Dr. Anderson’s Abuse and UM Athletics: What We Know, and Don’t Know

by | Jun 22, 2021 | Uncategorized | 11 comments

 I am writing to address the tragedy of Dr. Robert Anderson’s abuse of University of Michigan students, and the many issues it has raised.

If you’re reading this you probably already know, but in the interest of full disclosure, I coauthored Bo Schembechler’s last book,  Bo’s Lasting Lessons,which was published in 2007, a year after he passed. I have spoken often about him, his career, and my deep respect for both. On that basis alone, you’re free to discount what I have to say here. But I am not writing to defend or attack anyone, merely trying to get as close to the truth as I can. As you can imagine, for a number of reasons, that is not easy.

THE BACKGROUND

About 16 months ago the University of Michigan revealed that Dr. Anderson, who served as a U-M physician from 1966 to 2003, had been accused of sexually abusing students. The University’s Board of Regents – as distinct from the University itself – retained a pre-eminent law firm, WilmerHale, to spend a year researching and writing its report. The Regents gave the firm complete access to anything it wanted, no holds barred, without having to communicate with Michigan’s central administrators before securing whatever it needed. In fact, WilmerHale was required to inform the Regents if anyone attempted to interfere.

Their search included interviews with more than 300 current and former patients and 200 current and former U-M employees, and reviews of tens of thousands of documents from the university’s Bentley Historical Library. As the report’s authors state, “No restrictions were placed on our fact gathering, our analysis, or our independence… No one on the Board of Regents or at the University of Michigan has previewed the Report or any drafts of it or suggested any content or revisions.”

In other words, no one at U-M interfered with WilmerHale’s research or reporting.

Last month WilmerHale sent its 240-page report simultaneously to the University leadership and the Michigan Daily, the student newspaper. The report disclosed Anderson had sexually harassed, abused, and assaulted more than 800 students over the course of his career at University Health Services (UHS), a campus clinic for Michigan students and staffers, where Anderson first practiced at Michigan; plus the medical school; and the athletic department’s clinic, often under the guise of routine physical exams.

“The most common form of misconduct patients described to us involved Dr. Anderson conducting sensitive examinations (i.e., hernia and/or genital, prostate and/or rectal, and breast and/or pelvic examinations) that they perceived as unnecessary, performed inappropriately, or both… Even when conducting a particular sensitive examination may have been consistent with the standard of care at the time, Dr. Anderson regularly performed those examinations in grossly inappropriate ways.”

WilmerHale learned the complaints about Anderson, who had become director of University Health Services in 1968, were sufficient by 1979 for Anderson’s supervisor, Thomas Easthope, to confront him about the abuse. According to Easthope’s testimony, Anderson didn’t deny any of it. Last year Easthope initially told the investigators that he recalled firing Anderson “on the spot,” but the investigators said this was false.

“Mr. Easthope claimed to have confronted Dr. Anderson and fired him. But Mr. Easthope did not do so.”

While Easthope said he told his supervisor, Vice President for Student Services Henry Johnson, he ultimately acknowledged that he failed to notify University Health Services, the U-M Medical School, the Ann Arbor Police, the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office, or the state’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. In explaining why Easthope also failed to notify the U-M athletic department, where Easthope knew Anderson also practiced part-time, Easthope testified that the athletic department was out of his “sphere of influence and nothing that [Easthope] had any input about.” Easthope concluded that Anderson’s work in the athletic department was not something Easthope needed to be “terribly concerned about.”

In short, assuming Easthope did tell Johnson, they both had the facts and the power needed to end Dr. Anderson’s career, but both failed to do so. Easthope admitted he had other priorities. “…I had to move on, I had a lot of things going on every day… I can’t explain it any other way.”

As a result, the report states, “Contemporaneous documentation reflects that Dr. Anderson voluntarily resigned as UHS Director effective January 1980, but he continued working at UHS as a senior physician with the title of Director of Athletic Medicine. Despite having heard about Dr. Anderson’s misconduct, Mr. Easthope himself signed documentation related to Dr. Anderson’s continued employment at UHS in January 1980 and approved a salary increase for him in or around August 1980.”

If Easthope and Johnson had done what they were supposed to do, even by the less stringent requirements of the era, Anderson’s abuse would likely have stopped in 1979. Instead, their inaction allowed Anderson to transfer to the athletic department’s new medical unit in 1981, where he worked for the next 18 years, returning to the medical school from 1999 to 2003, when he retired.

