One of the curious dimensions of the evolving Jim Jordan story is that the defenses of Jordan often become close to indistinguishable from the accusations against him. The first instance was that interlude in Jordan’s interview with Fox News’s Bret Baier in which he switched from adamant denials to making a distinction between formal accusations and “conversations in a locker room.” When Baier asked what “locker room” talk he’d heard, Jordan shifted back and insisted he hadn’t heard any. Now there’s another instance of this, an admission that essentially demolishes Jordan’s denials. The head coach Jordan worked for, Russ Hellickson, admits he knew Dr. Strauss was acting inappropriately with wrestlers on his team and confronted him about it.
To be clear, head coach Hellickson is not one of Jordan’s accusers. He’s one of Jordan’s biggest defenders. He has repeatedly defended Jordan and signed the open letter assembled by the right-wing PR firm which an anonymous funder has retained to attack Jordan’s accusers. “None of us saw or heard of abuse of OSU wrestlers,” one portion of the letter reads. “The well-being of student-athletes was all of our concern. If we had heard of any abuse, we would have spoken up.”
But Hellickson has a problem.
Before Jordan’s involvement in the story broke on July 3rd, one of Jordan’s accusers, Mike DiSabato interviewed Hellickson on videotape. The video has not been publicly released but it’s been shown to multiple news outlets, including CNN and USAToday. On that tape, Hellickson admits to precisely what Jordan is vociferously denying.
On the tape, Hellickson said that many of the wrestlers were “uncomfortable” with Dr. Strauss’s behavior and that he had confronted Strauss about it. There was Strauss’s lingering in the showers with wrestlers and fondling them during weigh-ins.
When Strauss told Hellickson that he showered with the wrestlers as well, Hellickson told him: “Yeah. Not for an hour, doc.”
Hellickson also told Strauss he was “much too hands on” with the wrestlers. In response, Strauss told him he was just being “thorough.” (In a discussion of the tape Wednesday morning on CNN, a CNN journalist who has watched the tape said the being “hands on” was during weigh-ins.) Critically, Hellickson said he’d communicated his concerns about the shower situation to University administrators. “Certainly, all of my administrators recognized that it was an issue for meI’m sure that I talked to all of them on numerous occasions about my discontent with the environment.”
It is important to note that, if not in a narrowly legal sense, these amount to admissions against interest for Hellickson. He was the head coach. He was ultimately responsible for the well-being of the student wrestlers. There’s very little reason for him to say these things if they were not true. There’s good reason to think there’s more detail he hasn’t shared.
News outlets have been trying to get Hellickson to discuss what he says on the unreleased tape for days. On Monday he finally spoke to USAToday. He essentially confirmed what he said on the tape: that that he confronted Strauss about the showering situation and told him: “When you’re doing weigh-ins, you’re too hands on, Doc.” What Hellickson told USAToday in the Monday interview, however, is that there was nothing that appeared to be a “red flag” that the behavior constituted abuse.
What seems clear is that Hellickson is trying to make his defense of Jordan square with what he admitted on tape before he knew Jordan would deny everything. It’s an impossible position. His contradictory claims simply don’t add up. At best, Hellickson’s cobbled together explanation amounts to a version of the one Jordan tentatively floated in his interview with Bret Baier: that “conversations in a locker room” are far different from formal accusations. The simple fact is that Hellickson knew there was a problem enough to confront Strauss for lingering in the showers with the student wrestlers and feeling up wrestlers during weigh-ins. That speaks for itself. He knew enough, by his own account, to repeatedly raise the matter with University administrators.
Nine wrestlers have come forward to say Jordan knew about the abuse. Two of them say they told him directly of specific instances in which Strauss has touched them inappropriately. Hellickson is basically trapped – because of what he said on the video before he realized Jordan would deny everything – into conceding that he knew about Strauss’s behavior and knew it was serious enough to confront him and bring his concerns to administrators. Given Hellickson’s admissions, Jordan’s claim that he was simply in the dark are absurd on their face.