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The Columbus Dispatch (Ohio)
Nearly 38 years ago, an 18-year-old freshman sprinter on the Ohio State men's track team tensed up as the team doctor told him to drop his pants.
It was not my first sports physical, but it was my first as a college athlete. Unfortunately, it would not be my last.
I knew the drill — turn your head and cough, the quick test to check for a hernia. What I did not fully know, what I had only heard about, was that Dr. Richard Strauss had a reputation among my older teammates for conducting examinations that made them uncomfortable.
We seldom discussed details because we didn't need to. A knowing eye roll or nudge sufficed. But uncomfortable it was, perhaps because Strauss did linger a bit too long, or perhaps because I expected him to, based on my teammates' testimonials.
Four decades later, Ohio State is investigating allegations of sexual misconduct involving Strauss, who died in 2005 at age 67. The investigation is based on recent accusations and complaints by former OSU athletes, students and high school athletes. Strauss, who served as a physician with Ohio State from the late 1970s to the late '90s, also worked at the school's medical center and student health center.
As it turns out, track athletes were not alone in our anxiety.
Let me stop there, because this is important. I never felt sexually violated by Strauss in the four years he conducted my physicals. He never molested me, which is why I declined when Ohio State encouraged former athletes to contact investigators if they had suffered abuse.
But I never felt comfortable around Strauss, either, and not just because a physical is inherently awkward and unpleasant, no matter who administers it.
Yes, Strauss seemed "different" — and in the early 1980s, "different" did not fly — but that is not what should have disqualified him from examining athletes. The absolute issue is that many of us did not trust our team doctor because of his overly familiar exams that made us wonder what might happen next. And that should never be the case — not in 1980, and not today.
So why now? If Strauss' actions were so traumatic then, why wait so long to come forward? It's a fair question without an easy answer. Or at least without an answer that will appease anyone who contends that society has strayed into a "soft zone" in which 20th century questionable behavior has been politically corrected into 21st century reprehensible abuse.
My response is that the truth sets you free. In the early 1980s, many of us who came into uneasy contact with Strauss simply shrugged it off as no big deal. After being examined, we would laugh about it, devolving into bathroom humor to mask any queasiness we might have experienced.
But — and this is the crux of it — in the moment of being examined, none of us deserved to feel the way we felt, which was that an Ohio State team doctor too much enjoyed feeling us.
Three months ago, when former OSU wrestler Michael DiSabato first accused Strauss of sexual misconduct, my reaction was, "Well, in one form or another, it happened to many of us."
I wondered, however, if maybe others felt less troubled. Was I alone in having been unnerved by a doctor I should have been able to trust?
To confirm my suspicions — or be convicted of overreacting — I asked a former track teammate what he remembered about "Doc Strauss."
His answer chilled me: "I remember that I didn't want him to administer my physical — and that he seemed to enjoy administering the physicals."
Almost 40 years later, and that was my friend's immediate recollection. That means something.
It means Strauss' behavior was no secret. I don't know how much Ohio State knew of his reputation, but it is hard to believe that people in a position of power were unaware of the situation.
It also means the effects were real. And are real. We just didn't know what to do with it in 1980. Now we do, thank goodness. If you know something, speak out so others won't feel alone in their guilt and anguish. The truth sets you free, but sometimes it needs help. Sometimes you need to set the truth free, too.
Anyone with information about incidents relating to Dr. Strauss can visit compliance.osu.edu/strauss-investigation to make a report.
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