A former Michigan student says the football program’s most famous coach, Bo Schembechler, knew about the sexual misconduct of then-team doctor Robert Anderson.
The accuser, identified as John Doe EB-17, worked as a play-by-play announcer for football games during his time at the University of Michigan in the early 1980s. In a lawsuit filed in federal court Thursday morning, John Doe EB-17 said he told Schembechler directly on two separate occasions that Anderson, who died in 2008, sexually abused him during an appointment to treat severe headaches.
Schembechler instructed Doe to tell then-athletic director Don Canham, but Canham took no action, according to the lawsuit.
Doe said at a news conference Thursday morning that Schembechler told him immediately to tell Canham. Doe said he does not hold Schembechler responsible for remaining silent. “I cannot blame Bo for not being able to come forward,” he said. “…This was Don Canham’s job.”
Canham died in 2005. He is credited with reshaping the athletic department with innovative marketing tactics during his tenure from 1968 to 1988.
Schembechler led the Wolverines to 13 Big Ten championships during his 21 seasons as head coach from 1969 to 1989. He also served as the university’s athletic director from 1988 to 1990. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1993, and in 2014 the school commissioned what it calls a “larger-than-life sized” bronze statue of Schembechler, which now sits in front of the football team’s practice facility. The former coach died in 2006.
Anderson started working at the university shortly before Schembechler arrived and remained a physician for the football program, in addition to filling several other roles throughout his career at Michigan, until he retired in 2003. He allegedly continued to sexually abuse his patients for another two decades after John Doe EB-17’s complaint.
Since this February, hundreds of former patients — many of them athletes — have accused Anderson of sexually assaulting them during physical exams and other routine medical appointments. In interviews and court documents, Anderson’s former patients say the doctor put his finger in their rectums for nonmedical reasons, fondled or masturbated their genitals, and made an array of inappropriate sexual comments, among other examples of misconduct.
John Doe EB-17’s claim is one of 53 new lawsuits filed Thursday morning by attorneys Stephen Estey, Jamie White and Michelle Simpson Tuegel. Among the claims filed Thursday, 25 of the plaintiffs are former Michigan football players. Others include high school athletes, university students, university employees and university athletes from several other sports.
More than 100 people have now filed lawsuits against the University of Michigan, claiming that the school had opportunities to stop Anderson’s abuse and failed to do so. Schembechler is one of at least 10 university employees who allegedly were told that Anderson was sexually abusing athletes on campus.
John Doe EB-17 said he developed a close relationship with Schembechler due to his role as an announcer for the football team. He said he still considers Schembechler family and “will defend that man until the day I die.” When John Doe EB-17 started getting migraine headaches, Schembechler referred him to Anderson for treatment. Instead of treatment for his headache, the lawsuit says, Anderson digitally penetrated his rectum. Doe said when he told Schembechler about Anderson’s abuse, the coach was “visibly angry.”
“I felt from the look on his face and from his actions that this was the first time anyone ever reported it to him,” Doe said. “…When I did go to Canham’s office his response literally was just to blow me off. “
Glenn Schembechler, Bo’s son, spoke to ESPN prior to Doe’s press conference Thursday and said that his father didn’t hire Anderson, but “if Bo wanted to get rid of someone, he would have.” The younger Schembechler said he is certain no one ever told his father about Anderson’s sexual abuse. He said he knew of Anderson as an “odd guy” who was a part of the program, but he did not see him frequently.
“I can tell you unequivocally no one ever told Bo,” Glenn Schembechler said. “Bo would have done something. … Bo would have fired him.”
Several former athletes have said they also tried to raise concerns about Anderson and were ignored. Former gymnast Ward Black said he tried to talk to his coach, Newt Loken, about Anderson in 1968, but the coach quickly changed the subject. Former tennis player Cathy Kalahar said she told a university psychology counselor in 1974. Former wrestler Tad Deluca said he told his coach, Bill Johannesen, in a letter in 1975 that he was required to “drop his drawers” every time he went to see Anderson, even for treatment of an elbow injury. Deluca’s concerns were also brought to the attention of Canham.
Loken died in 2011. During an interview with The Associated Press earlier this year, Johannesen said he had no memory of anyone claiming Anderson sexually abused them.
An anonymous former track athlete said in a lawsuit that he told then-coaches Jack Harvey and Ron Warhurst in 1976. A different track athlete said he also tried to warn Warhurst around the same time, and according to his lawsuit, the coach responded by saying “deal with it, f—er.”
An attorney representing Harvey and Warhurst said that both coaches denied that they were told about abuse by Anderson.
The former runner who says he was told to “deal with it” is one of several plaintiffs who say Anderson masturbated him during medical appointments. A former medical student who filed a lawsuit Thursday said Anderson ejaculated himself while encouraging the student to “feel free to join in” before telling the student that he needed to collect a semen sample from him.
An anonymous football player said in Thursday’s filing that Anderson attempted to give him an erection as part of a physical exam in the late 1980s. That player said in his lawsuit that he informed then-athletic trainer Russ Miller, but Miller did not take any action.
Miller did not respond to a request for comment. He told police in 2018 that he recalls students asking him, “He isn’t going to be using [two] fingers is he?” before going to see Anderson and making crude jokes about other interactions with doctors. He said he did not think Anderson was doing rectal exams. He also described Anderson as an “unbelievable team doctor.”
A pair of anonymous football players said in a lawsuit that current head athletic trainer/associate athletic director Paul Schmidt and another trainer identified only as “Murph” also knew about Anderson’s abuse and regularly joked about the athletes who had to see Anderson and “drop their drawers.”
Schmidt told police in 2018 that he never saw anything inappropriate in his two decades of working with Anderson and described the doctor as a “personal friend.” Schmidt remains employed by the university and has not responded to calls for comment since he was named in the anonymous players’ lawsuit.
In 1979, then-vice president of student life Thomas Easthope was told that Anderson was “fooling around with boys in the exam room.” Easthope told police in 2018 that he fired Anderson from his role as the director of Michigan’s University Health Service. Anderson did resign from that role in early 1980, but continued to work as a physician for the athletic department for another 23 years.
University president Mark Schlissel apologized this February to Anderson’s victims and said, “our police found indications that U-M staff members were aware of rumors and allegations of misconduct during Anderson’s medical exams.”
The school has hired the WilmerHale law firm to conduct an investigation into all claims about Anderson’s abuse. A hotline managed by WilmerHale had received 394 unique reports as of late July, according to a university spokesman. The law firm is expected to release its findings to the public in October.
University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said Thursday that the investigation has been halted by a federal judge as part of the ongoing legal case. In a written statement, he condemned the sexual misconduct described in Thursday’s lawsuit. He said the university has no information about the new specific allegations made against Schembechler and Canham.
“At the University of Michigan, we condemn all sexual misconduct. This type of conduct is reprehensible — and whether it takes place now or took place in the past, it is unacceptable,” Fitzgerald said. “We have great confidence in the WilmerHale investigation, which has been paused by the court. More than 50 former patients of Anderson have contacted WilmerHale and are awaiting a response. We believe the investigation should restart immediately.”
The university says it is developing a process to try to resolve all claims against Anderson out of court. Details of that process have not yet been shared with the public or with any attorneys who represent people who say they were abused by Anderson. Mediation for the 100-plus lawsuit filed against the school is scheduled to begin in September.