It’s a bit of an understatement to say Jim Jordan comes to the Speakership with baggage. (Yes, I think it’s almost a given at this point.) But there’s baggage and then there’s baggage. There’s been very, very little discussion of the fact that Jordan is deeply entwined in a college wrestling molestation scandal from his days as the assistant coach of the Ohio State University wrestling team in the 80s and early 90s. It’s been mostly ignored because reporters see it as old news. There was a scandal but it didn’t really go anywhere, the thinking goes. Old news, nothing to see here. But that doesn’t make any sense if you know the details.
First, here’s the short version.
Jim Jordan was the assistant coach of the OSU wrestling team from 1986 to 1994. During that time the team doctor was Richard Strauss and he allegedly assaulted/molested countless players over many years. I only say “allegedly” because Strauss died by suicide in 2005 before the scandal came to light. He never went on trial. By any reasonable reckoning, however, he did what he was accused of. OSU has now paid out some $60 million in settlements to almost 300 people who were victimized by Strauss over some 20 years at OSU. For the purposes of this ed-blog, Strauss’s guilt really isn’t in dispute.
The scandal is broadly very generally similar to the one that engulfed female olympic gymnasts. The majority of the abuse came under the guise of repeated and needless genital examinations and touching or purported therapy for injuries and issues that had nothing to do with that part of the body. Other abuse escalated dramatically from there. But the majority of the victims were in that context.
According to numerous witnesses, Strauss’s abuse was common knowledge among the wrestlers and coaches. Numerous former wrestlers not only say Jordan “must have known,” they say they discussed it with him at the time. As one wrestler identified only as John Doe in an ongoing lawsuit put it: “None of us used the words ‘sexual abuse’ when we talked about what Doc Strauss was doing to us, we just knew it was weird and Jimmy knew about it because we talked about it all the time in the locker room, at practices, everywhere.”
No one has ever accused Jordan of being involved in any abuse in any way. That’s not what this is about. But the overwhelming evidence suggests he was part of a culture of silence in the program — one of many people who knew about it but did nothing to stop it. The big moment for Jordan’s accusers came in 2018 when the scandal finally hit. When asked about it, Jordan flatly denied ever knowing anything was amiss when he was assistant coach. That set a number of Strauss’ victims firmly against the lawmaker. For them, that appears to have been his biggest betrayal.
For a few days and weeks in 2018 it really seemed like Jordan’s political career might be over. It was touch and go. Eventually Jordan weathered the storm. But it wasn’t because he made a good case, particularly. It was more that his Republican colleagues simply decided it didn’t matter. He clearly wasn’t going to resign. So whatever. It was what it was. The context is important. At the time, Jordan was just another House GOP crazy, someone most voters barely knew about it. As a matter of national politics it just didn’t matter that much. And that’s basically where the story has rested for the last five years — a punch line for Democrats on social media but not a lot more.
Needless to say it’s all going to be a lot different if and when (and it seems like definitely when) Jordan becomes Speaker. He knew about the abuse. He did nothing. But the running wound is that he’s been lying about it and obviously lying about it for five years. Everyone knows he’s lying about it. Indeed, one of the former wrestler lawsuits will likely be able to depose Jordan about it in the coming months. (Just think about that as a story unfolding sometime over the next six months.) The same handful of former wrestlers who basically went to war with Jordan back in 2018 are returning to it now, just with little public attention.
There’s also the very real chance news organizations will start to put real muscle behind their investigation and turn up new incriminating facts. But new facts aren’t really necessary. There are few things more debilitating than a national political leader caught in a lie about a toxic or combustible topic and repeating it over and over. It doesn’t go away. Because everyone knows the person is lying. They have to lie about it again each time they’re asked. It invites more and more digging.
Needless to say, sexual molestation is about as toxic as it gets, even if you’re only proximate to it and not the perpetrator. Let’s not forget that this won’t be the first Republican Speaker tied to a wrestling molestation scandal. Disgraced Speaker Denny Hastert went to jail for it. There’s no evidence or accusation that Jordan abused anyone. But you’d really think one Speaker wrestling molestation scandal would be enough for House Republicans. I mean, really? What are the odds?
There are countless House Democratic campaign managers at this moment who cannot quite believe their luck. Jordan’s in an ironbound GOP district. He’s not going anywhere. But making him Speaker makes him the face of the House GOP and something every member in every marginal district has to carry into the election.