Former UFC heavyweight champion Mark Coleman was one of numerous male athletes victimized by Dr. Richard Strauss at Ohio State University, according to a report from Sports Illustrated.
In a piece entitled Why Aren’t More People Talking About the Ohio State Sex Abuse Scandal, Coleman recalls undergoing what seemed to be an inappropriate physical examination from Strauss upon his arrival on campus in 1986.
“He examined me pretty good. It was an eye-opener,” Coleman said. “I don’t want to go further than that.”
At that time, Strauss was the OSU doctor for five sports programs and the consulting physician for at least 10 others. According to the report, Strauss would not only fondle male athletes’ genitals during examinations — whether it was necessary or not — but he was also known to be present at practices, in locker rooms and would even shower with the athletes. Strauss’ bizarre and inappropriate antics earned him monikers like “Dr. Feel Good” or “Dr. Drop-Your-Nuts” at OSU.
“We never thought a man could sexually abuse a man,” Coleman said. “We just played it off. We joked about it. But I don’t think we were really joking.”
For someone like Coleman, who would go on to win an NCAA wrestling title for the Buckeyes in 1988, it was difficult to speak out against Strauss because the doctor was in charge of clearing the athletes to compete.
“This guy controlled my future,” Coleman said. “We all put up with it. For me, it was like, ‘Just clear me so I can go win an NCAA title and make the Olympic team,” you know?”
Strauss worked at Ohio State for nearly two decades. In addition to numerous sexual assault allegations, he was also believed to have provided performance enhancing drugs to athletes on campus. Coleman, however, denied to SI that he received PEDs from Strauss but did admit that the doctor discussed them with athletes. According to the report, Strauss could have used the distribution of PEDs to give him leverage with those he sexually abused.
From 1978 to 1998, Strauss reportedly victimized athletes in sports such as wrestling, football, tennis, cheerleading as well as students who didn’t have ties to the athletic department. Per a report commissioned by Ohio State and obtained by SI, Strauss committed at least 1,429 instances of fondling and 47 instances of rape.
Coleman admitted the incidents changed his demeanor, though he didn’t completely understand the negative effects at the time.
“I didn’t know how bad it was affecting me, but now I look back and I was very angry,” he said. “I went into practice very angry a lot of times, storming into the wrestling room and screaming. I was confused. I spun it as, ‘Well, it’s good to be angry, I’m gonna have a hell of a practice and kick someone’s ass.’ But now I realize, it wasn’t good and I realize why.”
According to SI, more than 350 athletes — including Coleman — have sued OSU for Strauss’ actions. The school released the following statement to SI regarding Strauss:
We express our deep regret and apologies to all who experienced Strauss’s abuse,” the statement read. “Ohio State is a fundamentally different university today and over the past 20 years has committed substantial resources to prevent and address sexual misconduct.”
Strauss’ victims were males, which may have made it easier for the doctor to operate in secrecy, in part because of shame athletes who competed in macho sports like football or wrestling might feel in confessing to being victimized.
“People say, Why would they let a little man do this?” Coleman said. “Well, it’s complicated. You felt powerless. I wasn’t going to stir up s---, punch Dr. Strauss in the face and risk everything.”
Though rumors regarding Strauss existed for years, it wasn’t truly addressed until complaints of inappropriate treatment began to mount in the 1990s. In July 1996, Strauss was stripped of his duties in the athletic department and removed from his Student Health Services position, but these actions were taken without public reprimand toward the doctor. He remained at Ohio State as a tenured professor before retiring in 1998. He later moved to California and committed suicide in 2005 at age 67 due to depression and abdominal pain.
When Coleman served as an assistant wrestling coach for the Buckeyes, he noticed that a large number of athletes would quit the team. And according to the report, there are many former OSU athletes who are still haunted by Strauss’ abuse to this day.
“These were guys on full scholarship who could have been All-Americans. Why did they quit?” Coleman said. “We thought they [wimped] out. Well, now it makes total sense. I was shocked to find out how bad [Strauss] messed guys up.”
In addition to his success at Ohio State, Coleman would go on to become the UFC’s first heavyweight champion and Pride Fighting Championships’ 2000 Open Weight Grand Prix Champion. He was eventually inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame.