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Ann Arbor, Flint schools address links to UM doctor accused of sex abuse

One Michigan school district is looking into what work a former University of Michigan sports doctor accused of sexual abuse might have performed in its district while another is encouraging possible victims to contact law enforcement.

In the wake of claims that Dr. Robert E. Anderson performed physicals on children more than a half-century ago, Ann Arbor school officials say they’re investigating what role Anderson might have played in the district, while Flint's school district is asking possible victims to reach to authorities.

Both districts responded this week to inquiries from The Detroit News about references in UM police reports that Anderson performed physicals in both school districts.

Dr. Robert E. Anderson

Ann Arbor Public Schools officials said Wednesday they are investigating reports that Anderson worked in the district but could not confirm Anderson gave physicals.

Superintendent Jeanice Swift issued a statement in response to questions from The News about Anderson's role in the district.

"Student safety remains our top priority and all matters of student safety are taken very seriously," Swift said. "This is the first time we have heard this information, and at this time, we are investigating to see what connection, if any, Dr. Anderson may have had with the district.

"As always, the Ann Arbor Public Schools will cooperate fully with law enforcement in any investigation. Any further statements would be speculative, and so at this point, we will not comment further."

School officials with Flint Community Schools said Wednesday they were unable to locate employment records but confirmed a person named Robert E. Anderson was once an employee of the district. The time frame of employment was unknown.

“The district is aware of deeply disturbing allegations against a late physician who worked with schools and universities around the state,” the district said in a statement. “While we can confirm an individual named Robert E. Anderson was once an employee of the district, we do not have information about his employment history.

“We take our responsibility to the health and safety of students — past and present — very seriously, so we encourage anyone with information regarding this matter to contact local law enforcement.”

In November 2018, a former UM athletic trainer who worked with Anderson, Russell Miller, told university detective Mark West that the doctor had worked in athletic training for Flint schools before coming to the university. Miller called Anderson an "unbelievable team doctor" and told UM police that learning of the allegations against his former colleague "shatters him."

However, a former student in Ann Arbor's Forsythe Middle School, Joe Neely, has vivid memories of an exam he had with Anderson more than 50 years ago when Neely was a seventh-grade wrestler and basketball player.

In an interview with The News, Neely said Anderson checked him for undescended testicles and joked about his genitals, making him feel extremely uncomfortable. He says classmates who had the same physical shared similar feelings.

"He examined us all and seemed to spend too much time and take delight in examining us for undescended testicles," Neely said. "We talked about it, and we all had the same experience and felt it was inappropriate. He took too much pleasure in his work."

A former UM wrestler interviewed by West told the university detective in November 2018 that he went to see Anderson in the 1970s for a swollen elbow and remembered the doctor asking him if he "had sex over the weekend" and adding, "you probably banged it."

The former wrestler said he found the comments strange. He told West that he had attended Forsythe and Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor and remembered Anderson performing sports physicals at both schools.

He said he did not remember being abused by Anderson but told a detective a friend of his had told him of being abused during an examination.

Meanwhile, Neely said he felt something was off about Anderson's exam.

"A lot of it was the feeling that it was odd and weird," said Neely, who was 12 at the time. "It came from the fact we had been to other doctors in the past and had not had the same experience."

Steven Karageanes, a Livonia sports medicine doctor, said physicals for athletes are a big part of sports medicine. Doctors do large group physicals at schools, and sometimes patients come to their offices.

Karageanes said the exam involves screening all of the body's systems. For boys and men, a physician will manually check the genitals for lumps, lesions, sexually transmitted diseases and signs of hernia, with that part of the physical lasting about 15 seconds.

Karageanes added a screening does not include a check of the prostate, which some former UM athletes have alleged was a regular part of Anderson's exams.

"I have never performed a prostate exam on an athlete as part of a screening exam, ever," he said. "It’s not part of the screening exam."

The university became aware of sexual abuse allegations against Anderson in July 2018, when a former student-athlete wrote to Athletic Director Warde Manuel to detail abuse during medical exams by Anderson in the early 1970s.

A former UM student, Robert Julian Stone, became the first public accuser, telling The News for a story published Feb. 19 that Anderson had made him touch the doctor's genitals during an exam in June 1971.

In August 2019, Stone, who lives in Palm Springs, California, sent an essay to UM officials titled, "My Michigan Me-Too Moment, 1971," in which he discussed the alleged abuse.

Stone shared his report with The News, and when UM responded to questions about it, the university revealed that a UM police investigation around Anderson began in 2018, when a former UM wrestler wrote a letter to Manuel. In the letter, the wrestler detailed abuse by Anderson when he was a student during the early 1970s. 

UM also revealed it had identified several individuals who described sexual misconduct from decades ago.

The UM police documents obtained a few days later by The News showed university officials in 1979 decided to move Anderson from his position as director of the University Health Service to clinical instructor and reduce his salary. It's unclear why Anderson was transferred.

For 24 years after the transfer, Anderson served as the athletic department's top physician, working with football teams led by Bo Schembechler and Lloyd Carr, until his 2003 retirement.

Thomas Easthope, the administrator who ousted Anderson as director of the University Health Service in 1979, was stunned to learn during an interview with West two years ago that Anderson was allowed to continue working at the school afterward, police records say.

"Easthope thought Dr. Anderson was gone, gone for good," according to West's report of the interview. He wrote that Easthope was "visibly upset" when informed by police that Anderson continued at the university for nearly another quarter-century.

A day after receiving inquiries about Anderson from The News, the university announced Feb. 19 it was asking other possible victims to come forward as part of an independent review by lawyers at the firm of Steptoe & Johnson, which UM said it hired in January.

UM said Tuesday it would offer free counseling to anyone affected by Anderson or by Provost Martin Philbert, who was suspended last month amid allegations of sexual misconduct.