Ex-wrestler who alerted UM in 1970s about alleged abuse to speak out

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

One of the first men to alert the University of Michigan about alleged abuse by the late Dr. Robert E. Anderson is coming out of the shadows and speaking Thursday.

The man, a former wrestler, wrote two letters to UM: one in the early 1970s and one in 2018, beginning an investigation by university police that became public last week.

Robert E. Anderson

The man, whose name has not been made public yet, will be speaking in Southfield, according to his lawyer, Parker Stinar of Wahlberg, Woodruff, Nimmo and Stone in Colorado. In addition, Stinar represents former Olympic wrestler Andy Hrovat, who also has accused Anderson of abusing him. 

Stinar, who called the former wrestler a whistleblower, said other victims will be present when the man speaks about the sexual abuse he allegedly endured from Anderson, the former head of the University Health Service and team physician for the UM Athletic Department. Anderson, who worked for UM from 1968 to 2003, died in 2008.

Stinar said sex abuse on other campuses, including Michigan State University and Ohio State University, has created "an empowering movement."

"A lot of people are going to be coming forward," he said.

The man attended UM between 1972-76 and wrestled under coach  Bill Johannesen while Don Canham was UM's athletic director, according to a university police report released last week to The Detroit News by the Washtenaw County Prosecutor's office under the Freedom of Information Act.

At the time he attended UM, the man wrote a letter detailing Anderson's alleged misconduct.

He wrote another decades later, in July 2018, to UM Athletic Director Warde Manuel, saying Anderson gave repeated hernia checks, penis and prostate exams.

"He was the doctor and it never occurred to me that he was enjoying what I was not," the man wrote.

The man said he was recruited to attend UM for wrestling and got a full-ride scholarship. He graduated in 1976.

The alleged sexual misconduct occurred when he got a form of herpes common to wrestlers and went to see Anderson. At the time, he was 19 and in his junior year.

After seeing Anderson a few times, he said he didn't see the doctor for awhile until he suffered a dislocated elbow.

"Again, I was sent to Dr. Anderson who examined the elbow and continued with his penis, hernia and prostate checks," the man wrote. "I found it strange that I needed a penis and hernia check ... plus a rubber glove check for when my elbow had dislocated, but I never really gave it much thought."

He said he talked with a football player who lived near him.

"Somehow, the football player started talking about Dr. 'Drop Your Drawers' Anderson," the man wrote. "To put it mildly, I was shocked. The football player related how he went in for something like a badly bruised shoulder and got 'the glove.' AKA, prostate exam."

When his elbow began dislocating during the season, officials in the athletic training department taped his elbow but his left hand was "swollen like a red balloon" because of the taping. He was told to go see Anderson.

"No way was that going to happen," the man wrote. "I didn't go back to see Dr. Anderson and I quit getting my arm taped and therefore spent the rest of the wrestling season trying to keep my elbow from dislocating."

After the season ended, he went home for the summer and Johannesen sent him a letter that referenced him "wasting" his junior year. The letter was even sent to his high school wrestling coach.

He was mad, and wrote back an angry letter, leaving little out.

"I mentioned my elbow dislocating," the man wrote. "The bed wetting. The trouble sleeping I was having. I mentioned Dr. Drop Your Drawers Anderson in that letter."

The coach took away his scholarship and removed him from the team.

Canham is deceased.

But reached by phone in Texas, Johannesen said he knows which wrestler is coming forward and said he is the only one he ever disciplined because he "didn't live up to the team rules." 

Former University of Michigan wrestling coach Bill Johannesen

He also said he once heard a joke about Anderson.

“The joke was that you go to see him, and you have a sore elbow, he would say, ‘OK, pull your pants down,’” Johannesen said.

But he said none of his wrestlers ever came to him and accused the doctor of abusing them.

"That never, ever happened," said Johannesen, who served as assistant and head coach for UM wrestling from 1970-78. "I never really had anything to respond to."

He also said he wrestled for UM when he earned his undergraduate degree and got care from Anderson.

"He never did any thing inappropriate to me," said Johannesen.

The former athlete who wrote to Manuel in July 2018 told police that he had to hire a lawyer to get his scholarship back, though he did not return to the wrestling squad.

For two and a half months after the ex-wrestler sent his letter, it languished in a staff member's "work pile" at the Office of Institutional Equity before being given to police to investigate.

Police then aggressively investigated the allegations, only to have them go months without a review by prosecutors, documents show.

The man's letter, along with UM police interviews with other victims, came to light last week after The News began asking questions about allegations lodged in August by Robert Julian Stone, a UM alum who alleged Anderson grabbed Stone’s hand and used it to fondle the doctor’s genitals during an exam in 1971.