A group of former Ohio State wrestling coaches defended Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) against accusations from former wrestlers that Jordan knew about and ignored sexual abuse by a former team doctor, The Hill reported.
Former Ohio State head wrestling coach Russ Hellickson, along with five former assistant coaches who worked with Jordan between 1987 and 1995, issued a joint statement denying any knowledge that Ohio State wrestlers had been sexually abused.
"What has been said about Jim Jordan is absolutely wrong," the statement read. "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."
'Hysteria and politics'
Hellickson, the head coach during Jordan's time at Ohio State, accused the seven former Ohio State wrestlers of targeting Jordan for political reasons.
"I am frankly pissed off at what they are doing to Jim Jordan," Hellickson said during an interview with The Hill. "This is hysteria and politics running the narrative. [Jordan] gave his heart and soul to the personal development of these athletes. If they are attacking him, why aren't they attacking the 30 or 40 other coaches at OSU?"
Jordan, who could potentially run to replace Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as speaker of the House, has enlisted the conservative public relations firm Shirley & Banister Public Affairs to push back against the growing accusations that he ignored sexual abuse of his athletes by former team doctor Richard Strauss.
More detail about the situation could become public as an independent investigation at Ohio State University progresses. Athletes from at least 15 sports have reported abuse or misconduct by Strauss.
'Conversations' or 'allegations?'
As the involved parties continue to discuss Strauss's behavior and who may have known what, a distinction between casual locker room conversations and formal reports of sexual abuse is being drawn.
For example, Jordan told Fox News that "Conversations in a locker room are a lot different than allegations of abuse or reported abuse. No one ever reported any abuse to me."
And while Hellickson said in the joint statement that "none of us saw or heard of abuse of OSU wrestlers," NBC News previously reported that Hellickson said in a video that he confronted Strauss about his behavior and warned school administrators as well.
"I said, 'You make the guys nervous when you shower with them,'" Hellickson reportedly said in the video, which was recorded by former Ohio State wrestler Mike DiSabato. "His response was 'Coach, you shower with your guys all the time.' And I said 'Not for an hour, Doc.'"
So, while Hellickson said no athletes formally reported any sexual abuse to him, Strauss's behavior toward the athletes was disturbing enough for him to warn Strauss to "steer clear of his wrestlers" and to warn administration.
The former wrestlers say that Strauss would regularly grope them and perform full body exams for injuries that did not require such treatment.
"Doc Strauss was a serial groper of our bodies, including of our testicles," DiSabato told CNN. "I consider Jim a friend, but for whatever reason, he has made the decision to deny something that absolutely happened. He had knowledge of it. His locker was next to Doc Strauss."