As a public health researcher interested in brain injuries in sports, I was searching for peer-reviewed literature that examined cultural pressures that cause athletes to minimize symptoms of potentially serious injuries when I came across a 1994 article entitled, “A Little Pain Never Hurt Anybody: A Photo-Essay on the Normalization of Sport Injuries.” The identity of one of the authors cast the study in a suspicious light: Dr. Richard Strauss, the Ohio State University physician who has been accused by more than 100 former students of sexual abuse.
His article was a “visual study” with numerous photos of student wrestlers. It claimed to “convey some of the details and social ambiance of today’s approach to collegiate sports medicine.” A research method that involves photographing injured students, both at the time of injury and while undergoing medical examinations and surgical procedures, also involves significant intimate contact with a vulnerable population. In such circumstances, patients must be able to fully trust the researcher’s integrity, honesty, and respect for persons.
The irony that a doctor accused of groping his patients’ genitalia also studied the cultural belief that “a little pain never hurt anybody” astonishes me. Furthermore, I am concerned about the implications of accused serial sexual abusers publishing in academic literature: that they can use their position of authority to not only enhance their professional status but also to shape academic knowledge. According to Google Scholar, at least 117 articles have cited Strauss’ photo-essay. One 2005 article described it as an example of how the technique of photo-interviewing provided “a way to get people to talk about more difficult and abstract concepts.”