Actor George Clooney’s Smokehouse Pictures will produce a docuseries about abuses in the athletic department at The Ohio State University in Columbus perpetrated by former university doctor Richard Strauss.
Smokehouse Pictures, the film and TV production company founded by Grant Heslov and Clooney, is teaming up with Sports Illustrated Studios to develop the docuseries based on reporting by Sports Illustrated Executive Editor Jon Wertheim. The series will explore the scandal that lasted three decades and how the victimization went largely unreported until 2018, according to a Feb. 22 news release announcing the docuseries.
Strauss was employed by the university from 1978 to 1998. An Ohio State crime report found he perpetrated almost 1,500 abuse incidents in the time he was employed at the university, including 1,429 incidents of fondling and 47 incidents of rape, with survivors enduring recurring abuse.
A May 2019 independent investigation into the allegations found at least 177 former students were abused by Strauss over 20 years. University personnel had knowledge of complaints, but “failed to investigate or act meaningfully,” as reported by the university’s independent investigation in 2019.
The number of survivors involved in lawsuits related to the abuse suggests more students may have been affected.
Strauss died by suicide in 2005.
Wertheim’s Sports Illustrated cover story, “Why Aren’t More People Talking About the Ohio State Sex Abuse Scandal?” published on Oct. 5, 2020, detailed allegations of sexual assault and manipulation by Strauss over decades at the university.
According to the release, UFC heavyweight champion and OSU alum Mark Coleman told Wertheim his detailed account, disclosing Strauss’ administration of anabolic steroids. In addition, Coleman and others have alleged that U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, knowingly ignored Strauss’ alleged abuse to the athletes as he served as the OSU assistant wrestling coach from 1986 to 1994, the release said.
“This article uncovers the most widespread sexual abuse scandal in the history of American higher education,” Wertheim said in the release. “It is a story about power, abuse, enabling and the hierarchy of college sports that had been concealed for far too long. 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 and Smokehouse Pictures, their voices and stories – harrowing as they are – will be amplified.”
The Columbus Jewish News reported as of last fall, the university has settled with 185 survivors, represented by 10 different law firms, for a total settlement of $46.7 million.
“The university has condemned Strauss’ reprehensible conduct and expressed its appreciation to survivors for coming forward,” said Ohio State President Kristina M. Johnson in an October 2020 news release announcing a round of settlements. “Our work toward restorative justice continues.”
Clooney and Heslov will serve as executive producers on the series, along with Wertheim, Jamie Salter, Corey Salter, Marc Rosen of Sports Illustrated Studios and David Glasser, Ron Burkle, Bob Yari of 101 Studios.
“We’re very pleased to partner with 101 Studios and Sports Illustrated in bringing this devastating and tragic story to light,” Clooney and Heslov said in the release.
The series has not found an outlet yet, The Hollywood Reporter reported.
“It’s enormously important that we continue to shine a light on this ongoing, painful story and further explore its wide-ranging effects” said Rosen, president of entertainment at Authentic Brands Group, who in partnership with 101 Studios formed Sports Illustrated Studios in 2020, according to the release. “We are lucky to be able to tap into the exceptional journalism of Sports Illustrated’s Jon Wertheim and we are incredibly proud and humbled to bring even more awareness to his investigation.”