In a cruel irony former athletic director Don Canham had set up one of the nation’s first in-house medical units for student-athletes to provide quicker, better care. It would have been reasonable to assume a doctor who had already worked at UHS and Michigan Medicine (as it’s now called) for 15 years in good standing – which, on paper, Anderson had – would be a good choice to work in the new unit. Yet it was in that unit where many of the athletes Dr. Anderson treated started calling him, “Doctor Drop Your Drawers.”

“Come in with a cold, ‘Drop your drawers,’” one former U-M tennis player told me, in a familiar refrain. “Come in with a bad shoulder, ‘Drop your drawers.’”

The university had another opportunity to take action against Anderson in 1996, when his application to Michigan Medicine required listing any lawsuits against him the previous two years. He disclosed a lawsuit from the year before, which alleged he had performed “inappropriate breast, pelvic, and rectal examinations on a female patient,” according to the report. There is no evidence that Michigan Medicine took any action – a colossal failure. Anderson retired in 2003, and died in 2008.

THE SURVIVORS

Over the past year I’ve talked with a couple dozen of Anderson’s victims. Some were big-name athletes, including football players, others lesser-known competitors in every men’s sport Michigan sponsors. (Since I’m a sports writer, I focused on the athletic side of this story, and did not talk with the hundreds of Anderson’s victims at UHS or the medical school.) But all of them carry the emotional scars of Dr. Anderson’s abuse. I’ve heard numerous men, as tough as they come, reduced to tears while recounting the abuse, plus the confusion, the helplessness — not a feeling that came often to people who had a history of excelling — and the anger it still generates many years after the fact.

In the words of the report, “Dr. Anderson’s misconduct prompted some student athletes to quit their teams; it caused some students to question their sexuality; it caused some students to seek counseling; it affected some students’ academics, including some who left the University; and it undoubtedly affected other students in myriad ways. The trauma that Dr. Anderson’s misconduct caused persists to this day.”

At the time of the incidents, the stunned victims were often unable to specify exactly what was wrong about Dr. Anderson, and frequently deferred to his medical authority.

“Many of Dr. Anderson’s patients thought that something ‘strange,’ ‘odd,’ or ‘unusual’ had occurred in the examination room, but they did not complain because they were unsure if what they had experienced was normal for adult medicine or elite university athletic programs. Patients generally gave Dr. Anderson the benefit of the doubt, trusting and deferring to his medical expertise. Some were too ashamed or embarrassed to share the details of their examinations with friends, authority figures, or family members. Others thought they would not be believed.”

I asked one of Anderson’s victims why, when Dr. Anderson’s abuse had become a running joke among many athletes, so few outside the athletic program had ever heard about it. (Like most, I’d heard nothing until last year.) He said, “That’s easy. We were embarrassed, and ashamed, and probably most of us didn’t even know what to call it. But we knew better than to expect anyone outside our locker room to understand.”

Even years later, this man was proven correct when people online and elsewhere questioned why Anderson’s victims didn’t just turn around and punch the doctor – opinions which demonstrate both ignorance and callousness. As another survivor told me, “Once you speak publicly you know the knuckleheads are coming after you.”

It took a tremendous amount of courage for these people to talk to the WilmerHale lawyers who produced the report, or call the hotline to tell their stories to the plaintiffs’ class-action lawyers. It took more still to come forward publicly, knowing the wide range of reactions that can follow.

Former star tailback Jon Vaughn (1988-90) for example, talked to the press last week about his abuse by Dr. Anderson. “I was ruthlessly, repeatedly and regularly raped by Dr. Robert Anderson at least 45 times.”

In a podcast, when he was asked when he realized Dr. Anderson’s treatment wasn’t normal, he said it was not until March 26, 2020, two weeks before his fiftieth birthday, when he received an email from a teammate with an article on Dr. Anderson by Kim Kozlowski in the Detroit News.

“At this point I’m in disbelief.  I’m like really? Then you start to think about your daily life at Michigan, which I hadn’t done in 30 years, and I started talking to my friend and teammate, and I started listening to his story and that story mimicked my story and then we came to this realization, I was like man, you know what, we’ve been a victim, a victim of sexual abuse and rape. It was a very sobering time. And imagine realizing that at 50 years of age. “

If we don’t know everything, we certainly know this much: Dr. Anderson did untold damage to hundreds of victims, and the university failed to stop it. The evidence is beyond overwhelming on both fronts. What’s harder to determine is who knew what and when, and what they might have done or not done, with the same level of confidence. Of course, on some level those questions are academic, since we know no one stopped Anderson from abusing patients throughout his career.

