The son of the University of Michigan’s legendary football coach, Bo Schembechler, is expected to allege publicly Thursday that he was sexually abused by a former team doctor being investigated by the school — and that his father knew and did nothing, the son’s lawyer says.
Matt Schembechler, 62, will speak about “his own abuse by Dr. Anderson and his father’s failure to protect him and other athletes,” attorney Mick Grewal said.
The coach’s son will be joined by two heretofore anonymous former football players, Daniel Kwiatkowski and Gilvanni Johnson, who were cited in a report commissioned by UM that found the university received hundreds of allegations about Dr. Robert Anderson — over decades — and failed to act, attorney Mick Grewal said. The ex-players say they, too, told the coach of Anderson’s abuse, Grewal said.
Bo Schembechler died in 2006, Anderson two years later.
Report documents decades of abuse
In an interview with ESPN, the junior Schembechler says Anderson molested him during a physical examination in the 1960s, when he was 10, and Bo Schembechler, his adoptive father, punched him when he reported the abuse.
“It knocked me all the way across the kitchen,” he told the sports network.
Last month, the law firm WilmerHale issued a 240-page report alleging Anderson, who worked at the university from 1966 to 2003, was moved from University Health Services to the athletic department in 1981 after Thomas Easthope, assistant vice president of student services, received “credible reports of misconduct” in 1978 or 1979.
An alleged victim told the firm that Easthope had conveyed to him that Anderson would stop seeing patients, but Anderson “continued to provide medical services to student-athletes and other patients — and to engage in sexual misconduct with large numbers of them” until his retirement, the report said. Easthope told investigators he had confronted and fired Anderson, “but Mr. Easthope did not do so,” the report said. Easthope died in February.
Athletic officials also “heard jokes or rumors about Dr. Anderson’s examinations” but none of them took steps to investigate, the report said.
“There is no reasonable explanation,” the report concluded, for Easthope’s failure to act on the “rumors and innuendo surrounding Dr. Anderson.”
University delivers apology
The report was based on interviews with hundreds of Anderson’s former patients and “approximately 200 current and former University employees, including administrators, faculty members, and coaches, as well as additional (University Health Services), Athletic Department, and Michigan Medicine personnel.”
Kwiatkowski and Johnson are among the sources, and anonymously shared with investigators that they told Bo Schembechler about Anderson’s behavior, Grewal told CNN.
Following the report’s release, University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel said the university was offering “its heartfelt apology for the abuse perpetrated by the late Robert Anderson.”
“We will thoughtfully and diligently review and assess the report’s findings, conclusions, and recommendations; and we will work to regain the trust of survivors and to assure that we foster a safe environment for our students, our employees, and our community,” Schlissel wrote.
The allegations already resembled those against Larry Nassar at Michigan State University and Richard Strauss at Ohio State University — doctors accused of leveraging their positions to molest students and athletes. Strauss killed himself in 2005. Nassar is serving up to 175 years in prison after pleading guilty to criminal sexual conduct.
The addition of Bo Schembechler now draws comparisons to Penn State, where the later coaching icon, Joe Paterno, faced allegations that he did nothing about Jerry Sandusky, his assistant of 30 years, sexually abusing boys at team facilities and other locations. A jury found Sandusky guilty of 45 counts of child abuse in 2012. He is serving a sentence of up to 60 years in prison.
All three cases involve allegations that powerful institutions ignored or dismissed complaints about sexual misconduct.
Other alleged victims have come forward
Former wrestler Thomas DeLuca went to the University of Michigan in 2018 to share a report of alleged abuse by Anderson, who he said, “examined his penis, did a hernia check, and conducted a digital rectal examination without explaining why such examinations were necessary.”
In 1975, he told his coach of the abuse, which began three years prior, DeLuca said. He lost his scholarship and was kicked off the team, he said.
Two more wrestlers, including Olympian Andy Hrovat, sat alongside DeLuca at a 2020 news conference, detailing their own allegations of abuse. Former San Francisco 49ers and Indianapolis Colts safety Dwight Hicks came forward with allegations later that year.
Chuck Christian, who played tight end for the Wolverines in the late 1970s and early 1980s, told CNN in May 2020 that he, too, was abused by Anderson and that the doctor’s unnecessary rectal exams dissuaded him from seeing physicians later in life.
He is now battling prostate cancer, which he says might’ve been diagnosed earlier if not for his fear of physicians. Christian knows of other players victimized by Anderson who suffered ailments because they feared visiting doctors, he said.
“He hurt so many people, and the way I look at it, he didn’t just rape the 18-year-old freshman football player — he raped the men that we grew to become. He raped the husbands once we got married. He raped the father of my children. He raped the grandfather of my grandchildren,” he told CNN last month. “This is affecting us for generations, and nobody will know how many generations of what Anderson has done will affect us.”
In a 2020 interview, however, Christian bristled at comparisons between Paterno and Bo Schembechler, saying he was an excellent coach and wasn’t to blame for Anderson’s abuse. Still, he was “disappointed to find out that Michigan didn’t have the integrity the players had,” he said.
Other son: ‘Bo would’ve done something’
The Hall of Fame coach has other defenders, including his biological son, who has previously told ESPN that his father knew nothing of Anderson’s abuse.
“I can tell you unequivocally no one ever told Bo,” Glenn Schembechler told the network last year. “Bo would have done something.”
Current Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh also defended his predecessor. Standing in front of the football building that bears Schembechler’s name and features a statue of the late coach, Harbaugh told reporters he saw no such behavior as a youngster or as Michigan’s quarterback in the 1980s, according to The Detroit News.
“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 told the newspaper. “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.”
Anderson’s children have come to their dad’s defense as well, telling The Detroit News last year they didn’t believe the accusations. Kurt Anderson said, “That is just not him,” and Jill Anderson called the allegations ridiculous.
“My dad was a beloved doctor at the UM for so many years,” the doctor’s daughter told the newspaper. “He was very well-respected. Everyone said he treated them with the utmost integrity and care.”
According to the WilmerHale report, many patients abused by Anderson were members of susceptible populations — including LGBTQ patients, student-athletes vying for scholarships and patients seeking medical exemption from the Vietnam War — and “felt they had little choice but to abide Dr. Anderson’s abuse.”
Some of the alleged victims quit their teams, while others questioned their sexuality, sought counseling or dropped out of school, the report said.
“The trauma that Dr. Anderson’s misconduct caused persists to this day,” the report said.