Schembechler was 'visibly angry' when told of UM doctor's sex abuse, accuser says

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Bo Schembechler, the legendary University of Michigan football coach, knew about the alleged sexual abuse linked to the late Dr. Robert E. Anderson, according to a federal lawsuit filed Thursday.

Bo Schembechler

A former UM student told Schembechler about Anderson's alleged abuse in 1982 and 1983 after seeing the late doctor for migraines, according to the suit that is among dozens of others filed against UM and the Board of Regents in U.S. District Court in Detroit. Schembechler allegedly sent the student to former UM Athletic Director Don Canham.

"What Bo said to me when I first came to him was, 'Get your butt into Canham's office and tell him what happened right now,'" the former student said during a virtual press conference. "He was visibly angry. I felt from the look on his face and from his actions that this was the first time that anybody reported it to him."

The former student, however, did not blame Schembechler for not pursuing the matter further and said he would defend him "until my dying day because he was who he was. He was family."

Instead, he held Canham accountable, saying the former athletic director blew him off and did nothing.

Don Canham

"In effect, in my opinion, Canham perpetrated Anderson's abuse," the man said.

He also said that UM failed.

"The University of Michigan had the opportunity long before I got there because Don Canham had known," said the man, who arrived at UM in 1981. "They had the opportunity to put an end to this and to set up guidelines and procedures to make sure this never happened to anybody. ... The University of Michigan could have nipped this in the bud 20 years previous."

The former student is not named in the lawsuit and did not identify himself or appear on camera during the news conference. 

Schembechler, who also served as UM athletic director during his two decades at the university, and Canham are both deceased.

But the new allegations add Schembechler, one of the most beloved and nationally admired figures in sports, to the list of UM officials who were allegedly alerted about Anderson.

The doctor had a career that spanned more than three decades at UM as a physician, which included stints as director of the university health service and athletic team doctor. He retired from UM in 2003 and died in 2008. Sexual abuse allegations against Anderson emerged in February after a Detroit News investigation, and since then, scores of men have come forward, along with a few women.

UM officials on Thursday did not directly address the former student's allegations but spoke of the university's "paused" investigation into the alleged abuse of Anderson.

"At the University of Michigan, we condemn all sexual misconduct," university spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said in a statement. "This type of conduct is reprehensible — and whether it takes place now or took place in the past, it is unacceptable."

Fitzgerald added UM has "great confidence" in the investigation by WilmerHale, the outside law firm the university has hired in the Anderson case. The inquiry was put on hold by a federal judge after lawyers raised questions about its independence and after the university reached out to thousands of former UM students.

"More than 50 former patients of Anderson have contacted WilmerHale and are awaiting a response," Fitzgerald said. "We believe the investigation should restart immediately."

He said UM had received 394 complaints about Anderson as of July 23.

Lawyers representing the man and the other 52 accusers who filed suit Thursday did speak about what Schembechler knew.

"The revelations involving the failure to act on the part of Bo Schembechler are troubling but should not be surprising," Okemos-based lawyer Jamie White said. "We have seen this trend play out with institutions all over the country, including but not limited to (former Penn State University Coach Joe) Paterno, leadership in the Catholic Church and Boy Scouts of America, and most recently Michigan State University."

White, who also represented 60 accusers of serial sex abuser Larry Nassar, a former MSU sports doctor, added: "The Schembechler revelations are going to be disturbing to many but the university will not heal and be able to move forward from this horrific period until there is a complete accounting of what went wrong."

Schembechler, who coached the Wolverines from 1969 to 1989, led UM's teams to 17 bowl game appearances, was awarded the Big Ten Coach of the Year Award several times and is regarded as one of the best college football coaches in history. He was UM's athletic director from 1988-90.

The university placed a 7 1/2 foot bronze statue of Schembechler at the entrance to the Stephen M. Ross Athletic Campus, a focal point of UM's football facility renovated in 2014. It includes a quote from the coach: “Those Who Stay Will Be Champions.”

At least one former UM football player was shocked that the latest Anderson accuser to speak publicly gave Schembechler a pass.

Jon Vaughn — a former running back for the Seattle Seahawks, New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs — also has filed a lawsuit against UM in connection with alleged assaults while he was at the university starting in 1988. He is represented by former Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox, who has filed 83 lawsuits against UM in connection with Anderson.

