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10 ex-athletes sue UM, allege abuse by doctor

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

A former University of Michigan basketball player and nine other male former UM athletes filed a lawsuit Sunday against the school's Board of Regents, alleging they were sexually assaulted during medical care by the late Dr. Robert E. Anderson.

According to the suit filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit, the plaintiffs had hoped to avoid legal action after UM announced it was going to set up a system to resolve claims from those alleging sexual abuse by Anderson.

Official head shot photo of team physician Dr. Robert Anderson from the 1992 University of Michigan football media guide.

"Plaintiffs’ optimism was short-lived," the suit says. "The University’s words quickly proved hollow. Counsel for Plaintiffs recently invited the University to discuss a possible settlement between Plaintiffs and the University. The University declined to discuss settlement with Plaintiffs. Despite all the compassionate words of Michigan’s President, the Chairman of its Regents, and Michigan’s lawyers (who were simultaneously urging the court to throw out the lawsuits of other victims), the University slammed the door shut on Plaintiffs."

UM spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said the university has not seen the lawsuit.

"[B]ecause of the ongoing investigation, there is little we are able to say," said Fitzgerald, referring to the investigation by an outside law firm, WilmerHale, that UM hired to uncover that happened.

Anderson is the former head of University Health Service and team doctor for the UM Athletic Department who served the university from the 1960s to 2003. He died in 2008.

Allegations against him emerged in February when Robert Julian Stone shared his story publicly with The Detroit News. Since then, a UM police investigation showed several university officials had been alerted to Anderson's alleged behavior and one administrator almost fired him in 1979. Scores of men, and a few women, have since come forward after Stone alleged Anderson had abused him.

Several attorneys have filed lawsuits against the university and the regents. UM apologized, launched the outside investigation and offered counseling. The university also said in April it wanted to settle claims outside the legal system to provide "more certain, faster relief." Mediation is expected in the fall.

Sunday's lawsuit against UM was the second filed by a group of Ohio and Georgia-based lawyers who sued and reached a settlement with Ohio State University linked to the sexual assaults of the late Dr. Richard Strauss. The first lawsuit they filed against UM was on behalf of Chuck Christian, a former football player who has terminal prostate cancer that he attributes to his fear of doctors and exams after his alleged sexual assaults by Anderson.

Reached Sunday by phone, attorney Michael Wright said that they anticipate and want to mediate, but a date has not been set.

"Some of the positions that they have taken as it relates to defending the claims prompted us to file more of the complaints," he said. "They are publicly saying they are interested in negotiating, but privately filing motions to dismiss and things of that nature. They are putting us in a position to be more a little more aggressive in terms of litigating."

He also said they are preparing to file about 175 cases.

"They are not negotiating as rapidly as we would want them to negotiate, and as a result we are preparing to file these cases," said Wright.

Sunday's lawsuit was filed on behalf of Mike Robinson, an Illinois resident who attended UM from 1977-78, and nine other former UM athletes who now live in South Carolina, Texas, Ohio, Florida and Michigan, and mostly played for the football team.

Anderson allegedly sexually assaulted Robinson two times during physicals by giving him rectal exams, according to the lawsuit.

"Anderson’s exam technique was physically rigorous and uncomfortable for Robinson," according to the suit. "Anderson did not appear concerned about performing the exam as gently as possible. Robinson felt unsettled after the exams. However, he believed them to be legitimate medical examinations that were required by the University in order for him to play basketball."

"Robinson was raised to believe that doctors help their patients, not hurt them," the suit says.

The suit says the university was aware of Anderson's alleged behavior for decades but did nothing to protect Robinson.

"The University of Michigan showed more than deliberate indifference by placing Robinson under Anderson’s care," the lawsuit says. "The University betrayed Robinson in the most extreme possible manner. If UM had exercised the slightest degree of care for Plaintiffs and other persons on the sports teams Anderson treated, the University never would have exposed Robinson or any other Plaintiff to Anderson or any other physician with a history of sexually assaulting his patients. 

The suit outlines allegations of the other plaintiffs, including allegations by a Michigan-based John Doe who attended UM from 1998-2002 and played for the university football team. He alleges that Anderson assaulted him five times by giving him rectal examinations and genital examinations.

"On one occasion, Anderson performed an examination of John Doe RS-03’s penis," the lawsuit says. "During this examination, Anderson asked John Doe RS-03 what nickname John Doe RS-03 had given his penis."

Anderson also allegedly commented on another John Doe's "size of his penis, while manipulating his testicles."

The suit demands a jury trial.

kkozlowski@detroitnews.com