ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) – The president and CEO of one of the nation’s largest marathons has joined a chorus of former students who have complained about a late University of Michigan doctor by saying the physician performed a “completely inappropriate” act on him during a medical examination in the 1970s.
Dr. James Barahal, who himself is a longtime physician, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that Dr. Robert E. Anderson gave him a digital rectal exam when the then-medical student visited the student health center in 1975 complaining of a sore throat.
“I remember leaving, and I can still picture the health center and walking through the waiting room, getting out on the street and it was like, ‘What was that?’ I knew it was completely inappropriate,” Barahal said Monday.
The 67-year-old who lives in Kailua, Hawaii, has headed up the Honolulu Marathon for more than 30 years and has been inducted into the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame.
Barahal was training with Michigan’s cross-country team in 1975 when he was “fast-tracked” in to see Anderson, who was the director of the University Health Service as well as a physician to some of the Ann Arbor school’s athletic teams. Anderson died in 2008.
University of Michigan officials were warned more than four decades ago that Anderson had been molesting patients during exams. He was demoted but continued working there and went on to allegedly abuse again as a physician with the athletic department, according to documents from a police investigation the AP obtained through a public-records request.
The probe began in October 2018 based on a letter sent by a former wrestler to athletic director Warde Manuel in mid-July. It was not made public until last week.
Former Michigan wrestling coach, Bill Johannesen, denied he was told by any of his student-athletes that Anderson touched them inappropriately.
“I would've responded to that immediately because I'm their father," Johannesen told the AP Tuesday night. “When I'm the coach for them, I'm their father away from home. If they would have come to me and said, `Hey, Dr. Anderson kind of did something creepy or whatever like that. If they would have come to me and said that, I would have pursued it."
Johannesen led the Wolverines' wrestling program from 1974-78.
The 2018 letter sent by one of his former wrestlers, whose name was redacted in the records released to AP, detailed abuse that triggered an investigation by university police.
The wrestler wrote that in 1975 he had informed Johannesen and then-athletics director Don Canham that he had been fondled and given unnecessary rectal exams by Anderson.
“They would laugh and joke about it," Johannesen recalled in a telephone interview Tuesday. “But nobody ever said a thing in a serious manner that would have caused me to respond, you know, to take action.”
Johannesen, who also attended U-M, said he interacted with Anderson multiple times as an athlete.
“I was a student-athlete at Michigan for three years before I became coach," Johannesen said. "And, I probably had to see Dr. Anderson 100 times, maybe, in four years. He never did anything inappropriately to me."
Since the letter was made public last week, a number of men alleging sexual abuse by Anderson, including Barahal, have retained law firms that are representing accusers who sued Michigan State University and Ohio State University in similar cases. The accusations of abuse at the University of Michigan and Ohio State bear striking similarities. The University of Minnesota is also investigating claims accusing a former assistant hockey coach of sexually abusing players.
The University of Michigan set up a hotline so that those who have information about Anderson could come forward. As of Monday, 71 calls had been made to the hotline and three email messages were sent regarding Anderson, university spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said Tuesday.
University President Mark Schlissel apologized last week “to anyone who was harmed by Dr. Anderson,” saying in a statement that the “patient-physician relationship involves a solemn commitment and trust.”
Schlissel released another statement Tuesday in which he said the university is “offering counseling services at no personal cost to anyone affected by Anderson.” Michigan also “is in the midst of engaging a national counseling firm to coordinate this care with local counselors in communities where these individuals now live,” the statement says.
Victims who seek counseling through the university would not be required to sign a non-disclosure agreement nor would receiving counseling foreclose on any litigation rights, Fitzgerald said.
Barahal, who called the hotline last week, said he did not speak to anybody about the violation immediately afterward or report it to the university or other authorities, but that he never forgot it.
“It was embarrassing and inappropriate. But that’s not something that guys would generally talk about," he said.
The memories of that day rushed back, though, when he tuned in to his alma mater’s football games on television.
“When they show at the beginning of the game the team running out to touch the ‘M’ Club Go Blue banner, I’d occasionally see him — he was a pretty short guy and not very athletic — jumping up to try to touch the banner, which is a good luck thing for Michigan,” Barahal said. “And it kind of brought that (memory) back. So, I told the story for years to people about how I went in for a sore throat, and he had his finger up my butt. I mean, I told that story for years.”
And he’s telling it now, publicly, Barahal said, to try to help fellow victims.
“The sooner the university understands that not only was this physician capable of doing this, he did do it, then I think that everybody will be well on the road to whatever recovery, emotional or otherwise, that they seek,” he said.
“People really suffered (and) need to be believed. And the only way they’re going to be believed is if other people tell their story.”