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George Clooney To Produce Documentary Series About Ohio State Abuse Scandal

george clooney
Alastair Grant

George Clooney's Smokehouse Pictures, Sports Illustrated Studios and 101 Studios are teaming up to produce a documentary series based on Jon Wertheim's SI story last Oct. 5 about prolific alleged abuse at Ohio State University.

Wertheim, Sports Illustrated executive editor and senior writer, wrote the "Why Aren't More People Talking About the Ohio State Sex Abuse Scandal?” digital cover story that "revealed the extent of Ohio State's sports doctor Richard Strauss' alleged sexual assaults and manipulation of over 350 (reported) student athletes," according to the producers' announcement Monday.

"We're very pleased to partner with 101 Studios and Sports Illustrated in bringing this devastating and tragic story to light," said Clooney and longtime production partner Grant Heslov in the release.

More than 2,000 instances of alleged decades-old sexual misconduct by Strauss have been discovered by OSU, according to a December Associated Press story citing the latest campus crime data disclosed under the federal Clery Act.

"It reported that about 2,200 total instances of fondling and 127 instances of rape attributed to Strauss came to light in 2018-19 through lawsuits, direct reports to the university and a law firm investigation conducted for Ohio State," AP said.

Strauss was the team doctor for 17 varsity sports and a physician at the university's Student Wellness Center 1978-98. The university reached a $40.9 million settlement with victims in 12 of 23 Strauss-related lawsuits against OSU last May, says The Lantern, OSU's student newspaper.

Strauss left the university and relocated to California in 1998, according to an independent investigation initiated by the university, according got Ben Johnson, OSU media and public relations director. He died by suicide in 2005.

The October SI story uncovered "the most widespread sexual abuse scandal in the history of American higher education. It is a story about power, abuse, enabling and the hierarchy of college sports that had been concealed for far too long," said Wertheim, who will be an executive producer of the series, in the Monday media release.

"Because these courageous men made the decision to remain silent no longer, we can finally begin to hold the abuser, and those who were complicit in their silence, accountable for their actions — and inactions. With the help of 101 Studios, Authentic Brands Group (SI's owner) and Smokehouse Pictures, their voices and stories — harrowing as they are — will be amplified."

Johnson, the university spokesman, disagrees with Wertheim's description of his SI story. Johnson notes that Ohio State announced an investigation of Richard Strauss on April 5, 2018, which "led the effort to investigate and expose Strauss' abuse and the university's failure at the time to prevent it, ultimately publishing the extensive independent investigation report along with thousands of pages of documents."  The investigation has been covered extensively in the media since then, he also points out. So Wertheim's statement that his October 2020 story "uncovers the most widespread sexual abuse scandal in the history of American higher education" is "simply false," Johnson says.

Wertheim's story includes an account from former OSU wrestler and UFC champion Mark Coleman about Strauss' alleged sexual abuse and administration of steroids to athletes. Coleman also alleges that Jim Jordan, then an Ohio State assistant wrestling coach and now a congressman, knowingly ignored Strauss' abuse, according to Monday's release.

No outlet was announced for the series.

Clooney and Helov produced The Ides of March here 10 years ago through Smokehouse Pictures. The political thriller starred Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Evan Rachel Wood, Marisa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright and Paul Giamatti.

John Kiesewetter, who has covered television and media for more than 35 years, has been working for Cincinnati Public Radio and WVXU-FM since 2015.