Bo Schembechler statue vandalized on UM campus, painted with pro-victim message

Hayley Harding
The Detroit News

A statue honoring former University of Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler was vandalized at the school's Ann Arbor campus at some point overnight Tuesday.

The statute was covered in red paint. Nearby, someone had written "Bo knew #hailtothevictims" in black paint. 

The statue of the late University of Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler, shown on Wednesday morning, Nov. 24, 2021 in Ann Arbor,  was vandalized. The vandal referenced Schembechler's alleged knowledge of the late team doctor Robert Anderson's sex abuse of hundreds of players for multiple decades.

By 11 a.m. Wednesday, red paint had been cleaned off the statue, which stands in front of Schembechler Hall, a training center named for the coach.

"Bo knew," while faded, was still visible at the statue's base.

An email from an anonymous "boknew" email address claimed responsibility. In the email, the person responsible said that Schembechler "is long seen as an iconic Michigan coach, but he knew that Robert Anderson, the team's doctor in the 1970s and 1980s, was sexually assaulting countless players each year."

Anderson, who died in 2008, has been accused of sexual misconduct from hundreds of former UM athletes. A report released earlier this year found that university employees did not heed "credible reports" of abuse during Anderson's career. He retired in 2003.

"We understand and appreciate the passionate advocacy on behalf of those who were abused by the late Robert Anderson," Rick Fitzgerald, spokesman for the university, wrote in an email. "But the vandalism to the University of Michigan statue of Bo Schembechler will be investigated fully in order to hold those responsible accountable for their actions."

A University of Michigan employee hoses off the statue of former Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler in front of Schembechler Hall on the University of Michigan campus on Wednesday morning, Nov. 24, 2021 in Ann Arbor. The statue was vandalized with what appeared to be red paint sometime overnight Tuesday.

Fitzgerald said the investigation is being run by UM's Division of Public Safety & Security.

"We continue to work toward fair compensation for the Anderson survivors through the confidential, court-supervised mediation process and we are working every day to make our campus safer for every member of our community," he added. 

Schembechler was named in the report as one of the more powerful people who allegedly knew about Anderson's behavior. One said Schembechler told him to toughen up, while another said the coach told him physicals weren't required to play football. Another athlete said he told Schembechler about the behavior, and the coach told him he would look into it but did not apparently follow up.

Matthew Schembechler, the coach's son, said he was also assaulted by Anderson. When he told his father, the younger Schembechler said, the coach refused to hear about it.

Even after power washing paint is still seen at the base of a statue of former University of Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler in Ann Arbor, Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021. Someone had written "Bo knew #hailtothevictims" in black paint.

Claire Beckett, a second-year law student at UM, said she was beginning to question why Schembechler's statue remained on campus at the university.

She said she was young when Penn State University removed its statue of Joe Paterno, but she remembers people felt at the time that it was the right move.

"But a few years later, people said it was the wrong choice," Beckett said. "It can be weird how quickly, even when faced with proof that a hero acted like this, people forget or change their minds."

She said she's been thinking about Jon Vaughn, an Anderson accuser who has camped out in front of who has been camped out in front of UM President Mark Schlissel's on-campus residence for more than six weeks hoping the president will speak with him. 

Schlissel has apologized publicly on behalf of the school to those who have accused Anderson. He hasn't, however, spoken with Vaughn.

Beckett lives across the street from the president's house on campus, so she's seen Anderson's protest first hand.

"I can understand from a legal perspective the need for mediation and why silence is probably what's being recommended during that, but it seems at some point to be missing the humanity," Beckett said. "If anything, as a law student, it's making me think about what ways we can reform the law so that treating people with the humanity they deserve isn't a legal faux pas.”

Speaking during a news conference Wednesday, Vaughn said he was frustrated to see the university react with more force about a vandalized statue than they did about sexual misconduct.

"It's hit me pretty hard that you will be more angry, obstinate and focused on ... searching out the people that defaced a bronze statue, yet you have individuals that still work at the University of Michigan that were the gatekeeper to (Anderson)," Vaughn said.

He said that he couldn't condone the vandalism but he understood how someone's frustration reached that point.

Vaughn spoke Wednesday with Rocky Ratliff, a former Ohio State wrestler. Ratliff is one of many who have accused Richard Strauss, a former doctor with OSU's athletics department, of sexual assault.

Their news conference, which was scheduled before the vandalism occurred, was meant to draw attention to the similarities between UM and OSU's handling of their respective abuse accusations ahead of The Game on Saturday.

Both Vaughn and Ratliff called for a culture change from their universities, saying it was necessary to stop future abusers. 

"Your next predator is probably amongst them right now," Ratliff said.

"Ohio State is a fundamentally different university today and over the past 20 years has committed substantial resources to prevent and address sexual misconduct," school spokesperson Ben Johnson said in a statement. "These actions include new policies, programs, staffing and tools throughout the university, including athletics and the medical center.

"In addition, the university has and will continue to cover the cost of professionally certified counseling services for anyone affected by Richard Strauss," Johnson added. "For nearly 4 years, Ohio State has led the effort to uncover and acknowledge the truth about Strauss, who died in 2005, and the university’s failure at the time to prevent it."

Vaughn said he didn't care whether the statue, which some considered controversial even before it was defaced this week, remained on campus. 

"I've never thought about the statue. I've never thought about names on buildings and things of that nature because they're inanimate objects," Vaughn said. "We put too much emphasis on these inanimate objects, but they're not people."

He said that when he comes to campus, he regularly hears from students who think more about avoiding sexual assault on campus than they do their major.

"The university needs to get real about its culture of abuse and cover-up at the hands of students and also within their faculty,” Vaughn said. "... There’s really nothing that they can say until they realize and admit that in some areas, we aren’t leaders and best.”


Staff Writer Angelique Chengelis contributed.