THE PRESS CONFERENCE

Two weeks ago some of the plaintiffs’ attorneys organized a press conference at a Michigan hotel. They presented three speakers: Matt Schembechler, son of former Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler; followed by two former football players, Daniel Kwiatkowski and Gilvanni Johnson.

Matt opened by saying the only people who knew the story he was about to tell were his mom, Millie, Bo, Matt’s brother Chip, and former athletic director Don Canham. All of them passed away between 15 and 30 years ago.

A brief background: Matt’s biological father died in the mid-sixties. In August of 1968 Bo Schembechler married Millie, and adopted her three sons: Chip, Geoff, and Matt. Five months later, in January of 1969, the new family moved from Oxford, Ohio, to Ann Arbor, where Bo started his tenure at the University of Michigan.

In 1969 Matt was 10 years old when he needed a physical to play tackle football. At the press conference Matt said Bo sent him to see Dr. Anderson.

In the course of the physical exam, Matt said, “…what Dr. Anderson did made me uncomfortable. He fondled my genitals. He conducted an invasive rectal exam with his finger.” When Matt returned home he told his mother, who told him he had to tell his father.

When Bo returned that day, Matt said he told Bo about his visit to Dr. Anderson, as his mom had instructed. Matt said Bo “screamed, ‘I don’t want to hear this. I’m not hearing this.’ I tried to tell him repeatedly, but my efforts earned me a punch in the chest.”

Matt said Millie later went over Bo’s head, inviting Canham to their home so Matt could tell him what had happened.

“Mr. Canham told my mother, ‘OK, I’ll handle this, Millie.’”

Matt believed Canham had Anderson fired, and that Bo had the decision reversed.

“[Bo] needed his team doctor and wanted to ensure Anderson remained part of the Michigan team,” Matt said, reading from a prepared statement at the press conference.

Five years after the first abuse, Matt said, when he was 15, his parents set up another physical with Dr. Anderson. “Anderson groped me once again before I stopped him,” Matt said, “because it made me feel uncomfortable.”

Matt added that he had shared this with his brother, Chip, about four years his senior, who died in 2003, but not his brother Geoff, who is two years older, or Shemy, Bo’s biological son, who is ten years younger. Thus, there is no one living to corroborate or refute Matt’s account. (Matt politely declined my invitation to interview him for this piece.)

I am hesitant to raise any questions about the testimony of anyone who has the courage to face the media and discuss incredibly painful memories that surely haunt them to this day. But because Matt’s charges are so serious – he is the only one to accuse Schembechler of child abuse – we need to take them seriously. With all other witnesses gone, the best we can do is consider relevant information for context.

Millie Schembechler was a career nurse from 1945 to 1968, the year she married Bo. After the family moved to Ann Arbor in January, 1969, she and Bo had Shemy the following fall. She volunteered at U-M hospital for many years thereafter.

It’s not clear why a career nurse would let her new husband, a football coach, set up an appointment for her 10-year old son with a specialist in internal medicine who worked at University Health Services, designed principally to serve university students and staff, instead of a pediatrician at U-M’s new Mott’s Children’s Hospital. Anderson had started giving physicals for Michigan’s athletes on a part-time basis the year before. The Head Team Physician, an official title, was not held by Anderson but Gerald O’Connor, an orthopedic surgeon who created Michigan’s Sports Medicine Clinic in 1964, until he retired in 2000. O’Connor’s salary was paid by both the athletic department and Michigan Medicine, whereas Anderson’s was paid by University Health Services, his employer. It is entirely possible that by the summer of 1969, Bo Schembechler had not yet met Dr. Anderson.

It’s also unclear why Bo would think the doctor who had started giving physicals to U-M athletes just one year earlier was so important to the football program Bo had just inherited that he would punch his son to protect this doctor, and then go over the head of his new boss to have that doctor reinstated. It’s also unclear why Bo would have more authority than Canham at any point in his career, let alone his first eight months in town. Bo Schembechler had not been a popular choice to become Michigan’s next coach, and hadn’t yet coached a single game. Why Don Canham would let his unproven football coach override his decisions on medical personnel is another question.

