Ex-wrestler says UM ignored his abuse claims, kicked him off team
Southfield — Tad DeLuca says he wrote to his wrestling coach at the University of Michigan in 1975 to tell him Dr. Robert E. Anderson had sexually abused him during an exam, which, he alleges, resulted in him being kicked off the team and stripped of his scholarship by the university.
More than four decades later, DeLuca alerted the university again, motivated by the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal at Michigan State University. Then on Thursday, more than a year and a half after repeating his account in a letter to UM's athletic director, DeLuca came forward for a third time, speaking publicly about Anderson's alleged abuse.
"I will not be ignored again," he said during a news conference at a Southfield hotel ballroom with two other accusers, Olympic wrestler Andy Hrovat and former UM wrestler Tom Evashevski, both of whom spoke briefly.
Asked what he hopes will happen in the future by coming forward and speaking out, DeLuca said his motive is simple: Ensure "none of this ever happens again."
The three joined a growing number of men who have accused Anderson of abusing them during his 35 years as a UM physician, which included stints as director of the university health service and athletic team doctor. Anderson retired from UM in 2003 and died in 2008.
Hrovat, who attended UM on a wrestling scholarship from 1998 to 2002 and was a repeat All-American, said he remembers being told as a freshman about Anderson's "weird" and "horrific" exams.
"That’s why it was always in the back of my mind that this wasn’t right," he said.
Evashevski, who wrestled at UM from 1972-75 and practices law in northern Michigan, said, "I don't think any of us knew this was wrong. We do now. I have to come forward. I love the university, but this should only make it better."
The first to speak publicly was Robert Julian Stone, a California man who told The Detroit News for a story published last week that Anderson had abused him during an exam in June 1971. Last August, Stone sent UM sent school officials an essay he wrote, "My Michigan Me-too Moment, 1971."
After inquiries from The News about Anderson's allegations, UM officials acknowledged the school had opened a police investigation in October 2018.
In his letter to coach Bill Johannesen, which attorney Parker Stinar read at the news conference, DeLuca wrote: "Something is wrong with Dr. Anderson. Regardless of what you go in there for, he always makes you drop your drawers."
Stinar read from a second letter, which he said Johannesen sent in reply to DeLuca.
"You generalize by describing the entirety of Michigan athletes as drunks, pot smokers, drug users and rapists," Stinar said, reading from the letter. "I wonder, Mr. DeLuca, how such a moral, upstanding young man such as yourself could have allowed yourself to remain in a totally immoral situation. ... You will not be known as an athlete."
On July 25, 1975, Stinar said, UM Athletic Director Donald Canham wrote to DeLuca, saying “based upon your letter to Bill Johannesen and your decision to no longer want to be an athlete, your financial aid from the University of Michigan will not be in effect for the 1975-1976 school year.”
On the letter, Canham cc-ed the Big Ten conference, UM law professor Marcus Plant and Ivan Parker, the associate director of student financial aid.
"Tad's wrestling career ended that year," Stinar said. "He completed his degree and became a middle school teacher in northern Michigan. For more than four decades, he has carried around the humiliation, guilt and shame due to Dr. Anderson, Coach Johannesen, Don Canham and the University of Michigan."
Canham is deceased but Johannesen said Wednesday in an interview with The News that he had not been alerted to any improper behavior by Anderson.
"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."
However, he also said he remembered 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 added that wrestlers were always talking about something, and he had only heard that joke once.
He also said he wrestled for UM when he earned his undergraduate degree and got care from Anderson, and nothing inappropriate happened to him.
But DeLuca said otherwise in his July 2018 to UM Athletic Director Warde Manuel, writing that 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," DeLuca wrote.
The wrestler said he was recruited to attend UM for wrestling and got a full-ride scholarship. He graduated in 1976.
After disclosing the police investigation of Anderson last week, UM set up a hotline and asked other possible victims to come forward. President Mark Schlissel also apologized, and the university this week offered free counseling to anyone harmed by Anderson.
Stinar challenged UM officials to explain why it took so long to respond to sexual abuse allegations against Anderson, who worked at the university from 1968 to 2003 and died in 2008.
"Time's up, University of Michigan," said Stinar, a lawyer from the firm Wahlberg, Woodruff, Nimmo and Sloane in Colorado. "We will no longer allow these voices to be silenced."
"I want to thank all the victims that have come forward," said Stinar, whose firm represents more than a dozen accusers, both athletes and non-athletes.
Stinar said it was important that victims are coming forward to “uncover the truth regarding the decades of sexual abuse by Dr. Anderson and the decades of institutional neglect by the University of Michigan.”
He said it was also important to let victims’ voices be heard and to hold UM accountable so this never happens again.
"Hundreds of victims will be heard," he said.
He added that he would be meeting with UM's general counsel.
In a statement responding to the accusers and their lawyer, UM spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said the university is listening and wants victims to come forward.
"The three brave men who came forward today to share their stories delivered a powerful message," he said. "We want to encourage everyone harmed by Robert E. Anderson or who has evidence of his misconduct to come forward. At the University of Michigan, we want to hear your voices."
"As UM President Mark Schlissel has said, we are deeply sorry for the harm caused by Anderson," Fitzgerald continued.
He added that the university has engaged with an independent law firm with "deep expertise to conduct an independent, thorough and unflinching review of the facts — wherever they may lead."
"Through the work of this independent firm," Fitzgerald said, "there will be a full, public accounting of the harms caused by Anderson as well as the institutional failings that allowed him to keep practicing."
He ended the statement by noting the free counseling available to anyone hurt by Anderson and repeating a call for victims to come forward.
"We again urge anyone to come forward and talk directly and confidentially to our outside, independent investigators," Fitzgerald said. "It is truly important for the investigators to hear the voices of survivors for the investigators to understand the full scope of harm and its root causes."
John Manly, the California attorney who represented dozens of women who took down Nassar, said on Twitter after the press conference that it was "naive" to meet with UM lawyers he said are engaged "in a systemic cover up and criminality" and said the place lawyers should meet "these corrupt institutions is in the court room, thru law enforcement & in the Legislature."
"Survivors should not trust the University of Michigan," Manly said. "My strong recommendation is to call the Michigan Attorney Generals office at 517 335 7622. Tell your story to the AG’s offices and or ask them to open an investigation into the University & it’s Administration re Anderson."
Manly said he plans to ask Attorney General Dana Nessel to start an inquiry.
This week, Ryan Jarvi, a spokesman for Nessel, said her office is not involved in the case, likely because Anderson is deceased.
"It’s possible we could be invited to be a part of an investigation into some circumstances surrounding the allegations, like who knew what and when, but to my knowledge that request has not been made," Jarvi said.