Wrestling abuse dogged Jim Jordan’s House speaker run. A new film could be a ‘game changer’

A staffer at George Clooney’s production house Smokehouse Pictures told The Independent they were ‘still thick in production on’ blockbuster documentary

Tuesday 24 October 2023 20:07 BST
<p>A new documentary is coming out about Ohio State University</p>

A new documentary is coming out about Ohio State University

A major documentary on the Ohio State University (OSU) sexual abuse scandal that is expected to renew attention on then-OSU coach and now Republican Congressman Jim Jordan is currently in the middle of production.

The untitled Max (HBO) film, produced by George Clooney and directed by Academy Award-winner Eva Orner, will tell the story of decades of abuse by former OSU sports doctor Richard Strauss through the eyes of victims “including All American wrestlers and football players, many of whom have not spoken out until now”, the streaming site said in a statement last year.

A staffer at Clooney’s production house Smokehouse Pictures told The Independent they were “still thick in production on it”.

Attention on the scandal intensified in recent weeks as Jordan began his ill-fated run for House Speaker, only to be cast aside by the same chaotic forces he helped to foster within the party. Mr Jordan has denied any knowledge of the abuse by Strauss, despite numerous witnesses stating they discussed it with him directly.

Jim Jordan's most controversial moments

Several victims have since gone on record to say that Mr Jordan’s alleged participation in the culture of silence that enabled Strauss’ abuse to go unpunished should have disqualified him from the speakership.

Mike Schyck is one of the more than 300 victims of Strauss’ abuse and revealed that he was flown to Columbus, Ohio, for multiple days of interviews with Ms Orner and the production crew.

Mike Schyck, right, features in an upcoming documentary on the Ohio State sexual abuse scandal. Pictured at the 2013 Veterans World Freestyle Championships

The filmmakers also travelled to his home in Englewood, Florida, for further interviews with him and his family members.

Mr Schyck told The Independent that he and other survivors are quietly hoping the film will have an enormous impact on ongoing attempts to hold OSU accountable, but that focus on Mr Jordan’s role in the scandal was being cynically exploited by his political enemies.

“People are trying to get soundbites to affect what he is doing politically,” Mr Schyck said. “I have one sole purpose and that’s to help my teammates and all the other athletes seek justice.”

The documentary had been slated for release later this year or possibly early next year, Mr Schyck told The Independent, but that following conversations with Ms Orner, he now understands that the release had been delayed as the filmmakers continued to uncover fresh details.

“She says it’s an ever changing thing. New data comes forward every day. They’re waiting for a final product as we all are.”

They spent time trailing him at Lemon Bay High School on Florida’s Gulf Coast, where as head wrestling coach he mentored his son to two state championships.

Survivors were also asked to send boxes of photos, clippings, and documents to the filmmakers from their time at Ohio State.

Congressman Jim Jordan

Mr Schyck had been upset by the rush to criticise Mr Jordan for his role in the culture of silence surrounding Strauss’ abuse, whose victims spanned multiple sports and began long before Mr Jordan arrived at the university in 1986, and continued after he left in 1994.

“Over 30 years, how many (OSU) assistant coaches came and went and we’re isolating one? Jordan made his choices as to how he would navigate through this and I fault him for that. But for isolating him, I think it’s irresponsible,” he told The Independent.

The attacks on Mr Jordan, who is often referred to as “Gym Jordan” by critics, marginalises the suffering of the survivors, says Schyck.

“People are uneducated about the case, and revile him for his political beliefs and they’re going to pile on in any way they can,” said Mr Schyck.

Strauss, who died in 2005, was accused of preying on hundreds of students between the 1970s and 1990s ranging from genital fondling to rape during medical checks.

Disgraced Ohio State University team doctor Richard Strauss died in 2005

Mr Schyck is one of dozens of victims who have spent the past five years in litigation with the university where he spent eight years as a student and assistant wrestling coach.

After Strauss’ crimes came to light in 2018, Mr Jordan strongly denied any knowledge of them.

A 2019 independent investigation by law firm Perkins Coie found that university staff knew of complaints about Strauss’ conduct as early as 1979 but failed to investigate or act meaningfully.

The report found that dozens of members of the Ohio State athletic department, including 22 coaches, knew about complaints or rumours about Strauss.

Mr Jordan was not mentioned by name, and told reporters in 2019 that he felt vindicated by its findings.

A spokesman for Mr Jordan did not respond to multiple requests for comment by The Independent about the documentary.

OSU has already admitted to failing to protect students and paid out $60m to settle claims by nearly 300 victims.

Ohio State University is being sued by dozens of former wrestlers over the sexual abuse scandal

But it has fought to dismiss five remaining lawsuits by dozens of other students. In June, the Supreme Court ruled that the cases could proceed despite the statute of limitations running out.

After issuing public apologies and paying out millions to victims, Ohio State denied it ever “admitted” to any wrongdoing in a court filing earlier this month, which according to Mr Schyck is just the latest example of the way it has gaslit the victims for decades.

Pre-trial hearings for Mr Schyck’s case in the Southern District of Ohio are due to take place in November.

Mr Jordan has been named in at least one of the outstanding lawsuits, and scrutiny on his knowledge of the abuse will likely continue.

Mr Schyck told The Independent he had been through the gamut of emotions in agreeing to tell his story to the documentary makers.

“I can get emotional. I’m a fiery guy. And through this I’ve found myself crying over certain things,” he said.

“I’m nervous about that because I don’t know how that’s going to play. I never wanted to be in a position where I’m talking about this. I’m a private guy and to have that under the microscope, it’s a little scary.”

The documentary is being produced by George Clooney’s Smokehouse Pictures

He said the filmmakers had gone to painstaking lengths to expose the university’s role in covering up the abuse, and that it has the potential to be a “game changer”.

“They’re not going to pull any punches, they’re going to try and show accountability where it should be had,” said Mr Schyk. “There’s so many layers to what happened. It’s not only about the abuse that happened, but the betrayal from it.”

He believes the scandal could come to be seen alongside former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar’s years of abuse at Michigan State University as among the worst university sexual abuse scandals in US history. Michigan State has agreed to pay out more than $500m to dozens of Nassar’s victims.

The documentary was first announced in February 2021, and is being produced by Clooney and long-time filmmaking partner Grant Heslov, along with Sports Illustrated Studios/101 Studios.

It is based on Jon Wertheim’s Sports Illustrated’s October 2020 story “Why Aren’t More People Talking About the Ohio State Sex Abuse Scandal?”.

A spokesperson for Clooney told The Independent he was not available to talk about the documentary “at this time”.

A spokesperson for Max’s owner Warner Media said there was no information to share about a possible release date.

Ohio State did not respond to a request for comment about the documentary.

With heavyweight Hollywood backers and a director with Academy and Emmy Award-winning pedigree, the film is likely to attract significant Oscar buzz, which could also influence its release date.

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