Ex-Ohio State wrestler clarifies comment about congressman's awareness of abuse

Posted at 5:52 AM, Aug 11, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-11 05:52:01-04

(CNN) -- A month ago, former Ohio State University wrestler Mark Coleman told a national newspaper that his former assistant coach, now an Ohio congressman, must have known about sexual abuse allegations against a team doctor.

"There's no way unless he's got dementia or something that he's got no recollection of what was going on at Ohio State," Coleman told The Wall Street Journal about Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who was an assistant wrestling coach during the time the doctor is accused of abusing athletes. "I have nothing but respect for this man. I love this man. But he knew as far as I'm concerned."

On Thursday, Coleman told CNN he wants to clarify his comment, and he stressed he has no direct knowledge that Jordan knew of any sexual abuse by Dr. Richard Strauss, a doctor at Ohio State.

More than 100 former students, including Coleman, have accused Strauss of sexual misconduct. They said the abuse took place between 1979 and 1997, the university has said. Strauss died in 2005.

"Maybe I spoke without thinking," Coleman said Thursday. "This has absorbed my life. Since I've said that, it's consumed me 24 hours a day, and I didn't like the way it was heading, the direction it was heading."

Coleman was a wrestler at Ohio State and then an assistant wrestling coach with Jordan in the 1990s.

Coleman's parents attended a July 4th political rally in Ohio to express their solidarity with Jordan, a spokesperson in his office told CNN. They gave him their phone number and he called them shortly after the rally, but Jordan never spoke with Coleman directly, the spokesman said, adding that Jordan hasn't "contacted any of the congressman's accusers."

Jordan denies knowing about any improper behavior while he was assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State between 1987 and 1995.

Former OSU wrestling coaches showed their support for Jordan in a joint statement, saying they believe his claims that he was not aware of the sex abuse allegations.

"At no time while Jim Jordan was a coach with me at Ohio State did either of us ignore abuse of our wrestlers. That is not the kind of man Jim is, and it is not the kind of coach that I was." said Russ Hellickson, OSU's head wrestling coach during Jordan's tenure.

In a July interview with CNN, Hellickson said he spoke directly with Dr. Strauss about physical contact with the wrestlers. Despite his own concerns about the doctor, Hellickson maintained Jordan may not have known about the alleged abuse several former wrestlers described to CNN, and say was discussed openly in the locker room.

"We never talked about it, I never brought it up. Maybe Jim never saw it," he said.

"Conversations in a locker room are a lot different than allegations of abuse to us," Jim Jordan told Fox News last month.

The joint statement by former OSU coaches, as well as a joint statement by former OSU wrestlers who support Jordan, was released by Shirley & Banister Public Affairs, a PR company employed by the Jordan campaign. The company launched a #StandWithJimJordan online strategy and created a website by the same name it describes as an aggregate of support for the representative.

The university announced in April that it is investigating allegations of sexual misconduct by Strauss. The school has hired a law firm, Perkins Coie, to look into the claims made by former male athletes on 14 sports teams.

More than 150 people have been interviewed during the investigation, which is ongoing, according to Perkins Coie.

May have heard some 'locker room' talk

Coleman told CNN he no longer stands by his statement.

"I was angry and said words that I shouldn't have said," Coleman said. "He may have known about some locker room banter because we did joke about it in the locker room, but I don't know of anyone ever reporting it to Jim Jordan directly."

Coleman spoke to CNN on the phone. He did not want to appear on camera.

"I'm clarifying (the earlier statement) because it's been on my mind for a long time and I feel guilty that this happened, and I wanted to clarify it," he said. "Not change it. I said what I said."

Jordan is a high-profile representative who wants to replace GOP Rep. Paul Ryan as House speaker.