Politics

Jim Jordan, Team Player

He denies that his Ohio State colleagues knew about sexual abuse. The evidence says they did.

Jim Jordan standing in a hearing room.
Rep. Jim Jordan attends a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, on July 12.
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

You can’t accuse Jim Jordan of modesty. Last week, in defiance of the legal and political storm gathering around him, the Ohio congressman announced that he’s running for speaker of the House. Jordan and several other Republicans also filed articles of impeachment against Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Jordan says Rosenstein is covering up a conspiracy in the FBI and the Department of Justice to frame President Donald Trump for colluding with Russia. His accusation is fraudulent, and it’s richly ironic: Jordan—one of the most sanctimonious ideologues in Congress—is wading ever deeper into a cover-up of his own.

Jordan’s story centers on Ohio State University, where he worked as the assistant wrestling coach in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Former students say that during those years, OSU coaches and administrators ignored reports of sexual abuse and harassment by the wrestling team’s doctor and other faculty members. For weeks, Jordan has denied that he knew about inappropriate sexual behavior of any kind. That contradicts statements from former students who say he was directly informed. But now Jordan is going further. He’s denying not just that he knew about abuse, but also that other coaches or administrators did.

On July 18, Jordan told Bob Frantz, a radio host in Ohio, that “all kinds of coaches … have said the same thing I’ve said, and the reason they’ve said that is because it’s the truth: No one reported anything to us.” The next day, on Fox News, Jordan added: “I knew of no abuse, never heard of it, never had any reported to me. If I had, I’d have dealt with it. Every single coach has said the same thing I have. … And the reason they have all said it is because it’s the truth.” On Friday, Jordan told WMAL radio in Washington that “all the coaches I coached with” were innocent. That same day, on Fox and Friends, Jordan issued a comprehensive denial:

This is something that supposedly happened 30 years ago. If there in fact was abuse, then we want people to get justice, and the truth to come out. But there were hundreds of coaches, hundreds of administrators in that time period. No one ever reported any. Certainly no one reported it to me.

This is hardly the first time that leaders of respected institutions—Congress, churches, universities—have closed ranks against accusations of sexual abuse. But by escalating his denials, Jordan is exposing himself to ever greater legal and political jeopardy. He has already attacked several of his former student wrestlers, calling them liars and rejecting the possibility that they told him of anything that might be perceived, in retrospect, as abuse. Now, in addition, he’s pitting his credibility against former students who say they reported abuse to other OSU coaches or administrators.

Jordan has specifically defended Russ Hellickson, the former head wrestling coach with whom he worked at OSU. Three weeks ago, Jordan and his supporters released a statement from six former OSU coaches in Jordan’s defense. Hellickson topped the list. “None of us saw or heard of abuse of OSU wrestlers,” said the statement. A blurb from Hellickson added: “At no time while Jim Jordan was a coach with me at Ohio State did either of us ignore abuse of our wrestlers.”

That’s odd, because Hellickson has been recorded on video saying that the team doctor, Richard Strauss, was too “hands on” with student wrestlers, that Strauss made the students “nervous” by showering with them for an hour at a time, and that Hellickson told OSU administrators about the problem. Three weeks ago, Hellickson told USA Today that he had warned Strauss to stop touching students excessively during weigh-ins. Politico reports that according to witnesses, shower voyeurism of the athletes became so invasive that Hellickson had to “physically drag the gawkers out of the building.” According to the article, Hellickson “pleaded with the university multiple times to move their athletes to a private facility.”

Andy Geiger, who was OSU’s athletic director at the time, confirms that Hellickson complained about voyeurism in the showers. Geiger told the Washington Post that to solve the problem, he worked with Hellickson to move the wrestlers out of the building. Geiger says that the students felt “uncomfortable” and that he had sought to make sure they would “be left alone and feel secure and not harassed or observed or approached.”

So that’s one coach and one administrator, at a minimum, who seem to have known about sexual harassment or groping at OSU. And the list is just getting started. In the past two weeks, three lawsuits have been filed by former OSU students. Collectively, the suits name Jordan, Hellickson, and Geiger, but they also allege that other OSU coaches and administrators knew of abuse and failed to respond adequately.

One suit describes an incident in which a student wrestler complained directly to Jordan and Hellickson about being groped by Strauss. That incident has been corroborated by another former student. A second suit claims that both Geiger and Hellickson “had actual and/or constructive notice of sexual assault, battery, molestation, and harassment committed by Dr. Strauss and … other sexual predators.” That suit claims that during the 1994–95 season, two student wrestlers met with Geiger to complain about voyeurism in the saunas and locker room, but “OSU did nothing.” A third suit, filed last week, claims that at least nine former OSU officers were “notified about Dr. Strauss’s sexual assault, abuse, and molestation.” The list includes Geiger, Hellickson, a prior athletic director, an assistant athletic director, a head athletic trainer, a head tennis coach, and a head track and field coach.

The OSU scandal is likely to get worse, as the scandals at Michigan State and Penn State did. On July 20, OSU said its own investigators had already interviewed “more than 100 former students who report firsthand accounts of sexual misconduct committed by Strauss.” Among these former students were athletes in at least 14 sports. OSU’s investigators interviewed Jordan on July 16—he refuses to say what he told them—and attorneys for plaintiffs in at least one of the lawsuits expect to call him as a witness.

Jordan concedes nothing. He brushes off his accusers as pawns in a political plot. The “lies” against him are “sequenced and choreographed” by “the left,” Jordan told Fox News, ignoring several accusers who have said they supported and contributed to his campaigns. In fact, Jordan takes pride in being targeted. “I view it as a compliment,” he told WMAL.

Maybe Jordan thinks he can brazen it out because Trump did. Trump, facing credible abuse accusations from multiple women, attacked them all as liars and got elected. But scorched-earth denials didn’t work for Roy Moore, Bill Cosby, or Harvey Weinstein. At Penn State and Michigan State, and in the Catholic Church, the wall of lies eventually collapsed. The wall will collapse at Ohio State, too. And Jordan will be under it.