‘It Can Happen Even to Guys’: Ohio State Wrestlers Detail Abuse, Saying #UsToo

CLEVELAND — Nick Nutter, an All-American heavyweight wrestler at Ohio State turned professional martial arts fighter, sat watching the television last January as one by one, the young women, former gymnasts — some of them Olympians — took the stand in a courtroom in Michigan, and in wrenching testimony, detailed how their team doctor, Lawrence G. Nassar, had used his power to sexually abuse them.

The memories that Mr. Nutter for so long had tried to bury came surging back, he said: how when he was in college, his team doctor groped him “19 exams out of 20;” how the doctor once called him to his house for an emergency treatment of a poison ivy rash, carefully laid down and smoothed out a white linen sheet on his bed, then repeatedly groped his genitals when he was supposed to be treating the rash — and how for two decades, the burly no-holds-barred fighting veteran had said nothing.

Watching the Nassar trial “woke up the beast,” he recalled at an airport coffee shop here before a flight to Florida for work. Mr. Nutter said he had always believed, “‘He’s a doctor, I’m sure he’s got a reason to be doing it.’” But that was precisely the reasoning that so many female victims of Mr. Nassar had used, and now they were coming forward — many of them half his size but with seemingly so much more courage.

He said he picked up the phone and called his former college teammates to ask, “Are you watching this stuff?’”

“Michigan State is what got us to say, ‘Hey, it can happen even to guys,’” Mr. Nutter said.

More than 100 men have now come forward to say they were molested by Dr. Richard Strauss, a team doctor and physician at Ohio State University from the late 1970s to the 1990s, according to an independent investigation commissioned by the university. Three lawsuits have been filed accusing Ohio State of enabling a sexual predator, putting the school into a new and expanding category that includes Michigan State University, where Mr. Nassar preyed on female athletes and Olympic gymnasts; Pennsylvania State University, where a former football coach, Jerry Sandusky, raped young boys; and the University of Southern California, where a school gynecologist is accused of sexually abusing female students.

Just this week, Ohio State placed the head coach of its storied football team, Urban Meyer, on paid administrative leave while the university investigated allegations that Mr. Meyer knew a longtime former assistant coach had been accused of domestic abuse in 2015.

In some sense, what separates Ohio State’s abuse scandal from others are the victims: young adult men, and many of them muscular wrestlers, left to grapple with pain and anguish they believed they were not entitled to. Having built their identities around traditional notions of toughness and stoicism, many are struggling with a new identity — #MeToo, or in their case, #UsToo.

Complicating it is the assistant wrestling coach at the time, Jim Jordan, who is now a powerful conservative congressman running to be speaker of the House next year. Mr. Jordan has denied knowing anything about sexual misconduct and insinuated that some of the accusers may have political motives.

“People say this is conspicuous that this comes out now,” said Michael Rodriguez, a former wrestler who was abused by Dr. Strauss and who pushed back hard on that notion. “But to me, this is all about #MeToo.”

Mr. Rodriguez recalled watching the news with his 13-year-old daughter last fall when the TV program did a segment on Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misconduct and the broader moment of reckoning it had spawned. “Oh my God — I have one of those,” Mr. Rodriguez told his daughter. “I have a ‘hashtag MeToo.’”

David Mulvin, the captain of the wrestling team in 1978, remembered opening up a local paper and reading that other men had come forward to name Dr. Strauss as their abuser. “My jaw dropped,” he recalled. “I said, ‘So I didn’t do anything wrong.’”

He said he had been masturbated by Dr. Strauss for nearly 20 minutes after seeking treatment for a fungal infection caused by a genital burn from his wrestling gear.

Like Mr. Mulvin, some victims harbored shame and guilt for “leading on” Dr. Strauss, who killed himself in 2005, with the obvious physical response to abuse that female victims could not display, Mr. Nutter explained.

“People felt guilty,” he said of teammates he has spoken to. “I guess they feel like an erection is an agreement. It’s saying, ‘This is something I like.’”

Over drinks at a dive bar here, or seated in the corner of a deli, one weekend last month, the wrestlers reminisced and poked fun at their own reactions to the episodes, roaring with laughter. They acknowledged the tears that female abuse survivors had displayed during the Nassar trial, but, they said, joking about it was, for them, the only socially acceptable way to discuss what happened.

