Partnership will inform young athletes about dangers of sexual abuse by coaches and trainers

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

A new partnership to educate young athletes about who to inform if they are targeted for abuse includes former athletes from the University of Michigan and Ohio State University who were sexually abused by team doctors.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children announced its partnership on Wednesday via Zoom. It will focus on a sports safety program at the center created to educate young athletes about the dangers of sexual abuse by coaches and trainers.

Former UM football player Chuck Christian and former OSU lacrosse player Mike Avery will lead a team of athletes who will participate in a wide range of initiatives for the center including training and best practices for parents and coaches.

The center was founded by John and Reve Walsh in 1984 after their son Adam was abducted and murdered. Their son Callahan Walsh, a child advocate at the center, said it's important to have survivors of sexual abuse participate in this program because their collective experiences expose the prevalence of sexual abuse in sports. 

Chuck Christian, of Randolph, Mass., the first former Michigan football player to publicly say that a team doctor abused him, looks through a window in his home while standing for a photograph, Wednesday, April 22, 2020, in Randolph.

"We are working hand in hand with these survivors to help educate athletes of the dangers of abuse and who to inform," Walsh said.

“The courage it takes to come forward and lend their voice and experience is unmatched and will make this world a safer place for children. Our goal is to create an environment in youth sports where children are safe, and they can just be kids,” Walsh said.

Christian and hundreds of other athletes say they were sexually abused by former UM team doctor Robert Anderson over a 35-year period. Christian and hundreds of others have sued the university.

According to a report released May 12, more than two dozen UM employees were alerted to reports of sexually inappropriate behavior by Anderson, reports that could have stopped the doctor who is accused of molesting more than 800 men. He retired in 2003 after a career that spanned four decades and died in 2008.

Christian's attorney, Michael Wright, represents hundreds of athletes at both UM and OSU and said the partnership, which is expected to launch in the fall, can begin to eradicate sexual abuse from sports.

"We have top athletes who want to step up and lend their voices in an effort to rid the sports world of sexual abuse," Wright said. "We think the partnership is vital for young athletes and will allow older athletes to warn and explain the dangers of staying silent."

Christian, who played tight end from 1978-1982, including UM's Rose Bowl win in 1981, said the culture of silence surrounding sexual abuse in sports has long been the only reason it was able to continue.

"I guess I have become like a spokesman for my teammates and Michigan players," Chrisitian said. 

The message Christian wants to send other athletes who were abused is there is nothing to be ashamed of.

"That is part of the biggest problem kids are having. They know it happened and they carry so much shame. You need to talk through this. You need somebody," Christian said. "After all the guys started calling me and thanked me for telling (my) story, the guys had never spoken to anybody their entire life. They were just holding it in."

Mike Avery, who played lacrosse at OSU from 1988-1991, reported being abused by team doctor Richard Strauss during annual physicals and other visits. Avery said survivors need to raise their voices and provide support for one another in order to stop the behavior from continuing.

Avery said when Strauss assaulted him in the exam room, he had no idea what to do and he felt he had no one to tell. He hopes the partnership will help stop the abuse.

"It was my big secret until just a few years ago...I never told my story. So I had issues with relationships. I didn’t trust anyone," Avery said. "So I am glad to be doing this. If I can help one young athlete not fall into this same trap, then I feel like I have done my part."

jchambers@detroitnews.com