COLUMBUS — Looking back, many of the men now realize the medical exams were more than just weird and uncomfortable. Some still aren't sure what to call it, uncertain whether it meets the definition of sexual abuse.
Among the more than 100 former male athletes and students at Ohio State University who have told investigators accounts of sexual misconduct by a now-dead team doctor, close to a dozen have publicly shared their stories of being groped and fondled decades ago.
The investigation into Richard Strauss involves his work with athletes from at least 14 sports, and at a student health center and his medical clinic. Strauss killed himself in 2005.
Many of the accusers, most now in their 40s and 50s, are just starting to acknowledge and confront what they experienced.
Lingering too long
Former wrestler Reid Delman, 50, remembers getting “very thorough” check-ups from Strauss and wondering whether the doctor was lingering too long.
He felt weird about it then but didn't report it and wasn't aware of anyone else who did, even though there was plenty of locker room talk. “I know a couple of guys that were really bothered by it,” he said.
Delman describes what happened as sexual “misconduct” but doesn't see himself as a victim of abuse.
Yet as the father of two daughters who are gymnasts, he began reflecting after hearing about the hundreds of girls and women who were abused by Larry Nassar, a former doctor for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University.
“It started to put those thoughts into my mind that those people who were complaining about Doc Strauss at the time might have had something to complain about,” said Delman.
Kept it to himself
Brian Garrett, 44, said he both witnessed and experienced sexual abuse by Strauss while handling administrative work at the doctor's off-campus clinic briefly in 1996.
He later paid for counseling a couple of times but did not tell others, not even his wife. It wasn't until this year that he learned it wasn't isolated.
Garrett said he didn't report Strauss because he was worried about getting into graduate school. He also felt embarrassed, questioning whether it was somehow his fault.
Besides, all the resources for sexual abuse victims on campus were geared toward women, he said.
“You're a white, heterosexual male. Who's going to feel sorry for you?” Garrett said. “Who's going to listen to you? Nobody is going to think anything of it, you know? So I just completely repressed it.”
Feelings of shame
Most men who have been sexually abused aren't able to acknowledge or face their past until they reach middle age, said David Lisak, a forensics consultant who works with male victims .
Instead, men deeply internalize these feelings of shame, he said. “It's safe to say that shame is more intense for men because we know men are dramatically less likely to disclose what happened.”
There's a feeling among boys and men that you're supposed to take care of yourself and to be tough, Lisak said.
“As a young boy you learn that you're not supposed to cry, you're not supposed to be weak, you're not supposed to be powerless,” he said. “But sexual abuse conflicts with all of those, and for most boys that's an impossible conflict to overcome.”
Michigan State fallout
Nick Nutter, an All-American wrestler for Ohio State in the 1990s, said he lived in shame for years, keeping his feelings pent up.
He estimates he saw Strauss 20 times, usually for a wrestling-related injury, and was groped each time.
Like some of the others, he decided to open up only after the scandal at Michigan State and thinking about his two daughters. He just told his wife within the past few months.
His message is: Don't be embarrassed, because it does happen. “You could be a world champion, one of the toughest guys in the world, the Ultimate Fighting guys, and you know what? It could happen to you; it could happen to anybody,” he said.
“It's not helping anybody to keep it quiet,” Nutter said.
‘It’s not right’
Matt Mynster, a member of the wrestling program from 1986 to 1991, said his teammates joked about how Strauss treated them but avoided any serious discussions.
They all thought the doctor was weird, but they never considered him a sexual predator, said Mynster, 50.
“When all this stuff started coming out, I talked to my wife, close friends, and the more I thought about it, I wouldn't say it's sexual assault,” he said. “I don't know what it is. It's not right.”
Sorting it out
How people remember what happened to them and how they define it can radically change.
“We see this a lot,” said Jim Hopper, who was a founding board member of 1in6 , an organization for men who have had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences.
Sometimes, it changes when they have children or when they hear more stories of abuse, he said.
Everyone should be able to sort it out for themselves, Hopper said, including how they define what happened and whether it may have contributed to problems such as shame, anger, addiction or depression.
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