Ohio State investigation: Massage therapist targeted football players for sex
After an investigation, OSU believes no NCAA violations or crimes were committed.
A 41-year-old woman solicited Ohio State football players and engaged in sex with some of them after offering massages, the university revealed in a report issued Thursday afternoon.
The northeast Ohio woman, whose name was redacted in the 15-page report but was identified by Cleveland.com as Robyn Bassani, is a licensed massage therapist. She agreed on March 22 to surrender her license in order to forgo an investigation that she engaged in “sexual misconduct with one or more clients” as defined in the Ohio Administrative Code.
The investigation arose from a complaint filed on March 14, 2020, with the Medical Board of Ohio alleging that the woman had offered free therapeutic massages to football players as a way of initiating sexual interactions and then demanding payment.
The investigation was delayed until March 4, 2021, for unspecified reasons, and Ohio State was informed in the days following. Ohio State hired the law firm of Barnes & Thornburg as special counsel to conduct an investigation.
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The law firm interviewed 117 current and former players and 44 current and former coaches and staff members to determine whether a crime or NCAA violations were committed. Ohio State said that neither occurred.
Of the players, 83 had no knowledge or interaction with the massage therapist. Twenty received non-sexual massages, and five had consensual sex with her. None were minors.
None of the coaches or staff members had any knowledge of the massage therapist, the report said.
The woman began giving massages to players in 2018 and they continued until this year.
According to the report, the woman had no connection to Ohio State or anyone connected to the university.
“The investigation found no evidence that the massage therapist is or was acting on behalf of an agent or any particular person or entity in professional or collegiate sports, much less on behalf of OSU athletics," the report said. "Rather, the facts indicate that she seemed to be acting for her own sexual gratification and that she acted alone.”
Bassani disputed that to Cleveland.com.
“I’m saying the report that I targeted these men for my own sexual gratification couldn’t be further from the truth," she said.
“If we entered a sexual relationship, which I had with two of them, it was always initiated by them. I would never initiate due to the fact that I was working with them in a professional setting. Once we crossed that line, we never worked in a professional setting again.”
Athletic director Gene Smith said the university decided to release the report in the interest of transparency and to educate athletes at the school and throughout the country about the dangers of being targeted through social media.
"I’m thankful that our student-athletes, coaches and staff were honest, forthright and open during the investigation,” Smith said, “and I’m really thankful they maintained confidentiality, affording the investigation the opportunity to operate without distraction and be able to operate with integrity.”
How massage therapist allegedly pursued football players
The woman contacted and attempted to ingratiate herself with players through social media. She reached out to the newest of them on National Signing Day when they sent in letters-of-intent.
She was persistent in her pursuit of players, according to the report, and she sent explicit pictures and messages to players and continued even if players didn't respond.
The massage therapist allegedly falsely claimed that she was employed by professional sports teams in an attempt to add to her credibility. After providing a massage and developing a friendship with one player who lived off campus in a building with other players, she knocked on their doors unsolicited to offer massages. She also provided massages at hotels.
The report said she would offer players a free massage or let them pay for the first one and then provide later massages for free.
"She appeared to use whatever approach was most effective with the football student athletes," the report said. "Often the football student athletes indicated they would try to pay the massage therapist but she would refuse, and then the football student athletes were confused as to how to respond."
She then provided them receipts in an attempt to enhance her credibility as a legitimate massage therapist, the report said.
“Not only was she persistent in her effort to pressure the football student athletes by continually offering massage services,” the report read, “but she also made it convenient by offering to come to their apartments. The massage therapist’s flexibility of schedule and convenience of coming to the football student athletes (even during COVID times) provided her with a lure to attract more football student athletes.”
What's next after Ohio State investigation?
The university has made counseling available to players.
"The investigation also found a robust and thorough compliance program, complemented by coaches and staff who interact with football student athletes about real-life situations," the report stated.
"...The incident that occurred with the massage therapist was not due to a lack of compliance training for the football student athletes. The OSU compliance program was found to be fulsome in its efforts to protect the physical and emotional well-being of its football student athletes, in addition to protecting against those who wish to take advantage of the football student athletes for their own gain."
The report recommended the case be referred to a prosecutor for review. The massage therapist is barred from university property "until further notice,"
"Your entry onto university premises shall be considered criminal trespass and may result in your arrest,” read a letter from Ohio State Public Safety Director Monica Moll.
Dispatch reporters Joey Kaufman and Max Filby contributed to this story.