A retired wrestling coach at Ohio State University texted former team members asking them to support Rep. Jim Jordan, just a day after they accused the Republican congressman of ignoring sexual abuse allegations while he was an assistant coach at the school, NBC News reported Wednesday.
Russ Hellickson sent messages to at least two former wrestlers, Dunyasha Yetts and Mike DiSabato, on July 4, a day after they publicly accused Jordan of turning a blind eye to allegations that a team doctor had sexually abused wrestlers in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
“I’m sorry you got caught up in the media train,” Hellickson told Yetts in one of the texts, a copy of which was obtained by NBC. “If you think the story got told wrong about Jim, you could probably write a statement for release that tells your story and corrects what you feel bad about. I can put you in contact with someone who would release it.”
Jordan, a prominent ultraconservative and founder of the House Freedom Caucus, has vehemently denied he knew about the actions of Dr. Richard Strauss, who died in 2005. Six former OSU wrestlers, however, say Jordan must have known about the physician’s behavior, and Yetts said he told Jordan directly about an encounter in which Strauss started pulling down his shorts during an examination for a thumb injury when he was a wrestler in the early ’90s.
DiSabato also provided copies of Hellickson’s text messages to NBC but asked that they not be directly quoted.
“He said Jimmy was telling him he had to make a statement supporting him and he called to tell me why he was going to make it,” DiSabato told NBC.
It’s unclear if the Ohio congressman asked Hellickson to reach out to the coach’s former athletes to come to his defense.
HuffPost’s request to Jordan’s office for comment had not be returned by late Wednesday.
The congressman has moved to distance himself from the allegations and tried to discredit the former wrestlers.
He officially announced his bid to become House speaker last week despite the allegations. In his letter to colleagues, he criticized current GOP leadership as weak and undisciplined and linked himself to President Donald Trump, whom he called an “out-of-the-box Republican” elected to “change how this town works.”
“I believe we have given the American people a reason to question our commitment to reform,” he wrote. “Should the American people entrust us with the majority again in the 116th Congress, our clear mandate will be to continue working with President Trump to keep the promises we made.”
Leading Republicans, including Trump and current House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), have come to Jordan’s defense amid the allegations.