It was the early ‘90’s when John joined the Ohio State volleyball team, a young man who dreamed in high school about “what it would be like to be a college athlete.”
He’d spent his high school years honing his skills on the volleyball court, spending “thousands of hours” learning to be an athletic trainer in hopes of eventually becoming a doctor.
“I can’t tell you how happy I was,” he said.
But John’s happiness quickly faded when he was sexually assaulted by Dr. Richard Strauss.
“It made me question everything I’d been hoping to do. It completely shook my foundation,” he said. “I was like, ‘I don’t want to play sports now, I don’t want to be a doctor. What the hell am I going to do?’ I’m 18 or 19 years old, I had no clue what to do and no one to talk to because this is the last thing you want to talk about.”
Strauss’s abuse set a chain of events in motion that continue to have repercussions today. Many of the problems that John has experienced throughout his life are the result of trust issues – he pushes people away, including his parents, wife and children.
“Maybe if none of this happened I’d be married, I’d be with my kids and I’d be a doctor right now,” he said.
John’s children and ex-wife live in Thailand.
“Right now our relationship is almost non-existent,” he said. “They’re like a lot of people in my life – I just haven’t let them in – I’ve kept them out and I want to change that.”
He’s also looking for closure to help him repair a rift with his parents: That relationship has been strained since John quit the OSU volleyball team and his life devolved from being a competitive athlete to drinking and drugs.
Yet, he still managed to graduate.
“Settling this lawsuit tomorrow means I can start to repair those relationships and, honestly, I know it seems so weird, why can’t I do that today,” he asked. “I really want to tell them the full story, I really want to tell them everything and I’m just going to dance around it until I can tell them what the final conclusion to this is.”
When news of the Strauss scandal broke, John all but retreated from life, quitting his job as a respected chef in Colorado.
“This kind of sent me into a shell,” he said. “I’ve lived on a farm for a year-and-a-half. I spend pretty much 98 percent of my time around cows, sheep and goats and stuff like that. That was my way of coping but it’s not a practical way to live your life. It’s just what I do to get by.”
Even so, getting by is tough because John has been diagnosed with depression and anxiety, and has problems sleeping.
Although he thinks counseling would help with his recovery, he doesn’t feel comfortable going to an OSU-sponsored therapist.
“I’d love to go see my own therapist and pay for it,” he said. “I’d love to go fly right now across the world and go grab my kids, put away money for their college and do the stuff that I need to do because I haven’t been there for them,” he said. “I can’t fix the last 30 years of my life and the things I’ve done but I can start repairing little things – things that I can use a little money for and just get myself right.”
‘I try to take responsibility as much as I can for things that have happened in my life’ – John
For years, John believed he was responsible for Strauss’s sexual abuse. Now, with an estimated 2,400 Strauss crimes reported by an estimated 1,500 victims, he knows how wrong he was to think that.
What’s also wrong, he says, is the university’s refusal to settle the remaining Strauss lawsuits.
The university’s lawyers have repeatedly tried to have the Strauss lawsuits thrown out of court, using the statute of limitations as an excuse to avoid responsibility.
“I think I, like a lot of other people, are going to remain victims until we’re acknowledged and until OSU takes responsibility for what happened,” he said. “And until that happens, in my mind I keep putting off putting my life back together. Right now I’m just trying to survive. That’s why I’m pushing for this, just to put this behind me.”
Equally important, however, is seeing that Ohio State takes steps to ensure current and future students are protected from abusers like Strauss.
“The people who went through this have got to have help but just as important is this has to be prevented from happening to anybody else. That is the biggest thing I want to see,” John concluded.
OSU’s recently-released 2019 crime report indicates the university continues to struggle with sexual crimes: Rapes increased from 93 in 2018 to 118 in 2019; stalking reports climbed from 57 to 91 year-over-year; and dating violence increased from 35 reports in 2018 to 64 reports last year.