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Ohio State's flawed playbook

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Ohio State University President Michael Drake has had to reckon with several institution-rattling abuse scandals in recent months.

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We don’t even need the Urban Meyer scandal to show us how rotten the culture at The Ohio State University has become.

An investigation has revealed that nearly 150 students reported first-hand accounts of abuse by former university sports doctor Richard Strauss. Nearly 150 accounts of sexual misconduct over nearly 20 years at Ohio State. And the university turned a blind eye.

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That revelation was part of an update by investigators looking into just one of Ohio State’s abuse-mishandling scandals this summer. In another case, a diving club coach has been accused of sexually abusing athletes while the university again did nothing. The third ended with a slap on the wrist for Mr. Meyer who lied for one of his longtime assistants after the man repeatedly was accused of abusing his wife.

In the case of Dr. Strauss, hundreds of student athletes have accused him of sexually abusing them while they were at Ohio State. The law firm investigating the case is not only looking at the abuse claims, but whether university officials knew of the abuse and failed to stop it.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is now investigating Ohio State as well and the university faces lawsuits from more than a dozen former student athletes who claim their complaints about Dr. Strauss were ignored.

The federal agency’s investigation not only is concerned with the abuse itself, but also will examine how the university responded to complaints.

There is no comfort in this, but Ohio State is hardly alone in botching such cases.

Consider Penn State, where assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was free for decades to leverage his powerful position to abuse children with impunity. Consider Michigan State, where the repercussions of ignoring complaints against sports doctor Larry Nassar are still playing out.

And consider how, in both of those cases, the instinct to cover up, minimize, and protect the institution made the horror worse — for victims and for the schools themselves.

Ohio State is essentially following the flawed blueprints of those schools. It did not have to be this way.

It is the nature of powerful institutions to protect their power. It is the nature of officials at powerful institutions to circle the wagons and rationalize misdeeds in the name of protecting the institution. The nature of these large, powerful institutions must change.

Right now there are other universities, businesses, youth sports programs, and other large institutions that need to be questioning whether they are also failing to learn from these examples.

The leaders of these institutions need to be asking themselves if they are ready. Not whether they are ready to control the damage from these scandals, but whether they are ready to prevent them.

Every leader who might have reason to dread becoming the next Lou Anna Simon at Penn State or Ohio State President Michael Drake should be asking themselves some hard questions:

If anyone in a position of power in their organization was abusing someone vulnerable, could they know? Would victims have a way to report their abuse? Would those victims be believed?

And if an abuser is unmasked in their midst, who would leaders seek to protect? The victims? Or the powerful institution?

Because it is not possible that Ohio State is the last institution that will have to reckon with this kind of crisis. Victims of abuse are just waiting for one with integrity to get it right.

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