In any case, Dr. Anderson was employed by University Health Services, and could not be hired or fired by either Canham or Schembechler. Anderson would not transfer his practice to the athletic department’s new clinic until 1981, 12 years later.

Matt also seemed to suggest that he went to the appointment by himself. “I told my mom, as soon as I got home, as I was uncomfortable and shaken.”

My father, now 89, was a pediatrician from 1957 to 2005, with stops at Duke University, a U.S. Army base in Germany, New York Presbyterian (Columbia University), Texas Tech, Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids, and the U-M’s Mott Children’s Hospital, where he worked 32 of his 48 years. He earned Emeritus status, and now has a lectureship named for him. This week I asked him if he had ever seen pediatric patients arrive by themselves, without a parent.

“Never,” he said. “Not once in my 48 years. And unless a patient was in critical condition, I don’t think any of those hospitals would have admitted a child without a parent.” Even in 1969, parents had to authorize doctors to care for their children.

Matt’s account of his mother’s reaction also raised eyebrows among those who knew her well. (I never met her.) By all accounts Millie was fiercely protective of her sons, and not afraid to stand up to Bo. Many Michigan football players can tell you the only time they can recall Bo cutting short a team meeting, which were sacrosanct, was when Millie walked in to inform him that he was late for their lunch — to the delight of his players. She was one of the few people to whom Bo consistently deferred.

It’s also unclear why, after Matt told his mom of Dr. Anderson’s abuse when he was ten, Millie would set up another appointment with Dr. Anderson five years later, and apparently have Matt go to the appointment by himself once again, before he’d earned his driver’s license.

Shemy Schembechler, Matt’s younger brother, told ESPN last week his father was “as loving of a person as you could imagine.” Shemy “told ESPN that he did not believe Matt’s story.”

I asked Shemy if his father had ever hit him, or if he had he ever witnessed his father hitting his mother, or his brothers. “No,” he said. “Never.”

Matt’s older brother, Geoff Schembechler, wrote an open letter to his father, Bo, this week. While not directly addressing Matt’s account, Geoff wrote, “I can only speak for myself but I cherished every moment I was able to be with you and I will always be ‘thrilled’ and proud that you were my father.”

However, as Matt said at the press conference, Matt remains the only living witness to his account. There is simply no way to confirm or refute it.

THE PLAYERS AT THE PRESS CONFERENCE

The biggest issue remains the simple fact that 850-some former Michigan students were sexually abused by Dr. Anderson.

Two of them followed Matt Schembechler at the press conference: Daniel Kwiatkowski, a former offensive lineman who played from 1977 to 1979, and Gilvanni Johnson, who played from 1982-86. They were both very powerful, speaking from the heart. Their pain, even years later, was as obvious as their courage.

Kwiatkowski recounted the painful ordeal from his freshman year, 1977. “I was raped, as far as I was concerned, my freshman year. I was anally penetrated several times, I would say at least four or five before I grabbed [Anderson’s] wrist, and pulled [his fingers] out of my rectum.”

At the press conference Kwiatkowski shared what he had told the WilmerHale investigators: after a physical exam with Dr. Anderson, “I went up to Bo after practice and asked him, ‘What about the fingers in the butt with the doctor?’ He told me to ‘toughen up.’”

There is no reason to doubt Kwiatkowski’s integrity. He said virtually the same thing to the WilmerHale investigators (““What’s up with the finger in the butt treatment by Dr. Anderson?”). He had been sexually abused by Dr. Anderson, and the University failed to stop it. There are no questions on either front.

It’s obviously vital that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past, and disbelieve survivors, or worse, attack them. If we’re trying to determine the truth, near as we can, we also need enough space to ask legitimate questions. In this case, trying to determine exactly what Schembechler heard, understood, and might have done or not done about Kwiatkowski’s concerns requires knowing exactly what both Kwiatkowski said and Schembechler heard. Unfortunately, expecting survivors to accurately describe conversations decades later is asking a lot.

As a journalist, I know how hard it is to recall conversations verbatim. When I taught for six summers at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, I would open our first class by providing a short introduction of the course, then give a brief bio, and ask the students to give theirs. Then I would ask them to write a one-page account of what they had just witnessed before I left the room for ten minutes. As you can imagine, the accounts varied widely, from what I’d said to what color tie I was wearing. A friend of mine at Michigan’s law school, Len Niehoff, conducts a similar exercise in his Evidence class with similar results. The TV show “Brain Games” often makes the same point, as do numerous scientific studies: it is very hard to accurately reconstruct conversations from a week ago, let alone four decades.

