After decades of silence, one of perhaps hundreds of sexual misconduct victims of an Ohio State University team doctor is speaking out for the first time, hoping his story serves as a lesson.
The numbers are staggering: nearly 50 instances of rape, almost 1,500 cases of fondling.
Those new numbers detail how widespread sexual abuse was at the hands of an Ohio State University's Dr. Richard Strauss. Many of the accusers are former OSU athletes.
One of those shared the story he kept hidden for decades.
For 14 years, he's been a trusted name in Grand Rapids, Michigan. But for years, Mike Avery, a news anchor for E.W. Scripps-owned FOX17, hid a secret.
“I just buried it, because who was I going to tell?” Avery said in an interview with News 5’s Scott Noll.
The secret he kept to himself was what he says happened behind the closed door of an exam room.
“I went in there for a physical, but it was something way different,” Avery said.
Avery was a four-year letterman for Ohio State's lacrosse team. He said almost as soon as he set foot on campus, he heard the whispers.
“...that Strauss' physicals were a little bit different, and so I had no idea what that meant until I actually went into the training room," Avery said.
That's where Avery said he was molested by Strauss, the team doctor. Not once, but each time he saw the doctor — for four years. Many of the details of what Avery said happened are extremely graphic.
“When I left, I was pretty confused about what had just happened and why this happened,” Avery said. “I remember saying to one of my teammates, when I came out, I said, ‘I feel like I’ve been assaulted.’”
He said it was the last time he said anything about it for more than 30 years.
“I was a poor kid, so I’m in school and being able to play lacrosse allowed me to do that,” Avery said.
Avery said he was worried that Strauss “could easily say ‘He's not healthy, he can't play.’ So not only would he affect me not playing the game of lacrosse that I love, he would also hurt my future.”
Avery is now one of more than 300 former students filing claims against Ohio State, alleging the school knew of complaints against Strauss but failed to protect students.
“He was an aggressive, serial, sexual predator,” said Dennis Mulvihill, an attorney with the law firm Wright & Schulte. He represents about 145 former students who say they're victims of Strauss, who killed himself in 2005.
“He had access, over a 20-year period, to every varsity athlete that came through Ohio State,” Mulvihill said. “As far as we can tell, he molested many, if not most of them.”
An independent review released earlier this year found university personnel had knowledge of what it called "Strauss' sexually abusive treatment of male student patients as early as 1979."
But Strauss was allowed to continue practicing on campus for another 17 years. The investigators found that Strauss sexually abused at least 177 different students.
“The failure by Ohio State to protect these athletes is the greatest failure in NCAA history,” Mulvihill said. “They had the greatest, most serious sexual predator on their campus for 20 years and did nothing to stop him.”
In a statement, University President Dr. Michael Drake said, in part, "On behalf of the university, we offer our profound regret and sincere apologies to each person who endured Strauss’ abuse. Our institution’s fundamental failure at the time to prevent this abuse was unacceptable - as were the inadequate efforts to thoroughly investigate complaints raised by students and staff members."
This abuse has left former athletes like Avery scared and angry.
“Because I had buried it for so long, I had some issues,” Avery said. “It affected my family, my marriage and so, I just couldn't believe I had to face this.”
Now a father of two teens, Avery hopes his story serves as a lesson.
“If somebody wrongs you, you need to speak up and do something about it,” he said. “I didn't. I kept it to myself for 30 years.”
Avery said he never wants to see another school use the silence of victims as a shield.
“There's got to be some kind of a platform or something done out there that can say, hey, I'm going to send my kids off to school and they're going to be safe, and the school that they choose is going to take care of them, and that did not happen in this case.”
US Congressman Jim Jordan was an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State during this time period. He’s publicly denied having any knowledge that Strauss was abusing student-athletes.
The attorney representing many of those students said he does plan to depose the congressman, under oath, about what, if anything, he knew.
A full statement released by OSU on behalf of President Drake Thursday afternoon reads:
Ohio State remains deeply concerned for each person who endured Richard Strauss’ abuse. Strauss’ actions were reprehensible, and the university’s fundamental failure at the time to prevent the abuse and thoroughly investigate complaints was unacceptable.
Upon receiving a complaint in spring 2018 about Strauss’ actions decades ago, the university immediately announced an independent investigation. For more than a year, Ohio State has led the effort to investigate and expose Strauss’ misdeeds and the systemic failures to respond. The independent Perkins Coie investigation was completed because of the strength and courage of survivors, and we’re grateful they were willing to share their experiences.
Since February, Ohio State has been covering the cost of professionally certified counseling services for anyone affected, as well as reimbursing costs for counseling already received. Alumni and other former students interested in this resource or looking for further information are encouraged to visit https://website.praesidiuminc.com/wp/osu/ or call 888-961-9273. The university is also actively participating in good faith in the mediation process directed by the federal court.
Ohio State has implemented multiple additional safeguards in the 20 years since Strauss left the university, including mandatory reporting of sexual assault for all university employees; mandatory sexual misconduct prevention education for students, faculty and staff; and the creation of a centralized hotline allowing anyone to make anonymous reports of wrongdoing, including sexual misconduct allegations.
This article was originally written by Scott Noll for WEWS.