U.S. Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH), who is vying for the position of Speaker of the House, walks to a House Republican Conference meeting as Republicans work towards electing a new Speaker of the House on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., October 9, 2023.
Evelyn Hockstein | Reuters
Four of the former Ohio State University wrestlers who have accused Rep. Jim Jordan of failing to protect them from a sexual predator when he was the team’s assistant coach in the 1980s and ’90s said Tuesday he has no business being the next speaker of the House.
“Do you really want a guy in that job who chose not to stand up for his guys?” said former OSU wrestler Mike Schyck, one of the hundreds of former athletes and students who say they were sexually abused by school doctor Richard Strauss and have sued the university. “Is that the kind of character trait you want for a House speaker?”
The wrestlers’ decisions to weigh in adds a new dimension to the speaker race, bringing in a controversial part of Jordan’s past that continues to hang over the Ohio Republican and staunch ally of former President Donald Trump.
So far, the OSU affair hasn’t received much focus — one GOP congresswoman recently said she wasn’t even aware of the allegations — but it could continue to follow Jordan. Even if he becomes speaker, there’s a chance he could be deposed in one of the lawsuits.
Jordan is the only declared candidate competing against House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., for the top job in Congress — a post that opened up after an internal GOP revolt ousted Rep. Kevin McCarthy.
The House speaker is also second in the presidential line of succession, after the vice president.
Dunyasha Yetts, another former OSU wrestler who has publicly and repeatedly accused Jordan of lying about not knowing what Strauss was doing to the athletes, said the congressman’s “hypocrisy is unbelievable.”
“He doesn’t deserve to be House speaker,” Yetts said. “He still has to answer for what happened to us.”
Rocky Ratliff, a former OSU wrestler and alleged Strauss victim who is also a lawyer representing some of the plaintiffs suing the school, said Jordan “abandoned his former wrestlers in the Ohio State sexual abuse scandal and cover-up.”
Jordan — who won Trump’s endorsement and has used his post as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee to aggressively investigate President Joe Biden and his family — has repeatedly denied any knowledge of sexual abuse by Strauss when Jordan coached at OSU from 1986 to 1994, including overhearing any locker room banter about abuse.
NBC News reached out to Jordan’s spokesman, Russell Dye, for comment about the congressman’s former wrestlers criticizing his bid to become House speaker. He did not immediately respond.
Another former OSU wrestler, who has only been identified as John Doe in the latest lawsuit against the university, said he believes Jordan “is qualified for the position” but was reluctant to endorse him.
“My problem with Jimmy is that he has been playing with words instead of supporting us,” Doe said. “None of us used the words ‘sexual abuse’ when we talked about what Doc Strauss was doing to us, we just knew it was weird and Jimmy knew about it because we talked about it all the time in the locker room, at practices, everywhere.”
Strauss, who died in 2005, was accused of preying on hundreds of men who attended the university from the 1970s through the 1990s, mostly under the guise of performing medical exams like hernia checks, which require a doctor to examine a patient’s genitals.
OSU has admitted it failed to protect students from Strauss and has already paid out $60 million in settlement money to 296 victims. And in June, the U.S. Supreme Court stymied OSU’s attempt to dismiss the remaining lawsuits against the school.
Jordan was mentioned by name in the complaints filed with the federal court for the Southern District of Ohio in 2019, and he was also mentioned in some of the earlier lawsuits.
In the 2019 lawsuit, John Doe 23 says that he was present when other athletes were discussing Dr. Strauss’ intrusive exams and that “these discussions occurred in front of Coach Hellickson and Assistant Coach Jordan.”
Ratliff, who along with Schyck and John Doe is part of the remaining lawsuit against OSU, said he plans to depose Jordan and have him testify under oath that he was unaware that Strauss was abusing students.
“His locker was just a few spots away from mine and mine was near Dr. Strauss,'” Schyck said. “And we were always talking about Dr. Strauss. There’s no way he didn’t know what was going on.”
Ohio State found itself on the defensive after a whistleblower, former OSU wrestler Mike DiSabato, came forward early in 2018 with allegations that Strauss molested him and some of his teammates during physicals.
But the Strauss scandal did not become a national story until July 3, 2018, when DiSabato and several other former Ohio State wrestlers told NBC News that Jordan had refused to help them take on OSU — and that Jordan was lying when he insisted he had been unaware of the alleged abuse by the team doctor.
Yetts, in the NBC News report, said Jordan had to have known. He said that when he went to Strauss with a thumb injury and the doctor tried to pull down his pants, he immediately told Jordan and then-head wrestling coach Russ Hellickson. He said they then went in to speak with Strauss.
Schyck, Ratliff, John Doe and several other former wrestlers have all said Jordan was aware that the athletes referred to Strauss as “Dr. Cough” because every time they went to see him he insisted on checking for hernias.
“It was an open secret,” Ratliff said in an earlier interview. “Everybody talked about Strauss. Everybody knew if you went to him, the first thing he would do is take down your pants. Everybody knew he was taking unnecessary showers with the team. His locker was near Jimmy’s locker.”
Jordan, who in 2018 was being touted as a possible replacement for the then-Speaker Paul Ryan, responded with repeated denials even after DiSabato and other wrestlers came forward to say the Jordan couldn’t have avoided the rumors “because it was all over the locker room.”
The embattled congressman also enlisted the help of a conservative group and Hellickson to help line up other former OSU wrestlers to provide testimonials on his behalf.
In 2019, an independent investigation by the Perkins Coie law firm concluded that coaches and athletic administrators at the university knew for two decades that Strauss was molesting male athletes and other students but failed to sound the alarm or stop him. All of the coaches and administrators names were redacted in the version of the report released to the public.
Jordan’s then-communications director, Ian Fury, insisted the report absolved the congressman.
Schyck said he is a Republican and that, before the scandal erupted, Jordan “was somebody I revered, somebody I looked up to.”
“He put himself in this position,” Schyck said. “If early on he jumped in on our side and validated what we were saying, what everybody knew about what Dr. Strauss was doing to us, then this wouldn’t be happening. But he decided early on, for reasons I still don’t understand, that he was going to deny knowing anything about this.”
“Now he’s got no choice but to stick to this story that he had no idea what Dr. Strauss was doing, even though it’s a lie,” Schyck said.