None of this changes the damage done to Kwiatkowski, of course. But it might influence how we assess the conversation that followed. If Schembechler simply heard that a player didn’t like the rectal or hernia exam, he might have taken no action.

In 1982, when Gilvanni Johnson received an abusive examination from Dr. Anderson, he told Schembechler that Anderson had “‘mess[ed] with his penis and that he did not ‘agree’ with the type of physical examination that Dr. Anderson performed.” Johnson said Schembechler told him he would look into it, but Johnson never heard anything further about it. 

A third former player told WilmerHale “that Dr. Anderson gave him a rectal examination and fondled his testicles during a PPE [Pre-Participation Exam] in 1976. The student athlete told [WilmerHale] he informed Coach Bo Schembechler that he did not want to receive any future physicals from Dr. Anderson and that ‘things were going down there that weren’t right.’ According to the student athlete, Mr. Schembechler explained that annual PPEs were required to play football at the University.”

Another problem: we don’t know what Schembechler did after these players approached him. Right now we know of four players who brought their concerns to Schembechler. While what actually happened during many of Dr. Anderson’s exams clearly constituted abuse, it may not have been expressed as such, and may not have been heard as abuse, either. If Bo had asked experts if it was appropriate for doctors to touch the patient’s genitals or give rectal exams, they would most likely have confirmed the procedures were required for adult physicals.  

Medical textbooks, journal articles, and military protocols at the time described the rectal and hernia examinations as essential procedures for adult patients undergoing basic physicals. Dr. Richard D. Judge (University of Michigan), Dr. George D. Zuidema (Johns Hopkins), and Dr. Faith T. Fitzgerald (UC-Davis) said in their Clinical Diagnosis: A Physiologic Approach, Fourth Edition, 1983: “In any patient, it is impossible to overemphasize the importance of the rectal examination. This simple and vital procedure is too often passed by because it entails extra effort on the part of the physician, and tends to be somewhat disagreeable to the patient. [But] No gastrointestinal evaluation is complete without it.”

A doctor in that clinic at the time confirmed the two exams were part of every physical given in the Pre-Participation Exam. Schembechler himself underwent rectal and hernia exams during his two-year stint in the Army, and received similar exams during his annual physicals at Michigan.

Of course, the rectal exam may have been standard procedure at the time, but everything else Dr. Anderson did to these patients constituted felonious malpractice and sexual abuse, including performing such exams for entirely unrelated issues. Even the manner Anderson performed required procedures, as described by his many victims, often amounted to criminal sexual conduct. This was Dr. Anderson’s evil genius: he could hide behind his white coat and contemporary protocols.

THE QUESTIONS

The question is: was that difference communicated to Schembechler in a manner that led him to understand that Dr. Anderson was not examining his players, but violating them? 

While no one has yet come forward with an eyewitness account or documentation to tell us what Schembechler did or did not do with the information Kwiatkowski and Johnson provided, there may well have been a gap between the abuse Kwiatkowski endured from Dr. Anderson, how it was communicated to Schembechler, and how Schembechler received it.

This is not to exonerate Anderson, the University of Michigan, Easthope, Canham, or Schembechler. Far from it. There’s no ignoring the hardest, simplest fact of this case: Dr. Anderson’s years of abuse represents a gigantic systemic failure of the university, including Easthope’s decision not to report Dr. Anderson’s abuse to the appropriate authorities. The University of Michigan health care system, like most of our institutions, has since added layers of protections, checks and balances, phone numbers to call and people to talk to, to prevent anything like this from happening again. But few of those safeguards existed thirty, forty, and fifty years ago.

If we can’t be certain how much Canham or Schembechler knew about Dr. Anderson’s abuse, what they comprehended, or what they did or did not do about it, we know that hundreds of athletes were abused by Dr. Anderson on every team in the department. Knowingly or not, they failed to protect their athletes from Michigan’s own employees.

We also know Dr. Anderson’s treatment was a running joke among many players (though not among all, Jon Vaughn and others have said). Yet so far four former players have said they talked to Schembechler about it. On that basis alone, we might conclude the players did not feel comfortable bringing the suspicions they readily shared with each other to Schembechler. It seems likely the players might have had difficulty describing what they were enduring, beyond their discomfort, and Schembechler might well have had difficulty understanding exactly what it was they were trying to tell him. If so, this communication breakdown helped establish a culture which made it easier for a predator like Anderson to continue abusing the students for decades.

