WASHINGTON — More than 100 former Ohio State University students have come forward with allegations that a team doctor and professor at the school committed some form of sexual misconduct with them, university officials announced Friday, as the university begins to grapple with the sheer scope of a scandal that continues to grow.
It is the latest in a series of sex abuse scandals that have rattled prominent universities, including the University of Southern California, where more than 50 women have accused a former campus gynecologist of misconduct; Pennsylvania State University, where child sex abuse sent one football coach, Jerry Sandusky, to prison and felled a legend, Joe Paterno; and Michigan State University, which is still contending with the fallout from the predations of a team doctor, Lawrence G. Nassar.
The Nassar scandal first inspired Ohio State athletes to step forward, and since those initial wrestlers went public, other alumni have said they were abused by Dr. Richard H. Strauss from 1979 to 1997.
The scandal has cast a cloud over the university as more former athletes accuse university officials of knowing of the abuse and doing nothing to stop it. Two separate class-action lawsuits were filed this week by five former wrestlers, who said their complaints of being sexually abused during physicals conducted by the doctor were ignored.
It has also ensnared an outspoken Republican in Congress, Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, who was an assistant wrestling coach while Dr. Strauss was a team doctor. Mr. Jordan has denied knowing about the abuse and attacked some of his accusers.
The school announced in April that it had hired independent investigators to look into whether Dr. Strauss, who killed himself in 2005, committed acts of sexual misconduct against athletes and students while employed by the university. In addition to serving as the team doctor for more than a dozen men’s sports team, he also worked at the university’s student health center and taught as an assistant professor of medicine.
Investigators with the law firm Perkins Coie have interviewed more than 200 former students, 100 of whom accused Dr. Strauss of sexual misconduct, including former athletes from 14 different sports teams. Investigators expect to interview an additional 100 former students in the weeks to come, a statement released by the university’s president said.
And the scope of the inquiry has widened beyond the athletic department to investigate whether Dr. Strauss abused high schoolers, as well as claims that he brought college students to his personal off-campus office to abuse them.
Unlike in the Nassar scandal, the victims so far have been grown men, not teenage girls. They lack the star power of the gold medal Olympians who publicly accused Mr. Nassar of abuse, and many of them have wanted to keep the incidents of their college days buried.
Mike DiSabato, a former varsity wrestler who was among the first athletes to speak out, said that he decided to do so after talking to a teammate about the sexual abuse committed by Dr. Nassar against more than 160 women and girls.
“I didn’t recognize my abuse until I saw it,” Mr. DiSabato said. “He started reading the details of these young ladies and I said, ‘Dude, that’s us.’”
When colleges have successful athletic programs, administrators are often more loath to act on allegations of wrongdoing for fear it will hurt the profile of the university — and by extension — opportunities to fund-raise, said Jamel K. Donnor, the co-author of a book on scandals in college sports.
But Mr. Donnor believes that more universities, especially state schools with vaunted athletic programs, may be facing allegations of sexual misconduct.
“We are at this time where these claims are now being taken seriously,” he said. “This is a watershed moment with the #MeToo movement.”
The lawsuits filed on Tuesday describe how the misconduct committed by Dr. Strauss was frequently under the guise of medical treatment, just as they were with Dr. Nassar. Regardless of the ailment, one lawsuit states, his treatment “almost always included examination, touching and fondling of their genitalia, and it frequently included digital anal penetration under the guise of checking for hernias.”
The university at the time required that athletes submit to a physical, administered by Dr. Strauss, before being allowed to compete, “which meant that systematic sexual abuse from Dr. Strauss was inevitable,” the lawsuit said.
Wrestlers who have spoken about the abuse have said that the doctor’s conduct during physicals was an open secret in the locker room, with athletes referring to him as “Dr. Jellypaws.”
The pair of lawsuits collectively detail three separate episodes spanning two decades in which athletes spoke out about the doctor’s conduct: The captain of the wrestling team complained to another doctor at the student health center; another wrestler complained to the head coach; and two wrestlers confronted the athletic director.
The head coach at the time, Russ Hellickson, has denied that he knew about the abuse, but he said he did confront Mr. Strauss about lingering too long in the showers with the wrestlers.
News reports cited in the lawsuit also detail how the facility where wrestlers practiced, Larkins Hall, was home to a “cesspool of deviancy,” in which men affiliated with the university would ogle athletes in the showers.
Stephen Estey, a lawyer representing four former wrestlers who have filed a lawsuit against the university, said on Friday that he was getting “inundated” with calls from people saying they had been abused by Dr. Strauss. He expects that an additional 20 to 25 plaintiffs will join the lawsuit, and that hundreds of former students will eventually come forward.
“There were many red flags that O.S.U. ignored,” Mr. Estey said, pointing to reports that athletes at the time complained about the doctor’s misconduct. “By not taking any action at the time, O.S.U. exposed hundreds of kids to his abuse.”
Mr. Jordan and his ardent denials of misconduct have thrust the tight-knit Ohio wrestling community into the national news media, and into disarray. Eight former wrestlers, including a former Ultimate Fighting Champion celebrity, have publicly accused Mr. Jordan of knowing about the abuse, but a platoon of former wrestlers and coaches has come to his support, drawing battle lines among some members of the community.
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