More former players, staff members pen letter defending Bo Schembechler's reputation

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

A letter addressed to the “University of Michigan Community” and signed by more than 100 former football players, coaches, and staff members in defense of late Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler was released Friday.

The letter includes names like Reggie McKenzie, who went on to be part of two Super Bowl victories; Jim Hackett, the former Michigan athletic director and president and CEO of Ford Motor Company; and Jack Harbaugh, the father of current Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh and a former assistant on Schembechler’s staff, attached at the bottom. Jim Harbaugh's name was not listed.

Jack Harbaugh was among the many names attached to Friday's letter defending late football coach Bo Schembechler.

Last week, Schembechler’s son, Matt, and two former players said at a news conference that Schembechler knew that team doctor Robert Anderson was sexually assaulting players and did not stop the abuse. A Detroit News story in February 2020 detailed UM student Robert Julian Stone’s accusations of Anderson sexually abusing him in 1971. Since his revelation, 850 accusers, mostly former Michigan athletes, have come forward and are in mediation with UM. Schembechler died in 2006 and Anderson died in 2008. 

“Our experiences tell us that the Bo Schembechler we knew would never have tolerated any abuse or mistreatment of his players, his staff, or any other individual,” the letter reads. “We believe firmly, that if he were aware of such behavior, Coach Schembechler would have acted immediately to put a stop to it and would have made sure anyone responsible for it would have been removed from the University of Michigan football program.”

In the letter, the players said they all received physicals, presumably all administered by Anderson.

“Many of us never thought at any time we had been abused during the process,” the letter reads. “And, subsequently nothing was reported to Bo. … The effort to destroy Coach Schembechler’s reputation and legacy will not go unchallenged by those of us who knew him. Just because he isn’t present doesn’t mean he’s not here.”

Jim Brandstatter, who played for Schembechler from 1969-1971, has publicly spoken in defense of his coach after last week’s news conference with Matt Schembechler, and former players Gilvanni Johnson and Daniel Kwiatkowski.

Earlier this month, Jim Harbaugh was asked how the university should handle Schembechler's legacy. 

“I can tell you this. Bo Schemechler, there was nothing that I saw the times that I was a kid here, my dad was on the staff, or when I played here, he never sat on anything, he never procrastinated on anything,” Harbaugh said during a break at a football camp in Big Rapids. “He took care of it before the sun went down. That’s the Bo Schembechler that I know. There was nothing that ever was swept under the rug or ignored. He addressed everything in a timely fashion. That’s the Bo Schembechler that I know.”

During a news conference Wednesday in Ann Arbor across from Michigan Stadium, former Michigan player Jon Vaughn said he was assaulted 45 times by Anderson. He said he “absolutely” has felt victim shamed.

“We don’t talk enough about the victims,” Vaughn said. “And I know my story is helping guys. When you’re on a team, sometimes you’ve gotta pick up the blitz, and you’ve gotta take the arrows, and you’ve gotta cut the wind. And don’t think that this is not hard. Don’t think I don’t have my dark days that I don’t want to get out of the bed and I don’t want to fight.

“But I revert back to the man that came here as a boy that left as a man and what you (Schembechler) trained me is to persevere, to not deal with pain, to overcome obstacles, to never quit, fight to the last second. I think the biggest mistake Michigan made is not understanding who they were going against because I’m not quitting, and we’re not quitting, because we were trained not to quit.”

Twitter: @chengelis

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