Former Ohio State Students Report Decades Of Sexual Misconduct By University Physician
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
More than a hundred former Ohio State University students have reported firsthand accounts of sexual misconduct by a university physician. Now, unlike many revelations to come out of the #MeToo movement, these students are men. They say they were molested over decades by an athletics team doctor, Richard Strauss. Strauss died in 2005.
Ohio State is now investigating. Some of the accusers have filed lawsuits, among them Ron McDaniel. He played tennis for Ohio State in the 1980s, and he joins me now. Mr. McDaniel, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
RON MCDANIEL: Hello. How are you?
KELLY: I'm well, thank you. And I appreciate you taking the time to do this. I should warn people listening before you and I get going that some of what we're about to discuss may be hard to listen to, may be explicit. Let me ask you to go right back to 1981, 1982. You were a freshman at Ohio State, and you met Dr. Strauss. What happened?
MCDANIEL: I woke up one morning really sick - bad bronchitis, and I called the coach. And he told me to go over to Larkins Hall to see one of the team doctors over there. So I did. And turns out it was Dr. Strauss. So I walked in. He evaluated me, checked my tonsils. I believe that I coughed up a lot of sputum. I was in bad shape.
MCDANIEL: So he started writing prescriptions. And as I was trying to get up to leave, he was like, well, I'm not done with my examination. Drop your trousers. And I was like, OK. So I was like, this is kind of strange. But I was like, hey, I'm a freshman. This is Ohio State. Maybe they know something I don't.
So he began checking my testicles. And he asked me to cough. Turn your head; cough. And there was a pause. He kept checking, and I looked down. And I was like, is everything OK? And he was, you know, something like, yeah. I'm palpating, making sure there's no structural damage. And I'm like, huh? So the next day, was eating dinner and was sharing my story with the trainer on our team.
KELLY: I was going to ask if you told anybody about what had happened.
MCDANIEL: Yeah. He was one of many. I shared the - with the trainer of our team and a few other athletes that were there from track, wrestling, whatever. And I started telling them my story, and they started laughing at me. And they said, oh, you got had. You didn't know who he - who Dr. Strauss was. And I was like, what are you talking about?
And I was like, yeah, they have a nickname for him. He's called Dr. Nuts. And he was like, yeah, no matter what you go to him for - if it's a hangnail, he wants to check your testicles.
KELLY: So you're saying you went to a trainer. You told people about this. And the feedback you got was everybody knows; this is an open secret.
MCDANIEL: Yeah. Like, you're the freshmen, so the joke is on you. Like, you didn't know - 'cause I wasn't prepared for this. And after that, I kind of got a little angered because, you know, the joke was on me.
KELLY: Did anybody, you or anybody else at the time, file an official complaint, try to take this through an official channel?
MCDANIEL: Well, the official channel at that time was tell your coach. So I did tell my coach the next day when I returned back to practice and told him, you know, I feel a lot better. You know, I went to see Dr. Strauss. And I told him what happened. And, you know, I can't remember exactly what his response was, but it was, like, business as usual.
KELLY: These events that you're alleging happened decades ago. Why come forward now? Why speak out? Why file a lawsuit?
MCDANIEL: In 1988, I had a bike accident. And I actually went over the top, and I damaged my left testicle. And I just walked off the pain. And I did not want to go and see a doctor because after having that experience and then being upset about the experience, I felt kind of, you know, weird about someone touching me or checking me down there. Turns out it ended up being a Leydig cell tumor, and I had to have that testicle removed. So it affected me, and it's affecting me, and it will affect me for the rest of my life.
You know, as I looked at this and I was laying on my couch the Friday before the Fourth of July, I heard the new story break in Chicago about how all of these allegations of all these people coming forward about Dr. Strauss, and I was like, what? And I was like, I had no idea that he was there for 20 years. I had no idea that it affected so many people.
KELLY: Have you been in touch with those people? I mean, was that part of your decision to come forward now?
MCDANIEL: At the time when I came forward, no. But I did reach out to a few. And, yeah, their memories all recounted the same thing. Like, yeah, we remember him. Yeah, it happened to us. Some people wanted to come forward. Others did not.
KELLY: You're saying there's no doubt in your mind that, A, this happened and, B, the university knew about it.
Let me forward you to where we are now. As other people who say they had similar experiences with Dr. Strauss at Ohio State started coming forward, what's been the impetus behind that? Is it the broader #MeToo movement? Is it watching other athletes in other sports? What?
MCDANIEL: You know, I can't speak to all those athletes. I can only speak to me. And I can tell you the real reason for me coming forward is 'cause I want change to make sure no other athlete has to come in and be humiliated and to set up a system in which athletes can come forward, and it's more than just telling your coach, who may or may not take it any further. But I felt like I did what I was supposed to 'cause you're a scholarship athlete, and when things are happening in terms of sports, you go straight to your coach. So - and he's an employee of the university. So for me, I did tell the athletic department or, you know, the university.
KELLY: One of the reasons everything happening at Ohio State has captured headlines is that you all are all guys speaking out. And the #MeToo movement has been so much about women raising their voices.
KELLY: Did that give you pause? Was it a factor when you were deciding whether to speak out?
MCDANIEL: My first motivation was to tell the truth and to let the world know, like, this wasn't someone just making up allegations. This was true 'cause it happened to me. Being a part of #MeToo, I guess it never factored in my mind. I think someone in another interview asked me that, and I kind of chuckled. And I was like, well, I guess I am a part of #MeToo. I'm coming forward.
KELLY: I wonder if, for men, it is in some ways harder just in that there's less precedent for it.
MCDANIEL: Exactly, just as it's much harder for a lot of male athletes to come forward and talk about how a male doctor had improperly touched their testicles. It's hard.
KELLY: And you're supposed to be these big, macho athletes.
MCDANIEL: Exactly. And people just don't want to do it. They're just - although they were affected by it, they don't like it. But you got to understand. These are the 1980s. If we - if this was done today, oh, it'd be no question. You wouldn't even be ostracized. No one would laugh. Everyone would take you seriously.
KELLY: What action are you looking for from the university all these years later that might go some way towards putting things right?
MCDANIEL: Accountability - to acknowledge those athletes who were affected by Dr. Strauss' actions. Number two, put in place a system where athletes can come forward and discuss their issue and talk about what happened to them if there's any other future sexual misconduct that happens during medical exams. That's number one and number two.
KELLY: That's Ron McDaniel, former Ohio State University student and tennis player, sharing his story. Ron McDaniel, thanks so much for being with us.
MCDANIEL: Thank you.
KELLY: And I want to share. In a statement, Ohio State University President Michael V. Drake says, quote, "we are grateful to those who've come forward and remain deeply concerned for anyone who may have been affected by Dr. Strauss' actions. We remain steadfastly committed to uncovering the truth."
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