Former Michigan football players start online petition to defend Bo Schembechler's legacy

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

A group of former Michigan players and staff members have started an online petition — “In Defense of Bo” — through the “For Those Who Stayed” alumni group in an attempt to defend the legacy of late UM football coach Bo Schembechler.

This comes as a response to a news conference last Thursday during which former Michigan football players Daniel Kwiatkowski and Gilvanni Johnson and Matt Schembechler, Bo Schembechler’s son, shared the sexual abuse they endured during medical exams with former football team doctor Dr. Robert Anderson.

Their accounts do not jibe with former players who started the online petition late Monday. (By Tuesday afternoon, the petition was closed.)

The statue of former Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler sits in front of Schembechler Hall.

"Our collective experiences are such that we know the Bo Schembechler we knew would never have tolerated any abuse or mistreatment of his players, his staff, or any other individual," the petition letter reads. "We believe firmly, that if he were aware of such behavior, Bo would have acted immediately to put a stop to it and would have moved mountains to ensure that anyone responsible for or perpetuating it would have been removed from the University of Michigan football program."

All three men said at the news conference they told Schembechler about the sexual abuse but nothing was done. Matt Schembechler shared he was 10 years old when the abuse occurred during a physical exam for little league football shortly after the family moved to Ann Arbor. Bo Schembechler, who died in 2006, became Michigan head coach in 1969. Dr. Anderson retired from Michigan in 2003 and died in 2008. Athletic director Don Canham, who hired Schembechler, died in 2005.

A story from February 2020 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. On Wednesday, dozens of former Michigan football players and survivors of Dr. Anderson are holding a news conference in Ann Arbor.

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

“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.

Mel Owens, a former Michigan linebacker and first-round NFL Draft pick, echoed many of Brandstatter’s sentiments during an interview on ESPN 1250AM in San Antonio on Monday.

“It was shocking to hear the allegations, which in my opinion are false and untrue,” Owens, now an attorney in California, said.

According to the petition, all players received physicals to play football at Michigan, but “many … never thought at any time we had been abused during the process.”

"We are united in our belief that the recent allegations against Coach Schembechler are contrary to everything we know about the man, are at odds with our personal experiences with him, and are inconsistent with the Bo Schembechler who always expected the best from us because he held himself to the same standard," the petition letter reads. "The effort to destroy Coach Schembechler’s reputation and legacy will not go unchallenged by those of us who knew him. Just because someone makes an allegation does not make it fact. Since Coach Schembechler is not alive to dispute these allegations, we will."

Twitter: @chengelis

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For subscribers: Wojo: Victims' damning accounts forever tarnish Bo Schembechler's stature​

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