit of that come Election Day.”
Wilson’s association with Strauss survivors and their public opposition to Ohio State’s handling of the case could hurt her campaign as easily as it could help it, Lisy said.
Standing with a group of outspoken men who have accused the third largest public university in the U.S. of denying and concealing Strauss’ abuse could galvanize Jordan’s base, he said, uniting them further against his challenger.
“I don’t think we necessarily switch any Jordan supporters,” Lisy said. “But a lot of people who used to call themselves Republicans are probably bringing light to the character issues of Jim Jordan – that might help people like Tamie.”
Wilson’s platform could use more ‘meat,’ survivor says
If Republicans take back control of the U.S. House in November, Jordan’s name has been floated as the next Speaker, which would give him more say over which bills reach the House floor.
Given his conservative track record in Congress, some Strauss survivors are doubtful that Jordan will view sexual violence prevention legislation – like extending or repealing the statute of limitations for sex abuse – favorably.
“A big part of my platform is to reduce abuse, you know, domestic violence as well as sexual abuse, rape and all of it,” Wilson said. “And that’s why we need more women in office.”
While Jordan’s alleged knowledge of Strauss’ abuse disqualifies him as a candidate in the eyes of many survivors, Lisy said he isn’t too familiar with the first-time political contender, either.
“I don’t really know Tamie all that well,” Lisy said. “I went to her website, where are you at on all these issues – there wasn’t a lot of meat. OK, you’re beating a drum here, but what’s behind it?”
Though he said Wilson’s platform could use a bit more substance, he said Strauss survivors would ultimately consider unseating a man who allegedly turned his back on them a win.
“The reason I’m out here protesting, we’re helping someone else be empowered, we’re helping someone else not be a victim,” Lisy said. “Maybe we’re raising awareness. I’ve put up signs – that’s what I’ve got left on this thing. It was never about the money because if it was, I would have just taken the money and ran.”