Vaughn said he talked with many fellow players who couldn't believe how Anderson's accuser portrayed Schembechler, saying his attitude reflected a culture that protects iconic coaches and institutions like Schembechler and UM — and needs to change.

"The decision of knowing that your players, that you call family, that you go into their homes and speak to their parents at recruiting trips, that their child is going to be protected under your watch and you do nothing?" said Vaughn, who lives in Texas. “How can he not be held accountable for that? ... How do give people who knew a pass because you revered him so much? That is ludicrous, that is delusional ..."

The former student's lawsuit and the 52 others were filed by accusers represented by the Okemos-based White Law firm, along with San Diego-based Estey and Bomberger, LLP, and Dallas-based The Simpson Tuegel Law Firm.

The other lawsuits include alleged victims who were members of UM's football, baseball, gymnastics, basketball, crew, track and field, and cross country teams, as well as UM students and staff and local high school students who say Anderson preyed upon them during his tenure from the 1960s through the early 2000s.

Some of the alleged victims were minors; at least one accuser alleges he was abused by Anderson hundreds of times when he was a member of UM's track and field team.

The man who alleged he told Schembechler about Anderson was a UM student from 1981 to 1983 and was an announcer during Wolverine football games, according to the lawsuit.

The official photo of team physician Dr. Robert Anderson from the 1992 University of Michigan football media guide.

The former student's lawsuit says he suffered from migraine headaches and was directed by Schembechler to see Anderson. During two appointments, the doctor allegedly penetrated him rectally under the guise of medical treatment. The suit says the student told Schembechler, who directed him to report the behavior to Canham.

"Athletic Director Canham took no action and failed to investigate the allegations of sexual abuse committed by Dr. Anderson," the lawsuit says. "U of M never acted on and/or investigated (the man's) complaint of sexual abuse committed by Dr. Anderson."

"U of M was once again put on notice of Dr. Anderson’s sexually deviant behavior when U of M received John Doe EB-17’s report of sexual abuse," the lawsuit continued.

"Despite this notice, U of M knowingly allowed a sexual predator to directly work with students, student-athletes, staff, administration, and the public until 2003. If U of M would have acted on this information and notice that Dr. Anderson was a sexual predator, hundreds, if not thousands, of acts of sexual abuse and assault could have been prevented by U of M."

Besides Schembechler, other UM officials allegedly alerted to the behavior of Anderson include former UM Assistant Athletic Director Paul W. Schmidt, the only current UM employee who allegedly knew of accusations against Anderson. He has denied anyone ever told him about Anderson.

Others who allegedly were told of sex abuse accusations against Anderson include Canham; former UM head wrestling coach Bill Johannesen, who has denied knowing of any misconduct by Anderson; former head UM track head coach Jack Harvey and former UM assistant track coach Ron Warhurst.

Lawyers said by 1976, Warhurst knew Anderson was sexually abusing student-athletes.

In one of the lawsuits, one accuser recounted what Warhurst allegedly said to him.

"'So you have a sore throat, you have to go to Anderson, drop your drawers, and get your hernia checked' while laughing about the matter," according to the suit.

Another accuser alleged when he discussed  Anderson’s sexual abuse with Warhurst, the assistant coach told him, “deal with it (expletive),” according to the lawsuits.

Warhurst could not be reached Thursday for comment by phone.

Anderson allegedly told another accuser “you are much larger than average,” and compared him to a former university football player who was also attending medical school, according to one of the complaints.

The doctor allegedly told the accuser that he needed to collect a semen sample from him to “culture" to see what healthy semen looked like.

"Dr. Anderson then began masturbating himself in front of (accuser)," the lawsuit said. "Dr. Anderson told (accuser) to 'Feel free to join in'  while Dr. Anderson was masturbating himself in front of (him)."

Anderson later asked the patient to lie on an exam table and fondled him, the suit said.

Besides the lawsuits filed by Cox, several other lawyers have also filed suits. At least one of the filings seeks class-action certification, and several other lawyers say they represent hundreds of victims still intending to sue.

UM has acknowledged his alleged crimes and said it intends to settle with the victims. Mediation in the cases is expected to begin in September.