(CNN)Tito Vazquez says he still remembers the day three decades ago when, as a wrestler at Ohio State University, the doctor he’d gone to see about a bloody nose insisted on examining his genitals. He also recalls how one of his coaches dismissed his immediate complaint.
“‘I have nothing to do with this,'” Vazquez quoted the assistant coach saying, as he effectively ended the conversation and went on with wrestling practice.
That coach, Vazquez says, was Jim Jordan, now an Ohio congressman and an influential voice in Republican politics, perhaps best known for his pugnacious defense of President Donald Trump during the recent impeachment proceedings.
Vazquez is one of six former OSU wrestlers who told CNN in recent interviews that they were present when Jordan heard or responded to sexual misconduct complaints about team doctor Richard Strauss. Eight others say Strauss’ inappropriate behavior was an open secret in the athletic department and that Jordan, among others, must have known about it.
What Jordan and other coaches knew, and when they knew it, has been under scrutiny since 2018, when OSU announced an investigation into the allegations against Strauss. An independent report
commissioned by the university concluded last year that Strauss “sexually abused at least 177 male student-patients” between 1979 and 1998. The doctor died by suicide in 2005.
A number of lawsuits have been filed against OSU over allegations related to Strauss. On Friday, OSU announced that it reached a monetary settlement with Strauss’ victims in 11 out of 18 pending cases.
Since the scandal emerged, Jordan has emphatically denied that he knew anything about Strauss’ abuse during his own years working at OSU, between 1987 and 1995. “Congressman Jordan never saw any abuse, never heard about any abuse, and never had any abuse reported to him during his time as a coach at Ohio State,” his congressional office said
His campaign went so far as to hire a public relations firm to push back on the allegations.
But Vazquez, for one, doesn’t believe Jordan’s claims. “When these complaints come and he pretends now that he had no knowledge of it, that’s betrayal in the highest level,” said Vazquez, now a public school teacher, who added that the continued denials played a role in prompting him to speak out about his experience.
The OSU-commissioned report did not reach conclusions regarding each coach’s knowledge of Strauss’ abuse, but it did note that “numerous” student-athletes said they “talked about Strauss’ inappropriate genital exams and complained about Strauss’ locker room and shower room voyeurism, directly to—or in front of—OSU coaching staff.” The report stated that 22 coaches — unnamed in the report — said they were aware of rumors or complaints about Strauss.
Since the release of that report, additional former student-athletes have come forward to publicly testify at the Ohio statehouse about Strauss’ abuse. The state House of Representatives is considering a bill that would lift the statute of limitations for Strauss’ victims and clear the way for them to sue OSU.
In an interview with CNN last week, Jordan again denied having prior knowledge of any abuse by Strauss and said he found it interesting that more former student-athletes have spoken out given the possibility of OSU paying them settlement money.
“The idea that I wouldn’t stand up for these athletes is ridiculous,” Jordan said. “I feel sorry for these guys, the fact that they aren’t telling the truth. I mean these are guys I trained with, these are guys I worked out with, I ran with, wrestled with, and the idea that now they are saying what they are, it’s just not true.”
Former OSU wrestlers say Jordan knew of abuse
Multiple former OSU athletes told CNN they found Jordan’s denials puzzling, because they say they distinctly remember him responding to complaints about Strauss.
One former wrestler, Dan Ritchie, said he remembers a teammate complained about Strauss and that Jordan said, “If he ever tried that with me I’d snap his neck like a stick of dry balsa wood.”
Ritchie said Strauss’ behavior was an ongoing, uncomfortable joke among athletes.
He said Strauss tried to “groom” students to accept the inappropriate nature of the examinations, which became increasingly abusive over time. Ritchie said he ultimately quit the team because of Strauss’ behavior.
“When we heard Jim say he wasn’t aware, everyone just thought, ‘Are you kidding?'” Ritchie said. “I like Jimmy, but I think he took the wrong stance off the get go and now he can’t backtrack.”
Another former wrestler, Mike Flusche, told CNN that he also remembers Jordan responding to a complaint about Strauss by saying he would break the doctor’s neck if he ever tried something similar on him.
“It’s weird to play back something in your mind that you remember and have someone say it’s not true,” Flusche said.
Dunyasha Yetts said he first raised concerns about Strauss with Jordan and the head coach of the team at the time, Russ Hellickson, in 1992, after Yetts transferred to wrestle for OSU from Purdue University. He said he was shocked when Strauss groped him during his initial physical exam. According to Yetts, he told both coaches he was uncomfortable. “I even told them that if I had to go through this again, I’m not staying here,” Yetts told CNN.
In January 1993, Yetts said, he went to Strauss after he injured his thumb in practice. During the examination, the doctor tried to remove his wrestling shorts.
“I said, ‘Doc, it’s my damn thumb.’ So I literally got up off the table, turned around and busted through the door,” Yetts said.
Yetts said he came out and complained to Jordan and other wrestlers about what happened. He said Jordan responded by saying something like, “If he tried that on me, I would kill him.”
Two former wrestlers, Shawn Dailey and Mike Glane, told CNN they remember witnessing Yetts complain about Strauss’ behavior immediately after the incident, in the presence of Jordan.
NBC News first reported
the description of that event from Yetts, who has had his credibility questioned by Jordan supporters because he served 18 months in prison for fraud. Yetts said he made a mistake, did his time and has moved on.
In a lawsuit filed last year, a wrestling referee alleged
Strauss masturbated in front of him inside a locker-room shower in the mid-1990s, and that when he reported the incident to then-coaches Jordan and Hellickson, they responded, “Yeah, that’s Strauss,” and did not take further action. Neither Jordan nor Hellickson was named as a defendant in the suit.
Hellickson told CNN
in 2018 that he had had a discussion with Strauss about his physical contact with the wrestlers, and told Strauss that wrestlers were uncomfortable showering with the doctor. He also defended Jordan and said Jordan may not have known about the alleged abuse.
Yet despite that earlier