Six former Ohio State University wrestling coaches released a statement Monday in support of Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who is under scrutiny amid accusations that he knew about alleged sexual misconduct and inappropriate behavior in the school’s athletic department three decades ago.
The statement defending Jordan, who served as an assistant Ohio State wrestling coach from 1987 to 1995, was circulated by the prominent conservative public-relations firm Shirley & Banister Public Affairs. It was the first example of a professional crisis communications firm getting involved in defending Jordan since the allegations became national news last week.
Jordan, an influential House conservative, has repeatedly denied that he saw, knew about or heard about alleged misconduct involving the wrestling team in those years.
“What has been said about Jim Jordan is absolutely wrong,” the six coaches said in the statement. “We all worked on the wrestling coaching staff during Jim’s tenure at The Ohio State University. None of us saw or heard of abuse of OSU wrestlers.”
The show of support is the latest development in the unfolding controversy, which centers on allegations that team doctor Richard Strauss groped wrestlers during appointments and ogled them in the locker room and showers in since-demolished Larkins Hall. Former wrestlers have said that Strauss contributed to an inappropriate, sexualized atmosphere at the facility that made many team members uncomfortable and that at least one wrestling coach worked to address. Strauss died in 2005.
A growing number of wrestlers have said since July 3 that Jordan knew or must have known about Strauss’s alleged groping or broader problems with inappropriate behavior in the locker room and showers. Larkins Hall was open to faculty and other non-athletes, and many former wrestlers said they did not know the other men who used the facility.
Reid Delman, who said he joined the team in 1986, said Strauss showered with the wrestlers for no apparent reason and conducted uncomfortably long checks for hernias in the groin area during exams.
“It’s tough to put into words. It was definitely inappropriate,” Delman told The Washington Post on Monday. “I don’t know how long [a hernia check] should take. It was long.”
Delman said he does not know if anyone filed a formal complaint against Strauss and does not remember having specific conversations with Jordan about the doctor’s behavior.
Still, he said it would have been “extremely difficult” for Jordan and Russ Hellickson, the head wrestling coach at the time, not to know there was a problem given that they were in the locker room while wrestlers were discussing it.
“I have no doubt that Russ and Jim knew, but I never heard it presented in a way that made it need to be addressed in any large sense,” Delman said.
Jordan “knew about it because it was an everyday occurrence,” former wrestler David Range told The Washington Post on Saturday.
“We talked about it all the time in the locker room” while Jordan was there, Range said. “Everybody joked about it and talked about it all the time.”
Delman said he doesn’t understand Jordan’s denials.
“I think times are different and I think it could have been put in light of the times,” he said. “I don’t know why he would try to sweep it under the rug.”
Jordan’s denials have failed to shift the spotlight from him in the past week, though several former wrestlers have said that they believe him, including some who say the environment in Larkins Hall was problematic. Jordan said Friday that he planned to meet with investigators this week.
“There was definitely inappropriate things that, in my opinion, were pretty disgusting going on all around us. You just took your shower and got out,” Michael Alf, who joined the team in the late 1980s, told The Post on Saturday.
The coaches’ statement came from Hellickson, who was Jordan’s boss at OSU, and five former assistant coaches: Dave Ruckman, Rex Holman, Ken Chertow, Miron Kharchilava and Kenny Ramsey Jr.
“The well-being of student-athletes was all of our concern. If we had heard of any abuse, we would have spoken up,” they said.
Diana Banister, president of Shirley & Banister Public Affairs, declined to say when reached by email whether the firm was working for the coaches pro bono.
Ohio State announced in April that an independent investigation was underway into the allegations against Strauss. The state attorney general appointed the law firm Porter Wright Morris & Arthur as the school’s legal counsel, and that firm hired another, Perkins Coie, to conduct the investigation.
Strauss’s family said it will cooperate with the probe.
“Our family was shocked and saddened to hear the allegations of misconduct against the late Dr. Richard H. Strauss,” the family said in an emailed statement to The Post. “We learned of these allegations from public news reports. Members of our family have been in contact with the investigation team at Perkins Coie. Along with the alleged victims, our family seeks the truth and is full[y] cooperating with The Ohio State University’s independent investigation.”
Jordan and a few other Republican lawmakers have criticized Perkins Coie’s involvement in the probe. The firm represented Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 election. It was also responsible for hiring Fusion GPS, the company that produced the now-famous dossier containing allegations about President Trump’s connections to Russia.
Defending Jordan in a statement Monday, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) dismissed Perkins Coie as a “Washington, DC-based dirty tricks law firm” with powerful Democrats among its clients.
“Whatever payments were received for trying to destroy President Trump may be available to destroy other high-achieving Republicans,” Gohmert said. “Given the inclusion of Perkins Coie in the mix, the likelihood increases that money has already changed hands to purchase a drive-by character assassination of beloved conservative Republican Congressman Jim Jordan.”