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Ex-UM football player with terminal cancer sues over alleged abuse

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Chuck Christian may not have much longer to live.

Although he's hoping for a miracle, the former University of Michigan tight end is 60 and has prostate cancer that has spread to his spine, tailbone, hips, shoulders, chest and ribs.

He connects his condition to former UM Dr. Robert E. Anderson, who's accused of sexually assaulting scores of male patients. Anderson gave Christian four painful prostate exams during his sports physicals while he played football for UM in the 1970s. The trauma led him to avoid allowing any other doctor to give him a prostate exam until recently, leading to the diagnosis of late-stage cancer.

Chuck Christian paints a portrait of Tom Brady.

As Christian lives his last days, his lawyer said he has tried to get UM to reach a financial settlement with him because the university allegedly knew about Anderson's behaviors in 1979 but failed to protect students from him. Unsuccessful, they filed a lawsuit.

"I definitely want to get this settled as soon as possible," said Christian, a former Detroiter now living in Boston. "I would love to have this behind me, and not have to think about Anderson ever again."

Christian is the first person represented by Ohio-based lawyer Michael Wright to say he was a victim of Anderson's, and connect it to a terminal illness.

Wright, calls the situation “absolutely tragic, absolutely avoidable if Michigan would have done the right things."

"Michigan knew this was going on," said Wright. "They institutionally covered up Dr. Anderson’s actions and they are responsible for the victimization for all of these athletes."

Wright, who also represented 150 victims who recently settled with Ohio State University in a similar scandal involving assaults by the late Dr. Richard Strauss, said he represents 150 victims who were victimized by Anderson, who died in 2008. 

But Christian's is one of the first lawsuits Wright filed against UM . Wright filed the suit last week.

“They need to settle with everyone, but Chuck is the one right that we don’t know how much longer he has to live,” said Wright. "It just happens that Chuck has this medical prognosis that he may not be here to see the end of the case."

Asked to respond, UM spokeswoman Kim Broekhuizen said, "As we've mentioned, the university has established a process for resolving claims regarding Robert E. Anderson. "

"At this time, the university has not yet been served," she added.

Wright said he sent UM a copy of the complaint.

"So they know what it says," Wright said. "Furthermore, if Michigan has established a process, it is something they have not shared with the victims or their lawyers. And, they have not permitted Chuck to participate in that 'process.'"

Christian's lawsuit is among dozens that have been filed against UM.

UM has acknowledged that Anderson abused patients in a May 1 court motion to dismiss the cases and has announced that it intends to set up a process to resolve the claims out of court. However, a judge has not yet ruled on the university's motion to dismiss the lawsuits. 

Meanwhile, the team of lawyers who represented the women who brought down Larry Nassar have filed legal notices, saying they also intend to sue UM on behalf of 100 victims. 

Christian grew up on the east side of Detroit with his single mom and six siblings. He played basketball and football at the now-defunct Northeastern High School and landed a full scholarship to play football at UM after recruiters saw him run and jump.

He arrive at UM in fall 1977, and lived in South Quad. He played under legendary UM coach Bo Schembechler and remembers he was the only football player who studied art.

Chuck Christian, during his playing days for UM.

Christian met Anderson during his freshmen year when his trainer told him he was scheduled for a physical. He went to the appointment and the doctor did everything that Christian had experienced in the past, until Anderson snapped on a glove, told him to lean over and gave him a prostate exam.

“It hurt like crazy and I screamed and he said, ‘Oh, you just feel pressure,’”  Christian said. “No, that is no pressure. That is pain. I know the difference.”

Afterward, he said he felt violated. But when he spoke with other upper classmen on the team later that day at practice, and they all said that is what Anderson did during exams.

Christian thought this might be how physicals were done on the college level. His girlfriend, who is now his wife, was an 18-year-old nursing student at UM when he discussed the second exam and she compared it to a woman's Pap smear.

"Even though I felt uncomfortable, I felt it was a necessary evil to play ball there," Christian said.

Christian had two more physicals with Anderson before he graduated from UM with a bachelor of fine arts degree in 1981. Soon after, he moved to Massachusetts and his wife joined him after she graduated a year later. 

He started avoiding doctors, undergoing only a bare minimum of treatments and eschewing invasive treatments.

When he was 45, he saw a urologist after finding blood in his urine. The doctor wanted to give him a prostate exam but he declined.

"It was like a quick flash back into Dr Anderson, when I heard that glove snap," Christian said. "No, this is not going to happen again. I kind of felt I took my power back. No more doctors were going to hurt me like that."

He said the doctor told him that he was so young, he probably didn't have prostate cancer.

Years later, in 2006, Christian started getting up to urinate 8-10 times a night and he went to a doctor again. This time, he got a prostate exam and a biopsy, and learned that he had a cancerous cells in his prostate.

One doctor gave him a prognosis of three years to live. But Christian now is in his fifth year.  After undergoing one chemotherapy treatment, he now works with energy healers.

He recently began sharing his story publicly, giving interviews to media outlets, sometimes several in a day, even though it exhausted him.

He said he's never cried more than he has after hearing from so many players who called him, crying and thanking him. Many told him that they have been avoiding doctors, too.

Christian is the father of three sons in their 30s, and the grandfather of seven. One more grandchild is on the way. 

He's not in pain every day. He said he may have four good days next week, and three bad days.

But he wants closure.

"I know that the pain has gotten worse over the last six months and I would just like to have this thing settled so there is one last thing on my mind and I can focus on my healing, getting better or doing the things I want to do to take pressure off of me," Christian said. "And be able to enjoy some life.”

kkozlowski@detroitnews.com