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Death To The NCAA

Supreme Court Allows Lawsuits Against Ohio State To Move Forward

The US Supreme Court building as seen in Washington, DC, on June 26, 2023.
Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Sometimes inaction is just as important as action. That was the case this week, when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal brought by Ohio State University. Legal rationale and maneuvering aside, the effect is this: Well over a hundred lawsuits brought against Ohio State by people who said they were sexually abused by former university doctor Richard Strauss can go forward.

It's almost impossible to overstate the breadth of what has been revealed about Strauss, who died by suicide in 2005. Former Ohio State students began speaking out in 2018, saying Strauss had sexually abused them under the guise of providing them with a medical exam, and the number of accusers—mostly male, mostly former athletes—only grew. Earlier this year, Ohio State estimated that it had settled with nearly 300 people. In addition to that are the more than 100 people who have ongoing civil lawsuits against the university, saying the university violated Title IX, the federal civil rights law that bans gender discrimination in education, when it failed to protect them from Strauss's abuse.

When the lawsuits began, a district judge in Columbus agreed with the university that the lawsuits shouldn't go forward because they were past the statute of limitations (the statute of limitations on personal injuries in Ohio is two years). But the group won on appeal in the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where the majority (two out of three judges) said that it was reasonable for the lawsuits to go ahead now because the men couldn't have known until 2018 that they were all part of a multi-decade cover-up by the university. Ohio State appealed that to the Supreme Court, arguing that letting the cases go forward would negate any effective statute of limitations on Title IX claims. How these justices might feel about such a claim will remain unknown as Ohio State's appeal—like most appeals—joins the group of cases that are never heard at the highest court in the land.

If you are looking for speedy resolution, here comes my usual warning that court systems are slow. Perhaps Ohio State keeps fighting. Perhaps Ohio State is now suddenly desperate to settle and opens up its pocketbook. Maybe the men abused by Strauss desperately want their day in court, or maybe some of them would rather not potentially re-traumatize themselves by having to testify, or—given that this is such a large group of people—it's likely that both of those feelings as well as a wide spectrum of others will all be represented. No group is a monolith, certainly not a group of sexual abuse survivors.

The ability for the cases to move forward has also kicked up talk about what this means for Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, who was an assistant wrestling coach with Ohio State starting in the mid-1980s until he was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives in the mid-1990s. Several former Ohio State wrestlers have said that either they told Jordan about Strauss's abuse or that it would have been impossible for him to not know because everyone knew about what Strauss did and openly talked about it. Jordan has denied knowing anything about Strauss's abuse. Will Jordan have to take the stand and swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? The best I can tell you is ... maybe.

After the Supreme Court's inaction, Ohio State issued a statement to The Lantern saying it was "disappointed" in the decision but said the university "has committed substantial resources to prevent and address sexual misconduct." Lawyers for the men, also via The Lantern, said, "We look forward to returning to the trial court, having our clients' stories heard, and gathering further evidence of OSU's widespread cover-up of Dr. Strauss's serial predation."

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