Production begins on George Clooney's documentary about sex abuse at OSU
Production has started on a feature-length documentary for HBO and HBO Max about allegations by hundreds of former Ohio State University male student athletes that they were sexually abused by Dr. Richard Strauss, the team doctor for 17 varsity sports from 1978 to 1998.
The film,announced in February of 2021,will be directed by Oscar and Emmy winner Eva Orner (Out of Iraq, Chasing Asylum, Taxi To The Dark Side).
Clooney and long-time partner Grant Heslov (Argo, The Ides Of March) and David Glasser of 101 Studios are producing the film based on Sports Illustrated’s Oct. 5. 2020 digital story, "Why Aren't More People Talking About the Ohio State Sex Abuse Scandal?” by Jon Wertheim, Sports Illustrated executive editor and 60 Minutes correspondent.
Wertheim’s story "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 last year.
The documentary will tell the story through the experiences of “hundreds of male student athlete victims, including All American wrestlers and football players, many of whom have not spoken out until now,” HBO announced Tuesday.
“One of those voices — who spoke out for the first time to Sports Illustrated's Jon Wertheim for his explosive cover story — is UFC Heavyweight Champion and OSU alum Mark Coleman. The film will also examine the university’s failure to act and the allegations that school officials and staff knew about and ignored Dr. Strauss’ crimes,” according to the HBO announcement.
In the SI story, Coleman alleged that Jim Jordan, then an Ohio State assistant wrestling coach and now a congressman, knowingly ignored Strauss' abuse, according to the media release by Clooney’s company last year.
“Grant and I are very proud to be working on this project with HBO," Clooney said in the HBO announcement. "It’s a devastating story about people in power abusing and then covering up their criminal actions against students. The fact that it hasn’t been resolved as of yet is deeply disturbing.”
Orner, who calls the story “the largest sexual abuse scandal in the history of American higher education, says the film “will give the courageous men who were abused a powerful and clear voice,” according to HBO.
More than 2,000 instances of alleged decades-old sexual misconduct by Strauss have been discovered by OSU, according to a December 2020 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 reported.
The university has reached settlement agreements with 286 survivors, more than half of the plaintiffs, for $59.7 million, says Ben Johnson, OSU media and public relations director. All male students who filed lawsuits were offered the opportunity to settle, Johnson says.
Strauss left the university and relocated to California in 1998, according to an independent investigation initiated by the university, according to Johnson. Strauss died by suicide in 2005.
The 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 2021 media release announcing the project. "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 … Their voices and stories — harrowing as they are — will be amplified."
Johnson, the university spokesman, disagreed with Wertheim's description of his SI story. Johnson noted 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, Johnson said. 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 said.