Some 30 years after being raped by Strauss, Al Novakowski still hopes to earn his Ohio State degree

It was sometime in 2018 that one-time OSU hockey player Al Novakowski got a call from an old friend who asked, “Did Strauss ever hurt you?”

He replied, “Nope, nope, nope.”

Al recalled that phone conversation in a December 2020 interview with a news reporter.

“I lied to my friend,” he said. “And then I threw up.”

Al grew up in a small town in Canada, where he was considered a high school hockey star. Indeed, he had dozens of scholarship offers, including one from Ohio State.

When he enrolled at OSU for the fall 1987 semester, Al thought being a Buckeye was his ticket to the NHL.

In short order, he was sent to Dr. Strauss for a physical.

“The first time I met Strauss was the first time I’d ever had a physical,” Al said. “I didn’t even know what a hernia was.”

He would soon learn that no matter what was ailing him, a visit to Strauss meant getting a hernia check.

He saw Strauss “maybe 20-25 times.”

“The second time I saw him I knew something was up,” Al said. “A teammate asked me, ‘How long were you with Strauss’ and when I said, ‘Forty-five minutes,’ he said, ‘Man, he’s weird.’ Every time you saw Strauss he gave you a hernia check.”

My head was pretty messed up from the very get-go at Ohio State – hockey player Al Novakowski

Talking about Strauss upsets Al – he sometimes needs to stop and collect himself as the memories of how his time at Ohio State came to a crushing end.

By sophomore year, Al admits he was “playing horribly.” He was kicked off the team after the second game of the season, the coach telling him he was “nothing but a cancer to this hockey team”

“I went and hid in my room for two months,” he recalled.

Even though Al persevered and returned to OSU as a junior, he was drinking heavily and began experimenting with drugs.

One day he went to health services because he was having trouble swallowing. Unfortunately, Dr. Strauss was on duty at the time. Strauss shot Al up with a muscle relaxant then drove him home.

“I was pretty loopy,” he said. “And the next thing I know I was laying on my bed and Strauss was cuddling me. I couldn’t move and then I woke up the next morning and there was blood on my sheets and my bum was sore.”

Here, Al covers his face and sobs.

“I was trying to figure out what happened. I mean, I was in my own house and I thanked him for bringing me home,” he said. “That’s when I really started abusing drugs – anything I could get my hands on.”

Al never saw Strauss again, adding that “it never crossed my mind to contact police” after the horrific rape.

The truth is revealed

Al described an October 2020 counseling session with his wife, where his therapist asked, “Have you ever been abused by any of your family members?”

“I said, ‘No, but I was by my team doctor at Ohio State.’ I couldn’t take it back,” Al said. “I was like ‘no, no, no’ and my wife went ‘what are you talking about?’ and I said, ‘nothing, nothing’ and I just started crying.”

Today, Al is angry that Ohio State officials knew that Strauss was sexually abusing students years before he arrived on campus.

“I went from being embarrassed, humiliated and shameful to you gotta be kidding me,” he said. “They knew about this. They took my life; they took everything that I had. Twenty years old, went there to get my degree and to become a professional athlete. Instead, I got introduced to Dr. Richard Strauss.”

Al has trust issues resulting from the turmoil caused by Strauss’ sexual abuse.

“I never put my kids into minor hockey,” he said. “They asked me to, we had conversations and I would make up an excuse about why we couldn’t…”

After a moment he continued, “Just not being able to connect at times emotionally with my wife.”

Although Al’s secret has been buried for decades, he did recently tell his eldest son about it, who now understands why his dad’s once-promising hockey career flamed out so dramatically and devastatingly.

But despite the anger and bitterness, Al has hope for the future: He is determined to finally get his Ohio State degree to show his kids that “you can overcome anything in life.”

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