University of Michigan faces lawsuit claiming Bo Schembechler knew doctor was sexual predator

Former football coach, AD accused of knowing about abuse, not taking action

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The University of Michigan faces a lawsuit on behalf of 50 alleged victims of late team doctor Robert E. Anderson that claims legendary football coach Bo Schembechler and former athletic director Don Canham were notified that Anderson was a sexual predator, “yet continued to allow Anderson access to athletes.”

According to the suit, Schembechler advised a student to file a sexual abuse complaint against Anderson with Canham in 1982. Despite that complaint and others against Anderson dating back years, Canham failed to take action, the lawsuit claims.

FILE - This undated file photo provided by the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan shows Dr. Robert E. Anderson. The University of Michigan said Wednesday, May 13, 2020, that it is seeking to remove a law firm it hired to handle lawsuits following hundreds of allegations of sexual abuse by Anderson, a sports doctor who worked at the school for decades. (Robert Kalmbach/Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan via AP) (Bentley Historical Library University of Michigan)

Former male student-athletes, students and non-students have provided accounts of abuse in Anderson’s exam room, which often detail unnecessary rectal and genital examinations and fondling. Athletes would report to Anderson for sports-related injuries for decades.

The lawsuit plaintiffs include 23 football players from the 1968 through 1986 teams, as well as members of the baseball, gymnastics, basketball, crew, track and field, and cross country teams, students and staff of the university, and local high school students. One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, identified as “John Doe EB17,” alleges that in 1981 Schembechler recommended that he see Anderson for migraine headaches, which is when EB17 said Anderson abused him for the first time.

“The men we’re filing for want accountability,” said attorney Jamie White of White Law PLLC, one of three law firms attached to the suit. “It’s shocking that Bo Schembechler and Don Canham, two men who enjoyed stature and admiration, just waved off the complaints they received, when they in fact had the power to stop the rape and abuse of hundreds of men.”

Furthermore, the suit claims that EB17 reported the abuse in 1982 to Schembechler, who advised him to report it to Athletic Director Don Canham. According to the lawsuit, Canham did not act and Anderson retained his position until his retirement in 2003.

The lawsuit claims that the University of Michigan gave Anderson “unfettered access” to thousands of students and athletes, despite the fact that he was demoted in 1979 for sexually preying on students. Following the demotion, Canham is accused of “working out a deal” that increased Anderson’s role in the athletic department.

Former Michigan track and field coach Ron Warhurst is also named in the lawsuit. Three law firms are representing the plaintiffs -- Estey & Bomberger, White Law PLLC, and The Simpson Tuegel Law Firm. According to their news release Thursday, one claimant who reported Anderson’s abuse to University of Michigan track and field coach Ron Warhurst said Warhurst shrugged him off with, “Deal with it, f_cker.”

“When student athletes visited Anderson’s office for ailments such as sports injuries or headaches, Anderson would digitally penetrate the young men’s anuses and grope and fondle their testicles for his perverted sexual gratification under the guise of medical examinations, the complaint says,” reads a statement from the law firms. “In one of many egregious examples of Anderson’s deceptive ‘medical’ procedures enumerated in the complaint, Anderson told a survivor, identified as John Doe WL-8, that he needed to collect a sample of WL-8′s semen to ‘culture.’ To demonstrate, Anderson masturbated and ejaculated into a small dish, and urged WL-8 to ‘join in.‘”

Anderson worked at the university from 1963 to 2003, when he retired. He died in 2008. There were roughly 6,800 student-athletes on campus during that period. Michigan Athletics has been reaching out to every living former student-athlete with a valid email address -- about 4,400 in all -- urging them to speak with independent investigators from the WilmerHale law firm if they were abused by Anderson or if they have any information relevant to the case.

Schembechler was head coach of the Michigan football team from 1969 to 1989. He died in 2006.

Canham served as athletic director between 1968 and 1988. He died in 2005.

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About the Authors:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.