“Society teaches you it’s embarrassing to talk about” sexual abuse, said Steve Snyder-Hill, who said he was groped by Dr. Strauss on a visit to the Ohio State student health center, then filed a complaint against the university in the 1990s. The university responded that it had no other complaints about the doctor. “I think it has everything to do with power. Someone has power over you, and it doesn’t matter what gender you are.”

Nearly every man who has come forward shares a similar story. Regardless of what ailment they had, they said Dr. Strauss’s examination almost always ended with the doctor inspecting and groping their genitals. He always offered an explanation: Men had lymph nodes in their testicles, and he needed to check them out; he was just being thorough.

“When you’d get a lesion or breakout or infection on your face, you took a rough elbow, whatever, the intimacy with which he would conduct that examination was as creepy and inappropriate as the ‘turn your head and cough’ stuff,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “He’d cup your face. You’d be nose to nose. It would be way longer than it should be.”

Over winter break in 1991-2, Mr. Rodriguez said, Dr. Strauss invited him to his private two-story residence a 10-minute drive from campus, extensively examined his genital area, then masturbated him during what should have been a quick inspection of pubic lice.

For many men, those examinations were the first time they had ever seen a doctor without a parent present. One former wrestler joked that he had been groped only once because he “wasn’t Strauss’s type.”

Asked what the doctor’s type was, the wrestler quipped, “naïve.”

While they knew something was not right, many of the men were not ready to call it abuse.

“I didn’t understand myself as a victim,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “I might say Strauss was weird and kind of handsy. It would stop there.”

Mr. Mulvin was so disturbed by his experience that he went to a doctor at the student health center to report what happened. He said the doctor assured him he would make a note of the case and send it on, but it is unclear whether any action was taken, and Mr. Mulvin is now one of several men suing Ohio State.

But he never discussed the episode with his teammates or his coach. As team captain, he said, he thought it was a burden he had to bear alone.

“I’m supposed to be the leader, hold the team together,” he said. “Why would I take” the coaches “a problem like that?”

In weighing how to respond at the time, many of his victims fixated on the fact that Dr. Strauss was much smaller and older than them. And critics have raised the same question: Why didn’t these wrestlers fight back?

Mark Schultz, a former Olympian, Hall of Fame wrestler and U.F.C. fighter, tweeted, “One OSU wrestler Nick Nutter said he was fondled for several minutes in a room full of pics of naked men while he lied there naked. Is that fondling or Is that consent?”

To Mr. Nutter, the question was simply unfair: “I read on the internet, people saying, ‘Why didn’t they just punch him in the face?’ I’m not a violent person. I’m honestly a quiet person. It wasn’t that easy. And in hindsight I wouldn’t have punched him anyway. I don’t hate the guy. He had some demons.”

Besides, a number of wrestlers said, how would it look for a six-foot heavyweight champion, attending college on scholarship, to punch out a rail-thin middle-aged man? If they did and explained why, who would believe them over a doctor?

“They were supposed to be a manly man,” said Dunyasha Yetts, one of the most outspoken former wrestlers from Ohio State. “I think a lot of guys put it in the back of their mind. They said, ‘I’m just going to move on.’”

But as successful as many of them had been at burying those interactions, there are lingering consequences. Mr. Mulvin refuses to see male doctors. A former member of the Ohio State tennis team delayed seeking treatment for eight months when he developed a painful lump on his testicles, according to a lawsuit filed against the university.

To this day, certain memories still tug at them: how Dr. Strauss’s breath smelled as he leaned in to grope them; how strangely long his fingers seemed. For Mr. Nutter, it is a recollection of the doctor smoothing out the wrinkles of the white linen on his bed.

“Little things, I can’t erase it from my head,” he said. “I’ll have those memories of him laying that sheet on the bed forever.”

And though in many ways, the Nassar trial was the impetus of his own reckoning, Mr. Mulvin cannot bear to watch or read any more about it.

“I felt like I was reliving it,” he said. “Every time it’s on TV, I turn it off.”

And while Mr. Nassar’s victims could confront him face to face in court before his conviction, Dr. Strauss’s suicide, for some of his victims, means they will never get closure.

“It took half my life later to find out he was a serial abuser,” Mr. Snyder-Hill said. “I’ll never be able to confront him.”

Marc Tracy contributed reporting from Columbus, Ohio.