Two former wrestlers at Ohio State University are defending Rep. Jim Jordan amid allegations that he turned a blind eye to other wrestlers’ allegations of sexual abuse by team doctor Richard Strauss.
Jordan, now a Republican member of Congress from Ohio, has repeatedly denied any knowledge of inappropriate behavior during his time as assistant wrestling coach at OSU between 1987 and 1995.
Steve Mendicino said he’s maintained a friendship with Jordan since his time at OSU, where he wrestled from 1983-88.
Mendicino said he himself had heard things about Strauss’ alleged inappropriate behavior. He declined to say whether Strauss treated him inappropriately or if he had heard accounts from fellow teammates.
He described Jordan as having a “high moral code of righteousness” and said that those coming forward have ulterior motives.
George Pardos, an OSU wrestler from 1988 to 1993, said he had at least 20 interactions with Strauss and did not experience anything inappropriate.
“If you’re sitting there saying everybody had the same experience with Dr. Strauss, that’s just not true,” Pardos said. “People are trying to assume this was a widespread problem.”
Pardos said he didn’t have “that great” of a relationship with Jordan, but said the congressman is the kind of man who would’ve acted if he’d known.
“Knowing that that happened, I just don’t see him not doing anything if he knew,” he said. “If my fellow athletes say they were touched inappropriately, let the judicial process carry out.”
The two men are among several listed on a public relations website set up in support of Jordan.
Other wrestlers say congressman knew
Another former OSU wrestler has told CNN that Jordan knew about the actions of Strauss, and called Jordan a “phony” for saying he was not aware of any sexual abuse allegations.
“Jordan is denying this because obviously it would be political suicide for him,” the former wrestler said. “He’s still denying it. Jim Jordan knew. He didn’t do anything about it.”
The former wrestler spoke to CNN on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the story and out of concern for the well-being of his family.
Several former wrestlers have alleged that Jordan knew of the sexual abuse allegations. Amid accusations that Jordan had ignored allegations while he was assistant coach, a request was filed Monday with the Office of Congressional Ethics to launch a preliminary investigation into Jordan’s denials that he knew of the abuse. The request was brought by Norm Eisen, President Barack Obama’s ethics czar, and Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a nonprofit watchdog group.
Others have defended Jordan, including his Republican colleague Rep. Louie Gohmert, who said the allegations don’t “pass the smell test” and a group of former OSU coaches who released a statement Monday.
“What has been said about Jim Jordan is absolutely wrong,” it stated. “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 well-being of student-athletes was all of our concern. If we had heard of any abuse, we would have spoken up.”
Wrestler says he told Jordan
The former wrestler said he doesn’t have any personal grudges against Jordan – he supported him when he first ran for office, despite identifying as a Democrat. He remembers directly telling Jordan about Strauss’ behavior.
“I remember coming up and saying, ‘Strauss held my balls longer than normal.’ He just snickered.”
The former wrestler recalled one time when he went into the wrestling room at OSU and a few athletes and Jordan were “clumped together.” He said he remembered saying, “something to the effect of ‘his hands are cold as s**t; he checked out every hair on my ball,’” and said Jordan replied, “I have nothing to do with this” and walked away.
“He’s sitting here and directly lying,” the former wrestler said, adding that fellow former wrestler Mike DiSabato is being “absolutely truthful.”
DiSabato said he was groped by Strauss dozens of times and that Jordan knew about the allegations of sexual abuse by the doctor.
Encounters with the doctor
The former wrestler recalled one of his encounters with Strauss, saying, “He examined my genitalia in detail. There was no masturbation or anything, but he definitely looked it over and checked it out.” He told CNN he never formally reported Strauss because he was a walk-on athlete and didn’t want to jeopardize his status on the team.
Strauss died by suicide in 2005. The allegations surrounding him have prompted an investigation by Ohio State, which has hired a law firm, Perkins Coie, to look into the claims made by former athletes.
In a statement Sunday, the doctor’s family said, “Our family was shocked and saddened to hear the allegations of misconduct against the late Dr. Richard H. Strauss. 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 fully cooperating with The Ohio State University’s independent investigation.”
To the former wrestler, Strauss wasn’t a malicious man – he was kind and bought meals for athletes – but he “had issues.” He also remembers Strauss’ locker being directly next to Jordan’s and that Strauss was also the first one in, last one out of the showers, echoing sentiments shared by other OSU wrestlers.
“To be honest with you, we were the toughest guys at Ohio State, so you didn’t want to believe that something sexual in nature was happening, but you kind of knew,” the former OSU athlete said.
Strauss’ behavior became, in many respects, the norm for wrestlers, he said.
The former wrestler said that then-OSU head wrestling coach Russ Hellickson put the sexual abuse to a stop. “When they brought it to Russ, he (Strauss) was dismissed from being around the wrestling team.”
CNN has been unsuccessful in multiple attempts to obtain comment from Hellickson.
Hellickson was one of the six former coaches who released a joint statement in support of Jordan, saying none of them saw or heard of abuse of OSU wrestlers.
OSU spokesman Chris Davey said that due to the ongoing investigation into the allegations against Strauss, he is unable to comment. “These allegations are troubling and are a critical focus of the independent investigation that remains underway,” the statement reads.
CNN’s Sara Ganim, Elizabeth Joseph, Sunlen Serfaty, Alanne Orjoux, Madison Park and Evan Simko-Bednarski contributed to this report.