Jim Brandstatter defends Bo Schembechler, says 'reasonable doubt' should come into play
Jim Brandstatter, radio play-by-play voice of Michigan football, whose comments on local radio shows over the weekend sparked considerable response, is banding with other former players to defend the reputation of late Michigan coach Bo Schembechler.
Brandstatter felt compelled to respond following a news conference last Thursday during which Schembechler’s son, Matt Schembechler, and former Michigan players Dan Kwiatkowski and Gilvanni Johnson said they were sexually assaulted by former team physician Dr. Robert Anderson. The three men said they told the coach of the assaults, but claimed he did not act to stop Anderson. A February 2020 story in The Detroit News detailed Robert Julian Stone’s accusations of Anderson sexually abusing him in 1971. Since his revelation, 850 accusers have come forward and are in mediation with UM. Schembechler died in 2006. Anderson died in 2008.
“It’s not just me. There are hundreds of other players that find these charges hard to accept and square with the Bo Schembechler that they knew,” Brandstatter told The Detroit News on Monday, referring to the news conference last week.
Brandstatter said he has been in communication with many former players who share his opinion.
“We are as a group working together to support Shemy and Cathy who have both publicly stated that Matt’s comments were inaccurate,” Brandstatter said. “If media want to ridicule me, then they are ridiculing Bo Schembechler’s son Shemy and Bo’s wife Cathy, also, because they have agreed Matt’s statements were inaccurate.”
Matt Schembechler’s comments in one-on-one newspaper interviews, including with The News last Wednesday night, and during the news conference angered Brandstatter. He said former players he has spoken with, agree with his beliefs. Brandstatter doubled down on comments he made in radio interviews with WWJ-950 AM and 1290 WLBY over the weekend during an interview with The News.
“Isn’t there a feeling that reasonable doubt should come into play when you’re trashing a man’s reputation that he spent a lifetime to build?” Brandstatter said. “Reasonable doubt should be part of the equation and in this instance, you look at context, and I would suggest that clearly there’s reasonable doubt on a number of these allegations by those people that were up there, including Matt Schembechler.”
Matt Schembechler, 62, said Anderson abused him twice, first in 1969 when he was 10 and went to see him for a physical to play on a youth football team. He said he told his mother, Millie, then told his father, who went into a rage, punched him and said he didn't want to hear about it. He claimed his mother called on former UM Athletic Director Don Canham, who according to Matt, fired the doctor, only to have the coach intervene to keep him on. Canham died in 2005.
Brandstatter said he and others with whom he has spoken call this timeline and recollection into question.
“He’s the one who made the statement and his statement was this was the first year (Bo Schembechler) got there. So if he’s going to go on a little league football team and get a physical, that would have happened probably in July-August, something like that. So Bo got the job in December 1968, Matt’s 10 years old. It would have been, what, eight months later? Bo hadn’t coached a game yet, that’s a fact. All we had was winter conditioning at that point. I don’t know whether Bo had any idea who or why or what Dr. Robert Anderson was, because all he wanted to know from his office was, who got their physicals, are they capable of going to work in our winter workouts. If they got the paper they’re cleared to go, let’s go.
“I don’t know if he had any interaction with Dr. Anderson at all, but the suggestion is — and I’m asking people to think about it in context — he had the job for eight months. He hadn’t coached a game yet. He was not the Bo Schembechler of 1980 with championships and 10-win seasons and clout. He was a brand new guy from Miami of Ohio who the newspapers said, ‘Bo, who?’ and we are told that he told an athletic director who was already in place and hired him eight months later before he has even coached a game to not fire a guy and rehire him? To me, it deserves a question. It provides reasonable doubt that that story might not actually be factual or true. That’s all I’m saying. Look at the context, does that sound like that might happen?
“The same thing goes with the story about going to his doctor alone on his bike at 10 years old to get a physical. I just ask for context. Millie Schembechler, I knew her. Strong-willed woman. And she would never allow that in my opinion, but that’s just my opinion. But in context, more than half of the mothers out there, I would think, yeah, that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, either. Yet he says that, and people are buying it like it's gospel. I just say look at the context.”
For subscribers: Wojo: Victims' damning accounts forever tarnish Bo Schembechler's stature
Brandstatter was asked if he’s concerned with appearing to be victim shaming by voicing his opinions.
“I’m worried, but I’m not. That is not my intent,” he said. “My intent is very simple — to be very fair and find the truth. In this instance, anyone in our society with our legal system, it is fundamental that the accused gets to face their accuser. In this instance, that’s not able to happen. I just think you walk down a really slippery slope. It can happen to anybody. I can say anything about you or anyone and if I’m not there to defend myself, oh, it must be true. That’s not necessarily accurate. With Bo Schembechler, there are other mitigating circumstances in regards to this, too, and I don’t think you can take out of the equation the fact there is a lawsuit pending and there are monetary compensatory damages at stake here.
“I sympathize with anyone who suffered at the hands of sexual abuse. That’s abhorrent behavior. But in my judgment, it’s also really poor behavior to make an unsubstantiated allegation against someone when that someone can’t defend himself. Bo Schembechler did not do this to them.”
Although Brandstatter said there is a large group of players getting behind Schembechler to defend his character, he has publicly been the lone voice on the record defending his coach. Brandstatter was at Michigan when Schembechler took over in 1969. Brandstatter said he received physicals from Dr. Anderson, but never had any issues.
“A lot of people have asked me motive. What’s the motive?” Brandstatter said. “I can’t get in somebody’s head. I don’t know. All I know is I’m not getting anything but ridicule from media outlets and some other people out there. I’ve got nothing to gain. I don’t have any money involved, I’m not part of any lawsuit, but whoever has made this charge, there is some monetary settlement. I don’t think that’s being mean or nasty, that’s just at fact.
“I have nothing to gain. Only thing I’ve got is to lose and that is people can ridicule and laugh and joke, but I don’t care. I just think Bo Schembechler deserves a defense and the people who are making these charges deserve to be vetted. It’s about fairness. I would say it about anybody that’s out there that doesn’t have a chance to answer for themselves. Wait a minute, you’ve got to give that person a chance. Bo’s been convicted and that’s not fair.”