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A former Ohio State wrestler who has staunchly defended U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said that the "conversations in a locker room" that Jordan admitted Friday he'd heard during his days as an assistant coach involved wrestlers saying "prepare to drop your pants" when they talked about going to see team doctor Richard Strauss.
In a lengthy phone interview with USA TODAY on Sunday, Michael Alf, who wrestled at Ohio State from 1988 to 1992, continually praised Jordan, his assistant coach who has been accused by seven former wrestlers of knowing about and failing to stop Strauss from molesting athletes.
When asked for examples of the locker room conversations that Jordan mentioned, Alf said:
"If someone said, 'Oh, I've got to go see Doc Strauss,' it would be like, 'Oh, prepare to drop your pants,'" said Alf, now a 48-year-old car dealer in suburban Chicago. "That was the locker room talk. I'm going to see Doc Strauss. It was always the joke, prepare to drop your pants. We kind of all said it."
After several days of outright denials by Jordan that he had heard about allegations of sexual misconduct in the wrestling program, he revised his account Friday when he told Fox News that "conversations in a locker room are a lot different than allegations of abuse."
An email to Jordan's communications director Ian Fury Monday afternoon seeking comment on Alf's characterization was not returned.
"Did he make a mistake and not put it together?" Alf said of Jordan in a follow-up interview on Monday. "That could be the situation here. ... Things are out and I want to make sure the true story is being told, whether that is helpful to the other athletes or defending Jimmy or not. Maybe I'm not helping Jimmy out, but I'm not going to lie. I'm going to tell the truth. I'm not going to lie for anybody."
Alf said that after our Sunday conversation, he was part of a conference call of several former Ohio State wrestlers who have supported Jordan. "We don't blame Jimmy, but the guys are saying, 'Jim, why don't you just tell that you heard about this as it was going along? We know you were young and you didn't put it together.'"
The seven other former Ohio State wrestlers who have come forward in the past week say Jordan, who was Ohio State's assistant wrestling coach from 1986 to 1994, knew Strauss was molesting student-athletes and failed to do anything to stop him. Jordan has denied those allegations.
Alf said repeatedly in our two interviews that he remains on Jordan's side. "Jimmy cared about me. He always looked out for me and all of us and would do anything for us," he said.
"But I'm sure Jimmy wasn't planning to get pulled into this. He's maybe not using the right choice of words or worried if he says something that he doesn't mean, it could be taken out of context. I can't say what Jimmy Jordan is thinking."
Alf and I were connected by his brother, who got in touch with me on Twitter on Saturday, saying he was concerned about how Jordan had become the focus of the Ohio State scandal in the news media.
Locker room comments made by wrestlers regarding inappropriate behavior that were overheard by Jordan should have prompted action, says Nancy Hogshead-Makar, an advocate for victims of sexual abuse, the CEO of the legal advocacy group Champion Women and a three-time Olympic gold medalist in swimming.
"A locker room disclosure should have made a coach more responsive, not less," she wrote in an email Monday. "It's a place of belonging and camaraderie, a sacred space where athletes can let their guard down. If a wrestler joked that they'd binged on pizza and wouldn't make weight for the next match, a coach would take the disclosure seriously and address it, no matter how funny the wrestler's depiction might have been.
"Sexual abuse is a serious risk to athletes' health and well-being, and deserves at least as somber a response, even when it comes out as part of team banter. The 'locker room talk' about how frequently Ohio State athletes were told to drop their shorts should have protected these guys. In locker room style, these men were begging for help from leadership, and it never came."
I asked Alf how many times he thought Jordan might have heard the players talk about "dropping their pants." On Sunday, Alf said that Jordan would have heard those comments "numerous times," but when I checked that quote with him on Monday, Alf said, "To say he heard it, it might be a possibility. It was talked about in the locker room."
Alf said that over the course of his Ohio State career, he was asked by Strauss to take off his pants "dozens of times. It was routine. You didn't even question it. Doc would say take your pants off."
Strauss committed suicide in 2005. Former athletes from 14 sports, including the wrestling team, have reported sexual abuse by Strauss in an ongoing Ohio State investigation.
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