UM doctor's Black accusers seek justice, accountability

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that attorney Steve Estey is based in San Diego.

Novi — A Super Bowl champ and an All-America wrestler came forward Wednesday and accused the late Dr. Robert Anderson of sexual misconduct, joining others who allege the longtime University of Michigan physician abused them during treatment.

Both men, Dwight Hicks and Dr. Airron Richardson, said they traveled a long way to give a voice to all the men who couldn't do the same, especially their colleagues who are African Americans, like themselves.

Dr. Airron Richardson, a former wrestler at Michigan, talks about the sexual abuse he endured by Dr. Robert Anderson.

"A lot of people who were abused will probably never come forward," said Hicks, a former pro football player who flew into Detroit with his wife from Los Angeles to speak at a Novi hotel. "I felt it was paramount for me to be here today to be that voice, for the people that cannot stand up for themselves."

Richardson, who attended UM from 1994-98 and competed with the U.S. national freestyle wrestling team, added that he shares "an unfortunate bond" with others who were abused by Anderson. Since February, scores of men and a handful of women have alleged that the doctor sexually abused them during his tenure at UM from the 1960s until his retirement in 2003. 

Initially, Richardson said, he was reluctant to publicly discuss what Anderson did to him and the subsequent shame, embarrassment and anger he felt.

"As a physician, I am acutely aware of how Dr. Anderson violated the trust of his patients and used medicine as his shield," said Richardson, who traveled from the Chicago area to Novi. "It's  absolutely infuriating to me that his behavior was allowed to persist for so long."

At Wednesday's news conference, the race of Anderson's alleged victims was raised for the first time since the allegations against the late doctor became public six months ago.

Hicks and Richardson were joined by their lawyers, Colorado-based Parker Stinar, Okemos-based Jamie White and Steve Estey of San Diego, to highlight the issue.

Stinar said they represent nearly 200 victims of sexual abuse by Anderson and include men, women, athletes and non-athletes. He also said that 50% of the accusers they represent include Black men, though the university's Black student population has historically ranged from 2% to 5%.

"Dr. Anderson preyed on Black men because he knew they were vulnerable," said Stinar. "He knew that the university would not protect this group regardless of how outrageous, dangerous and perverse his conduct was. And he was right."

Stinar added that the past and current administrations at UM have let down students, alumni and the public, and that Anderson's victims want to hold UM accountable for policy changes and procedures. But they also expect to hold the university accountable for the harm they suffered.

"We frequently hear stories of how unjust our criminal sentencing system is for Black individuals," said Stinar. "However, we rarely hear stories of how unjust our civil justice system is for Black individuals ... Historically, Black victims are compensated less than white victims — especially Black men. We refuse to allow the victims of Dr. Anderson to be discounted due to their color."

UM spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said he was limited by what he could say due to the ongoing investigation being conducted by a law firm hired by the university, WilmerHale.

"We have great admiration for all of the former U-M athletes and students who are bravely stepping forward to share their stories," Fitzgerald said in an email. "We also have great confidence in the ability of the WilmerHale law firm to conduct an independent investigation into these allegations. WilmerHale’s mission is to follow the facts wherever they may lead."

Former Michigan player Dwight Hicks talks about the sexual abuse he endured by Dr. Robert Anderson during his playing days in the 1970s.

Hicks was 18 when he moved to Ann Arbor in 1974 to play football for UM.

After playing for the Wolverines, Hicks played for the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League, and two NFL teams, the San Francisco 49ers and the Indianapolis Colts. He won the Super Bowl twice with the 49ers.

But he said Wednesday that he suppressed what happened to him while he was at UM and under the care of Anderson, who was team doctor for the UM Athletic Department.

"What happened in that room with Dr. Anderson, I have no words for," said Hicks. "I know something was happening was kind of strange, and I even questioned it. He said, 'It's part of the process.' So I felt that I had to suck it up. I am going to be a Michigan Man, this is part of it."

It wasn't until other men came forward that Hicks decided to add his voice to the those who have revealed their names and faces.

Hicks spoke of the promises made but not kept to Black Americans throughout history. He also touched on the death of George Floyd, a Black man who struggled to breathe as a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes May 25.

Richardson expanded on the narrative.

"The tension in our country in the past several months has been palpable: societal inequities, the pandemic, unemployment," he said. "There seems to be perfect storm for people who want to learn, to recognize what I, and people who look like me, have always known: Not all of our citizens are treated equally under the law."

In college he was a 6-foot-4-inch, 250-pound Black man, and no one might suspect he was a victim. 

"While the data reflecting how Black men are discounted by the justice system is extremely disappointing, they are not at all surprising," said Richardson. "The good news is that this does not have to continue."

Grace French, a victim of Dr. Larry Nassar and founder and president of The Army of Survivors foundation, offers her support to the victims of Dr. Robert Anderson.

Grace French, a UM graduate and survivor of former Michigan State University physician and sexual predator Larry Nassar, also spoke at the press conference, calling UM's Anderson scandal a "repeat of the tragedy" that happened at MSU. Anderson used his power to abuse his victims and no one at UM addressed complaints that emerged over the decades he served, French said.

"There is a need to examine why these athletes weren't helped and no one stood up for them and instead chose to side with a white doctor," said French, a victim advocate who founded the Army of Survivors.

"I know that my sister survivors and I feel that our voices were heard partly because of our privilege, because we largely are a group of white middle and upper middle class, young females and our faces can draw sympathy," French said. "These survivors from UM deserve equal justice, opportunities to heal, a truly independent investigation and recognition of the year of trauma they have endured."