When Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman and more than 140 other survivors of sexual assault took the stage at the 2018 ESPYS, it was an astonishing show of strength as well as a shocking visual display of the magnitude of the abuse tied to a team doctor at USA Gymnastics. And incredibly, that display could be repeated next year with former athletes from Ohio State University.
Two class-action lawsuits filed recently on behalf of former wrestlers at the school accuse doctor Richard Strauss of abusing student athletes for two decades and accuse the coaches, the athletic director and the school of doing nothing to stop it.
The USA Gymnastics scandal and now the one at Ohio State prove we have learned nothing in seven years. That’s how long it’s been since Penn State Football Coach Joe Paterno was fired for knowing about and looking the other way from the sexual abuse of his assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.
US Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), is specifically named in one of the lawsuits against Ohio State as also ignoring sexual abuse. Jordan vehemently denies the accusations.
The Jordan name is almost as big in college wrestling as Paterno was in college football. Jordan himself is a two-time National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) champion. His son Isaac is a four-time NCAA All American, which means he was a top eight finisher at the NCAA wrestling championship tournament. His brother Jeff Jordan is the coach of one of the most successful high school wrestling programs in the country.
Since the first allegations surfaced that Jordan knew about sexual abuse by Strauss, the calls for him to resign have been muted and partisan. According to The Associated Press, House Speaker Paul Ryan said there won’t be a House Ethics Committee review because the alleged issues happened, “a couple of decades ago” before Jordan was elected, when he was an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State.
Coaches have a special bond with young athletes, and so they have an amplified responsibility to protect them. Former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert failed his athletes miserably. He preyed on his young wrestlers, shattered a sacred trust and changed lives forever. Hastert went to prison in 2015 after admitting to sexually abusing his athletes. Although Jordan wasn’t the predator, if the allegations are true, he certainly was derelict in his responsibility, betrayed the trust his athletes and their parents had in him, and played a role in altering their lives.
As the mother of three sons who participated in sports throughout high school and college, including wrestling, I know the level of trust it takes to turn your child over to someone who will spend more time each day with them than you do, someone who should be a role model for them and someone who is expected to teach them about more than technique. A coach models how to behave when things get tough, when decisions don’t go your way and how to win with grace.
I can only imagine the level of betrayal when a young man confides in a coach about a horrific act perpetrated against him and that coach does nothing. That’s what Jordan is accused of doing: nothing.
Ohio State is investigating the allegations. Three former wrestlers told NBC News that “it would have been impossible” for Jordan to be unaware. Another said he told Jordan directly about the abuse.
The allegations are not proven yet. But in this time of #MeToo, we have seen plenty of people who faced credible allegations, but not charges, also face consequences: Harvey Weinstein, Al Franken, Bill O’Reilly, Matt Lauer and others.
Furthermore, in the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal, it wasn’t just the perpetrators who were held accountable. Those who covered for pedophile priests have also faced consequences, the most notable being Bernard Francis Law, who resigned in 2002 as cardinal and archbishop in Boston after it came out that he had covered up sexual abuse committed by priests in his archdiocese.
That sent a message, and it served to strengthen the fragile trust in regard to the children in the church. A message needs to be sent now, too. Congressman Jordan should resign. If he won’t, Congress needs to investigate and impose real consequences if it finds the allegations credible.
The final message to send is that “locker room talk” is no excuse. Although Jordan is backtracking now and saying he never heard anything about abuse in the Ohio State wrestling locker room, he originally told Fox News, “Conversations in a locker room are a lot different than someone coming up and reporting abuse.”
Conversations about abuse are never “just talk.” They need to be taken seriously and addressed immediately, no matter where they happen. That’s the lesson we need to learn from Joe Paterno and now Jim Jordan. Paterno waited to be fired. Jordan should resign now and not wait for the voters to fire him in the next election.