Advance Ohio Media, Cleveland
May 14—COLUMBUS, Ohio — A Cleveland-area massage therapist disputes an Ohio State report that she used a massage “scheme” to prey upon Ohio State football players and engage five of them in sexual activities.
“I’m saying the report that I targeted these men for my own sexual gratification couldn’t be further from the truth,” Robyn Bassani said in a phone interview with cleveland.com on Thursday afternoon, less than an hour after Ohio State released a 15-page report on consensual sexual activity that transpired between Bassani and players over the last three years.
“(The report) said I was targeting them under the guise of a legitimate massage practice. I work with professional athletes. I worked, not with the university itself, but individual players. I never, ever once approached any of these individuals about sex,” Bassani said. “Did I have a sexual relationship with two of them? Yes. I never approached them for sex. Ever.
“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.”
Bassani, 41, was not named in the report, but several bits of information provided in the report made her readily identifiable with minimal internet research.
The law firm of Barnes & Thornburg was commissioned by Ohio State to investigate the situation after a complaint was filed with the State Medical Board of Ohio in March 2020. Bassani said that complaint was initiated by a former Ohio State player with whom she had a sexual relationship. Bassani said she never massaged that player, and that their personal relationship began on social media.
According to the report, Bassani was interviewed by two OSU police officers and a state medical board investigator on March 10. Because there were no allegations of criminal activity, no charges were filed. Ohio State’s legal department was notified, and then its compliance department was brought in. That led to the law firm investigation, which interviewed 117 former and current players, 44 coaches and staff members and Bassani.
“When they asked me some questions that I honestly didn’t know the answer to, they told me that wasn’t a legitimate answer,” Bassani said, “that ‘I don’t know,’ isn’t the correct answer for something. It was guided. It was bullied. It was awful.
“I tried to cooperate as much as I could because nothing bad happened, nothing wrong happened. So I talked to whoever they wanted me to talk to because there was nothing there. Now they’re saying I’m targeting these guys for my own sexual gratification. It’s like, ‘What?'”
The report used the word “scheme” 16 times to describe Bassani’s interactions with players, which included allegedly aggressively contacting them on social media, and then setting up meetings to massage them in their apartments. Of the 117 players interviewed, the report said 25 players were massaged by Bassani, and five of those 25 engaged in sexual activity.
“That number is inflated,” Bassani said of those five.
The report also states that Bassani confirmed she had a sexual relationship with two players, and that “during her interview she sought to minimize the effects of her own actions by stating that she sought to maintain a distinction between her ‘professional’ and ‘sexual’ activities.”
Among the report’s final conclusion was that “the massage therapist carried out a scheme for what appeared to fulfill her personal infatuation with Ohio State football student athletes. She had no connection to the Athletics Department or the University. The apparent purpose of the scheme was to engage in sexual encounters with OSU football student athletes.”
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith reiterated that idea after the report came out. When informed of Bassani’s interview with cleveland.com, Ohio State declined further comment and referenced the report and Smith’s previous interview with reporters.
Bassani said her role as a massage therapist who works with athletes made the fact that she reached out to Ohio State players on social media a part of her job.
“I work with athletes, I work with every major team in the area, again, independently, not for the actual organizations,” Bassani said. “So for me to reach out to the Buckeyes, that’s not a stretch by any means.”
The report also said that Bassani reached out to some high school players who signed with Ohio State on National Signing Day. Asked if she did that, Bassani said, “Yeah, one or two.”
Bassani did surrender her massage license on March 30 according to an action report from the state medical board of Ohio. The reason for the surrender of the license reads in part “prohibitions related to engaging in sexual misconduct with one or more clients, including making inappropriate sexual comments to and having sexual interactions with massage therapy clients and/or potential clients.”
“I surrendered it because the state board told me that I had two options,” Bassani said. “It was surrender it or get cited. And the players would have to testify on open public record and I didn’t want to put them through that. So I surrendered my license. It wasn’t as an admission of guilt, it was in an effort to protect those players from having to put their name on the record.”
The report mentioned a player who said during his massage, Bassani “came close to his genitals several times. He said, ‘Hey,’ when this happened and gave her a look to indicate that she did not have permission to touch him there.”
Asked by cleveland.com if any players ever expressed discomfort or offered a complaint during a massage, Bassani said, “No.”
She said some players had contacted her since the report was released and expressed sympathy for the way she was portrayed. Smith said Ohio State released the report in the effort to be transparent and allow other universities to learn from what happened and alert their athletes about people outside the program who may contact them on social media.
“I understand the university is doing everything they can to make me the bad guy and make their kids look like they’re innocent and nothing’s gone wrong,” Bassani said. “It’s the Ohio State University, they know they can steamroll people and get away with it. As long as it makes them look better and me look like the villain, then they wouldn’t care.”
Both Bassani and the report agree that the sexual contact was consensual, and all the players involved were at least 18 years old. Barnes & Thornburg’s said in the report that, while no players expressed interest in pressing criminal charges, the film recommended to OSU that prosecutors be consulted.
Ohio State presented the idea that some players were uncomfortable with the way Bassani contacted them, and some were uncomfortable with the massages themselves.
“The massage therapist’s actions were deliberative and calculating in order to get close to OSU football student athletes,” stated the report, “and appear to have been motivated by a desire to engage in sexual activities with them.”
Bassani presented the idea of herself as a massage professional pursuing clients, and then interacting with two of those players sexually and consensually.
“They make it sound like I was sleeping with the entire team and I was a predator like preying on these kids for sex and using my massage license to get it,” Bassani said, “and it’s ridiculous.”
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