STRAUSS DIVING VICTIM
They called him “Dr. Dick.”
That’s what a former diver, “Robert,” said about Dr. Richard Strauss, the now infamous Ohio State team doctor who sexually abused male athletes from 1978-98.
Robert is remaining anonymous to protect the identities of other aquatic athletes who, he said, were also abused by Strauss during the mid-1980s.
“Everyone in the locker room called him Dr. Dick,” Robert said. “The other swimmers and divers warned me that I might be surprised during my first physical and one guy said, ‘It’s the longest hernia exam you’ll ever have.’ I thought he was teasing. This happened before I ever met Strauss.”
All told, Robert saw Strauss four times, describing the encounters as “horrors that got progressively worse.”
“I got an erection during my first physical and I was taken aback because that had never happened in a medical exam before,” Robert said. “He massaged my penis, which had nothing to do with a hernia exam. I just shut up and put up – that was the mantra of the era.”
Another time, Robert saw Strauss because he had a cold.
“I was reticent about seeing Strauss again, but Coach sent me, so I decided to give him a second try,” Robert said. “The first thing Strauss asked me to do was drop my shorts. I thought, ‘What? For a cold?’ But Strauss said he needed to check my glands.”
After that, Robert avoided Strauss by going to the OSU health center.
“One time I saw Strauss on rotation at the health center, so I left,” he said.
But there were more physicals still to come and Robert dealt with them by letting his mind wander to a different dimension.
“It’s like your penis is a different entity, you try to cut off the connection between your penis and the rest of your body,” he said.
Robert went on to say that if he’d had a choice of doctors, he most certainly would have gone elsewhere.
“Strauss got me erect during my junior year physical. I asked him to stop. I said I was going to cum but he didn’t stop until I ejaculated,” Robert said. “I was just trying to get through it. I wasn’t very sexually active as a 20-year-old, so I don’t think it was very fair to me to be in that situation. Why was no one reporting it?”
“I was afraid to say anything because I had a full scholarship,” Robert said. “Also, everyone else was going through the same thing and they weren’t making a big deal out of it, actually they were joking about it, so I didn’t want to complain or rock the boat.”
Even so, there was one final physical with Strauss that was more unnerving than all the others.
“He went down on me during my last physical and that’s when he invited me to his house for a pool party,” Robert said. “It didn’t even enter my mind to go, but I heard from a gymnast that a bunch of scantily clad guys or nude athletes were there sitting around his pool.”
Robert said he never discussed the abuse with Coach Vince Panzano.
“I don’t know if he knew, but I don’t think he did,” Robert said. “I think if he knew he would have torn Strauss apart.”
The reason Robert thinks that is because Panzano told diving team members that he “kicked in the door” when he was sexually approached in a public men’s restroom in Larkins Hall.
“That’s why I believe he didn’t know,” Robert said.
Even so, Robert believes Ohio State authorities must have known about Strauss’s abuse because all the athletes talked and joked about it so freely. It was rampant lore.
“If there’s athletes joking, somebody knew, some staff must have heard the rumors and they ignored it,” he said.
Strauss’s abuse has had long-lasting impacts. Robert is in recovery for a drug and alcohol problem that he thinks was brought on by “latent shame and denial.”
“It’s been hard for me, I buried it deep” he said. “I’ve been married and divorced, and I’m in therapy because I’m still trying to find a long-lasting relationship. I believe my experiences with Strauss have hindered my ability to trust because there’s no one you should trust more than your doctor. So, it’s a part of my inability to trust, which is at the forefront of my inability to sustain personal and loving relationships.”
Robert was going to a therapist for help dealing with his issues, but when he could no longer afford the bills he turned to the University.
“I asked OSU for financial help after giving my testimony to the University’s investigators from Perkins Coie, so I could continue seeing my therapist,” Robert said, “But I never heard back from them. All I received was a list of services the University provides for victims who live in Ohio.”
Robert lives in Florida and joined the class action lawsuit, in part, because of Ohio State’s lack of response.
“I don’t know why they don’t want to settle this,” he added. “This never should have been allowed to slip through the cracks – we deserved to be protected.”
Robert was inspired to come forward after seeing a video of former OSU wrestlers talking about Strauss’s abuse.
“I owe a lot to Ohio State and I’m a Buckeye through and through, but this can never be allowed to happen again,” Robert said. “This must be addressed by the courts in order to protect future students.”