Four former wrestlers accuse Congressman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, of turning a blind eye to the sexual misconduct of a team doctor while working as an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State University. But just as many former coaches, teammates, and student wrestlers vehemently deny those allegations. In interviews with the Washington Examiner, each said a version of the same thing: If abuse did occur, Jordan couldn’t have known about it, because it is against his character to back down from conflict.
This past week, a handful of wrestlers told NBC that the late Dr. Richard Strauss used his position as team physician to prey on students. In his first interview since his name was brought into the story, Jordan told me, he didn’t know of any sexual misconduct “plain and simple.”
It was common knowledge among the team, alumni say, that Strauss was “an odd duck.” And the former head coach of Ohio State wrestling at that time, Russ Hellickson, admitted in a video quoted by NBC that the doctor was “too hands on” with students. But in a follow-up statement, he denied brushing any allegations under the rug.
“At no time while Jim Jordan was a coach with me at Ohio State did either of us ignore abuse of our wrestlers,” Hellickson continued. “That is not the kind of man Jim is, and it is not the kind of coach that I was.”
George Pardos, who left the Marine Corps to wrestle at Ohio State from 1988 to 1993, said the same. There were always rumors about the doctor who showered with the team, Pardos told me, “but [a] lot of the stories were just running jokes.” Older than most of the other wrestlers because of his time enlisted, Pardos said he served as “an unofficial team captain” and can’t recall hearing a single allegation of abuse.
And while Pardos noted that Jordan “literally carried me” to get medical treatment after an injury and checked another teammate into rehab for drug abuse, the two weren’t exactly best friends. “Let me say this,” he said after a pause during a long phone interview, “me and Jimmy didn’t really get along. He didn’t really like me a lot.”
But while the two “butted heads” over religion and politics, Pardos insisted Jordan was incapable of ignoring abuse. If the assistant coach knew Strauss was abusing students, Pardos tells me, “knowing Jimmy I think he would’ve ripped of his arm and beat him with it.”
Jude Skove agreed albeit in somewhat less violent terms. He wrestled at Ohio State from 1981 to 1986 and would win a Division 1 National Championship one year before Jordan joined the team as assistant coach. During his five years wrestling, including his three as team captain, Skove says none of his teammates “ever came to me and ever expressed any issues or concerns.”
“Strauss was known to be a little weird. He would take two showers in one day, and we’d just laugh it off like ‘really doc?’” Skove recalls. “He’s our team physician, so he’s giving you physicals, and he’s touched you everywhere, doing the cough thing. But he never, just in my experience with my peers, he never crossed a line.”
Skove, who wrestled and trained with Jordan at the East-West tournament when the congressman was a student at the University of Wisconsin, couldn’t imagine Jordan ignoring abuse. “He definitely would’ve represented the wrestlers. From what I know of Jim and his personality, he’s not a flower. He isn’t going to wilt if something’s going on.”
Some like Lee Kemp, a gold-medal Olympian, and national champion, argue that accusations are part of a campaign to discredit Jordan now that the Ohio Republican is considering a bid for House Speaker. “This doctor worked with other sports teams too,” Kemp told me by phone. “Why pick out Jim? Clearly, this is an attempt to smear him.”
Kemp takes credit for recruiting Jordan to the University of Wisconsin as a student and said in an earlier statement that the idea “Jim would know of abuse of his wrestlers and do nothing is utterly absurd.”
Mitch Hull, who coached Jordan as a student at Wisconsin and later competed against Jordan as a coach at Perdue University, believes the future congressman and head coach Hellickson would have risked his career rather than ignore real allegations of abuse.
“The tougher a situation would’ve gotten — and if it was a moral issue — neither one of those guys would’ve backed down,” Hull who now works with USA Wrestling told me during a phone interview. He adds that if the safety of the athletes was on the line, either of the two would have gone to any extreme to deal with the issue even “if it would have lost him his job.”