It also seems likely that Schembechler, like other U-M coaches and personnel at the time, probably deferred too readily to medical authority, and was too reluctant to question if a doctor had violated the law. Unwittingly or not, these factors enabled Dr. Anderson to abuse hundreds of students, a tragedy by any standard.

If you’re in a recruit’s living room and you promise his parents you’ll keep their son safe, and he gets abused by Dr. Anderson — whether you were aware of it or not – you’ve not kept your promise. Perhaps that’s an impossible standard – who among us can guarantee anyone’s safety? — but it’s one that Michigan’s coaches set for themselves.

I have seen many Schembechler defenders say, “I could never believe Bo would allow his players to be abused.” I understand why they feel this way, but as a journalist, I can’t say that. If you show me concrete evidence of almost anything, I have little choice but to believe it. That’s what journalists are supposed to do: follow the evidence, wherever it leads, without fear or favor. When a journalist is presented with strong evidence, personal ties have to be put aside.

But if I’ve seen evidence of ignorance, neglect, and an enabling culture from Schembechler and Canham, I have seen no evidence of malice, deceit, or a cover-up – or even compelling evidence that Canham or Schembechler fully grasped the gravity of the situation we see so clearly today.

In the book Schembechler and I wrote together, Chapter 21 is titled, “Don’t Sleep On It – And Don’t Hold Grudges,” in which Schembechler says. “When you’re faced with some personnel problem, conventional wisdom says you’ve got to sleep on it before you do anything rash. But I say that’s pointless, because if it really is a problem you’re not going to sleep anyway. So you might as well face the damn thing and get it over with.”

Many who knew Schembechler better than I did – assistant coaches, secretaries, players – are convinced if he had grasped the situation, he would have had Dr. Anderson fired. Of course, without more information, we can’t know.

Don Canham and Marilyn, his first wife, of 50 years, both went to Dr. Anderson for years, and sent their son, Don Jr., a U-M college student, to him as well. It seems unlikely Canham would do so if he suspected Dr. Anderson of abusing his athletes.

Likewise, with Schembechler there is potentially an important difference between “not getting it” and not caring about it. For what it’s worth, the Schembechler I knew consistently made the welfare of his athletes his top priority.

I visited Schembechler’s office on a regular basis from 1996 to 2006, the year he died. I saw probably a third of the 660 players he coached at Michigan walk in at some point or other, almost always without an appointment, often years after they’d played, gained weight, and lost their hair. Yet whether the visitors were All-Americans, walk-ons, or student trainers, I never saw Bo stumble over a name. (Any of his players can confirm this.)

I heard about Bo flying out to San Francisco in the early nineties to visit Bobby Baumgartner, who’d played offensive line for Schembechler twenty-some years earlier, in 1969. Baumgartner had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

“Baumie and I had a few laughs, reminiscing about everything we’d gone through …We talked all day, Baumie and me, about his teammates, his friends, his family. It got emotional for both of us. You feel powerless. It’s so unfair, and there is so little you can do. But you do what you canbecause you love him. I never said it, but he knew. They all do. And they know it, because it’s true. Don’t tell me it was about national titles.”

In the middle of Schembechler’s career at Michigan another player dropped out and returned to New York City, where he contracted HIV, a terminal diagnosis at the time. Bo brought him back to Ann Arbor to visit with him and give him a replacement “M” ring, which his parents buried with him at his funeral.

These stories obviously can’t prove what Bo did or did not do when Daniel Kwiatkowski, Gilvanni Johnson, or the two other players brought their questions about Dr. Anderson to him. Neither can Schembechler’s papers. He gave 16 large boxes of those to me a few years before he died, and I found no correspondence with or about Dr. Anderson therein. I gave the papers to his widow, Cathy, who gave them to the University of Michigan’s Bentley Historical Library, where former athletic director Don Canham’s papers also reside. When the WilmerHale law firm and an Associated Press reporter went through the collections, they found nothing negative about Dr. Anderson.

Complicating matters further is another simple truth: few of the central figures are here to respond, refute, apologize, confess, or clarify. We will likely have to accept that we will never know much of this story with certainty.

It is still possible that an eyewitness account or document will surface showing that Schembechler or Canham grasped the gravity of the situation, and chose to do nothing about it – or worse, covered it up, which is what documents in other cases have shown. If that happens, I would have no choice but to concede that these two men were not who I thought they were, and l would be compelled to write that.

