ANN ARBOR, Mich. – One of late University of Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler’s sons and two of his former players described in detail Thursday how they were molested by the team's longtime doctor and how Schembechler turned a blind eye when they told him about the abuse, telling one to “toughen up” and punching his son in anger.
Matt Schembechler, 62, and former Wolverines players Daniel Kwiatkowski and Gilvanni Johnson told similar stories about how Dr. Robert E. Anderson, who died in 2008, molested and digitally penetrated them during physical exams decades ago. They also talked about how Bo Schembechler, a Michigan icon whose statue stands outside a university building that bears his name, refused to protect them and allowed Anderson to continue abusing players and other patients for years.
Anderson “was supported by a culture that placed the reputation of the university above the health and safety of the students,” Matt Schembechler said during a news conference in the Detroit suburb of Novi. “That is the culture that made my father a legend and placed his statue in front of Schembechler Hall."
“Dr. Anderson was part of the University of Michigan team,” he continued. "He was part of Bo’s team, therefore, he was more important than any man. It’s very clear that Bo and the university always put themselves before any student-athlete or son, just to support the brand.”
The three are among hundreds of men who were allegedly abused by Anderson during his nearly four decades working for the university — a period in which he also treated staffers, their families and other patients. And their assertion that Bo Schembechler, who died in 2006, knew about the abuse and allowed it to continue calls into question his legacy at the university.
Kwiatkowski and Johnson said it was common knowledge among their teammates that Anderson abused players during the physicals they had to get from him, which Johnson said players jokingly referred to as “seeing Dr. Anal.” Both players said Bo Schembechler broke a promise to protect them that he made while recruiting them to the school.
“Bo promised them that if I attended the University of Michigan and played football that Bo would be a father to me and look after me like I was family,” Kwiatkowski said, referring to his parents. “We were a poor, working-class family and my parents were very worried about my future and being able to pay for medical bills. Bo promised my family that he would keep me safe, make sure I got the best medical treatment. We were sold.”
Kwiatkowski, an offensive lineman from 1977-79, said Anderson abused him on four occasions. He said that during his first mandatory physical his freshman year, Anderson groped his genitals and inserted fingers in his rectum. The former player said he approached Schembechler after one practice and told him about the physical.
“Bo looked at me and said ‘Toughen up,’” Kwiatkowski said.
Matt Schembechler said Anderson abused him during a 1969 physical that he needed to get in order to play youth football. He said when he told his father, who was then in his first year of his iconic run with the Wolverines, his father punched him in the chest.
“This was the beginning of the end of the relationship with him,” Matt Schembechler said Thursday about his father. “I hoped my father would protect me, but he didn't.”
He said his mother Millie, a registered nurse, “didn't give up,” inviting the athletic director at the time, Don Canham, to their home so he could describe the abuse.
“It was my understanding Mr. Canham terminated Dr. Anderson, but shortly thereafter, Bo had him reinstated,” Matt Schembechler said. Canham died in 2005, one year before Bo Schembechler.
A report commissioned by the university and released last month found that Bo Schembechler and other officials were aware of complaints about Anderson but he was allowed to remain at the school for decades.
Asked why they decided to come forward about the abuse, Johnson said it was important to put faces to the allegations and to make sure there could be no doubt that Bo Schembechler was aware of the sexual abuse. He also talked about how the abuse has affected his life.
“Because of my experience at Michigan, I did not trust doctors,” Johnson said, adding that he “had trust issues, relationship issues and intimacy issues” and that he “lost two marriages” because of the abuse.
Johnson, who broke down at one point, said he has “always been too promiscuous in an effort to prove to myself and to others that I was a man.”
The university said in a statement Thursday that it is committed to resolving claims made by Anderson's victims and is continuing confidential mediation ordered by a judge.
“Our sympathy for all of Anderson’s victims is deep and unwavering, and we thank them for their bravery in coming forward. We condemn and apologize for the tragic misconduct of the late Dr. Robert Anderson, who left the University 17 years ago and died 13 years ago,” the school said in its statement, which didn't mention Bo Schembechler once.
Michigan's current football coach, Jim Harbaugh, who played quarterback for Schembechler in the 1980s after growing up in Ann Arbor as the son of an assistant coach, was asked last week how the university should treat Schembechler’s legacy in light of recent reports related to Anderson.
“There was nothing that I saw in the times that I was a kid here, my dad was on the staff or when I played here,” Harbaugh told reporters. “He never sat on anything. He never procrastinated on anything. He took care of it before the sun went down. That’s the Bo Schembechler that I know."
Harbaugh wasn't available to speak Thursday about the latest revelations.
Bo Schembechler led the Wolverines from 1969-89 and had 194 wins at college football’s winningest school. His career record was 234-65-8, including six seasons at Miami of Ohio.
Another of his sons, Glenn “Shemy” Schembechler, told ESPN he did not believe what his brother, Matt, said to reporters. While Glenn “Shemy” Schembechler could not refute the stories shared by former players, he does not think his father was aware that Anderson was doing anything unacceptable in a physical exam.
“None of us were in that room when those players were talking to Bo,” Glenn Schembechler said to ESPN. “The Bo I knew would have taken care of it and found another doctor. It would be that easy.”
Williams reported from Southfield. AP Sports Writer Larry Lage in Ann Arbor contributed to this report.
This story was corrected to delete a reference to Bo Schembechler dying in 2004 — he died in 2006 — and to note that Don Canham died a year before, not after, Schembechler did.