Family rejects abuse cover-up accusations against Bo Schembechler

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

The family of University of Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler issued a statement Tuesday insisting that he was not aware of the abuse of Dr. Robert Anderson.

"It is telling to us that Bo never spoke to any of us about inappropriate behavior by Dr. Anderson" the statement reads. "To the contrary, in our steadfast opinion, Bo was not aware of such conduct and assumed that any procedures were medically appropriate."

Bo Schembechler

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"As he demonstrated at many points in his career and to us as a family, Bo had a clear and compelling sense of right and wrong: he would not have tolerated misconduct, especially toward any of his players, family members, coaches or to anyone associated with the University of Michigan’s football program," the letter continued. "If Bo had known of inappropriate conduct, we are certain that he would have stopped it immediately, reported it, and had Dr. Anderson removed from the University."

It is signed by Cathy, Glenn and Megan Schembechler, Bo's wife at the time of his death, son and daughter-in-law, respectively.

Anderson is the former head of University Health Service and team physician for the UM Athletic Department. He served from 1966-2003, then died in 2008.

Twelve years after the doctor died, in February 2020, Robert Julian Stone accused Anderson of sexual assault during a medical exam when the doctor allegedly dropped his pants and grabbed Stone's hand and put it on the doctor's penis. Since then, 850 others have lodged similar accusations against Anderson and are currently in mediation with UM.

Anderson's alleged misconduct included unnecessary hernia and rectal examinations on patients who went to him for unrelated ailments, manual stimulation of male patients and arrangements in which he provided medical services in exchange for sexual contact.

Some accusers have said they alerted officials at UM, but the doctor wasn't stopped.

Bo Schembechler, who died in 2006, was first accused of knowing about Anderson's conduct in a July 2020 federal lawsuit filed by a former UM student. The suit alleged the former student told the coach about Anderson's abuse in 1982 and 1983. Schembechler, he alleged, told him to alert former Athletic Director Don Canham, but he did not blame Schembechler for not pursuing the matter further.

A May report commissioned by UM to investigate Anderson showed three football players alerted Schembechler to Anderson's behavior and the coach allegedly told one of them to "toughen up." 

But a firestorm erupted last week when Matthew Schembechler, a son, spoke at a press conference and said he was sexually assaulted by Anderson. When he told his father, Bo Schembechler allegedly refused to hear about it and intervened to save the physician's job.

Matt Schembechler was joined at the press conference by Wolverine football players Daniel Kwiatkowski and Gilvanni Johnson, who said they were assaulted by Anderson during the 1970s and 1980s, and alerted the revered coach to no avail.

The allegations were covered by national media, and discussed throughout the weekend by 97.1 The Ticket, Detroit's sports talk radio show.

Former Michigan football player Jim Brandstatter, who played on Schembechler’s first team and is now the radio voice of Michigan football, has questioned Matt Schembechler’s claims of his abuse while defending Bo Schembechler.

A group of former Michigan players and staff members started an online petition — “In Defense of Bo” — in an attempt to defend the Schembechler's legacy.

Some have also noted Matthew Schembechler's strained relationship with his father: He left the home where he grew up when he turned 18.

In 1999, Matthew Schembechler sued his father, the university and 12 other defendants, accusing them of trying to ruin his sports memorabilia business and damage his reputation. 

Bo Schembechler's trust specifically left out Matthew Schembechler and his two brothers who were adopted by the coach when he married Millie Schembechler in 1968, according to documents filed in federal court.

The Schembechler family letter hinted at the relationship between Bo and Matthew Schembechler.

"We are confident that the veracity of each accuser will be examined, and that appropriate weight will be given to the sad reality that one of our family members has been for decades estranged from us and has on numerous occasions made unfounded and false accusations against Bo and other family members including pursuing legal actions that have been repeatedly rejected," the letter said.

Matthew Schembechler could not be immediately reached for comment. But last week, he said he was speaking out to heal.

"I understand the reverence people have for my father," Schembechler said, "but I know the truth: Anderson abused me and countless others over three decades ... I had hoped my father would protect me but he didn’t."

Matthew Schembechler'slawyer, Okemos-based Mick Grewal, said Schembechler's second wife and fourth son were not around when Matthew Schembechler says he told Bo Schembechler about Anderson's abuse in 1969 and the coach allegedly intervened in Canham's attempt to fire him.

Bo Schembechler married Matthew Schembechler's mom, Millie, in 1969 and adopted him and his two brothers, Donald and Geoffrey. Millie and Bo Schembechler had Glenn, also known as "Shemy."

After Millie's death in 1992, Bo Schembechler married Cathy Schembechler. 

Grewal noted Cathy, Glenn and Megan Schembechler also were not around when Kwiatkowski and Johnson said they were assaulted by Anderson during the 1970s and 1980s, and alerted Bo Schembechler. 

"They don’t know what those men went through," Grewal said. "That is the dark side of Bo, and we are learning about it now, and the dark side of Canham."

Another man is expected to say publicly on Wednesday that he alerted Bo Schembechler of alleged sexual assaults by Anderson, but that nothing was done during a press conference on Wednesday

"As painful as the last few days have been, we are confident the facts — and the truth— will ultimately win the day," Schembechler's family added. 

kkozlowski@detroitnews.com