In my recent piece about Fielding Yost’s legacy I included this quote from Oscar Wilde: “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” While some truths are self-evident – Dr. Anderson abused hundreds of students, the University failed to stop him, and the damage is deep and broad – others will be harder to discern with complete confidence.

Because the statute of limitations for these cases, which runs only three years in the State of Michigan, has long since passed, it’s less likely the truth will be determined in the courts, with people testifying under oath and cross-examinations, and more likely in the court of public opinion. It is perhaps for this reason that the plaintiffs’ lawyers have spent far more time discussing Schembechler’s potential role in Anderson’s long run of abuse than Easthope’s failure to stop Dr. Anderson.

Remarkably, the University could probably walk away without paying the survivors anything and suffer no legal consequences. But you can be legally right and ethically wrong, which is exactly what that would be. My sources tell me the University has offered about $100,000 per survivor, or about $90 million total, to the plaintiffs’ attorneys, who have so far rejected the offer.

But all these questions aside, when I consider Dr. Anderson and the broad ripples of his abuse, what I feel most is a heavy sadness.

Doctor Anderson was evil.

The University failed to protect its students.

Hundreds of students suffered.

And those are very hard truths.

You may also like…

11 Comments

  1. T Ross

    Thanks John ! An outstanding and fair analysis of a dreadful history of abuse by a doctor and the failure of some administrators (Easthope and Wilson) who did not perform their duties to protect students from a predator.

    Reply
    • Carol Barbier

      Thanks John, your expose’ was well drafted and delivered.

      Reply
  2. Rob Saltzstein

    Very well written. There are so many check points that stand out and beg for amplification. For me the biggest surprise was reading that a mom who is a trained nurse and who is fiercely protective of her children would allow her 10-year old son to go to see a doctor by himself. That just doesn’t compute.

    Reply
  3. Paul Fagan (M '76 football & golf)

    Excellent post John.

    I haven’t read the Wilmer Hale report.

    1. Why are other coaches and athletic directors being scrutinized, like Bo & Canham? They’re not legends?
    – Are you only concerned with the truth about Bo & Canham, or is your audience not interested in others?
    2. Did Bo ever encourage Anderson to let injured players play? Was that alleged?
    3. So you seem to conclude that Bo & Canham are NOT guilty?
    4. What about Canham’s response to the wrestlers complaints?

    Best,
    Paul

    Reply
  4. Sandor Slomovits

    Thank you, John. Your clarity, honesty and empathy are always enlightening and inspiring.

    Reply
  5. Ron Pudduck

    A very well written account of what is known to this date. As is true with all you writings, honesty and attempting to understand the issue are very apparent. I know that you will always attempt to write the “truth” as best as anyone can.

    Sadly there are hundreds of students and athletes who carry the scars of what Anderson did to them. It is too bad that someone in the know, did not step forward and force the morally right action and proper response to the entire event.

    Reply
  6. Pat Greeley

    Thank you for such a thorough and well written article. I agree with Paul Fagin’s questions as well, especially the first one.

    Reply
  7. Greg Shea

    Thanks, John. I appreciate the time you took to write this. I have read the report (74 pages of narrative and 170 pages of footnotes, citations and credentials), and I encourage anyone who wants to discuss the issue intelligently and comprehensively to do the same.

    GS

    Reply
  8. Stan Bidlack

    John—
    A fine piece of comprehensive, compelling, and insightful journalism. Thanks for doing it.

    Reply
  9. Geoff Larcom

    Excellent and helpful perspective, John. Particularly appreciate the parallel timelines you lay out.

    Reply
  10. Randy Milgrom

    A thorough, fair, and thoughtful analysis — though a little too much is possibly being made of Matt going to the doctor by himself. He didn’t say he did. He only said he told his mother when he got home. (In any event, it’s the timeline and other facts surrounding Matt’s report, as John carefully lays out, that I believe cast significant doubt on it.) But as for the question people are asking, debating (and already answering for themselves) — did Bo know? — I think it’s fair to say that he clearly knew something. What — or how much — remains mostly unknown. And this may well be the case until or unless others come forward to give more specific first-hand accounts of what they might have told Bo — and how he responded.

    Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. American Agonies - Patriot Daily Press - […] John Bacon has written about all this here. […]

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Share This