The statue peers forward, his stance aggressive. His headset in one hand and game plan in the other, he could be stalking the sidelines, looking for a way to beat Ohio State. It stands in front of the building named for him — Schembechler Hall, home to the football program whose foundations are rooted in the mythology surrounding Bo Schembechler, Michigan football’s most storied coach.
Twenty-seven miles to the northeast, Bo’s son, Matt, stood in front of news media members Thursday afternoon to tell the world he was sexually assaulted in 1969 by a football team doctor, told his dad about it and nothing was done.
The allegation, coupled with those from several other football players — including two on Thursday, who said they told Bo about being sexually assaulted by the same doctor only to be ignored — has rocked the university already shocked by more than a year of evidence about how Dr. Robert Anderson used his position to sexually assault hundreds of students over the course of decades. It has some wondering if it’s time to mothball Bo’s statue, much like Penn State University did after discovering its legendary football coach Joe Paterno didn’t do enough to stop one of his assistant coaches from sexually assaulting young boys.
During the news conference, neither Matt nor two other former players or their lawyers called for the statue to come down, but repeatedly said there must be accountability for the longtime coach.
“Bo knew,” Matt’s attorney Mick Grewal said during the news conference in Novi. “If Bo listened to his son, these two gentlemen (Daniel Kwiatkowski and Gilvanni Johnson) would not be sitting up here today” and hundreds would not have been abused.
“Anderson’s abuse was the worst kept secret at Michigan,” he said. “Anderson was able to continue this abuse for so long because he was supported by a culture that wanted to preserve the reputation.”
When asked specifically whether there were any plans to take down the statue or rename the football building, or whether any discussions had been started on those topics, the university, through spokesman Rick Fitzgerald, declined to comment.
Anderson went on to work as a doctor at U-M until 2002, including being the head medical doctor for Schembechler’s teams.
Hundreds of U-M athletes have accused Anderson of sexually assaulting them, including fondling their genitals and giving them rectal exams, even when they showed up with sore elbows or sore throats. Other U-M students have accused Anderson of giving out draft deferrals from the Vietnam Wwar in exchange for sex acts.
Hundreds of men have sued the university for not stopping Anderson. The cases are currently in mediation in federal court. In May, an investigation conducted by the law firm WilmerHale concluded that Anderson’s misconduct was reported “several times between 1978 and 1981,” but that a “senior University administrator … did not take appropriate action.”
During the news conference, the university issued a statement.
“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. We are committed to resolving their claims and to continuing the court-guided confidential mediation process.”
But those speaking at the conference said the university has yet to apologize for actions taken to keep Anderson as the football team doctor.
Besides Matt Schembechler, Kwiatkowski, a Michigan offensive lineman from 1977-79, and Johnson, a wide receiver from 1982-86 who also played for the Detroit Lions in 1987, talked at Thursday’s news conference, detailing allegations Anderson sexually assault them and they told Bo about it. Kwiatkowski was abused by Anderson four times and Johnson was assaulted 15 times, they said.
Johnson choked up as he described being recruited by football coaches and how they told his mother they would keep him safe. When he arrived on campus, he had to report for a physical.
“Before my freshman physical, you would hear players joking about having to see “Dr. Anus,” he said. Johnson was sexually assaulted during that visit. “I never had a physical like that. I told Bo. Bo said he would check on that with medical staff. Never heard back.”
But other players told Johnson not to press Bo about it. He said everyone knew — coaches joked about Anderson and threatened players would have an exam by him if they weren’t working hard enough.
Back in 1968, Anderson was just starting his career at U-M. Bo Schembechler married Matt’s mom, Millie, and then in 1969 left Miami (Ohio), where he had been the head coach, to come to Ann Arbor.
Once in Ann Arbor, Matt wanted to play in youth sports. Schembechler sent him to Anderson for a required physical.
Anderson fondled Matt’s genitals and digitally penetrated him, Matt said. He told his mom, Millie, about it right away. Millie, a nurse, was upset and told Matt he needed to tell Bo about it when he got home from coaching.
Bo exploded in anger, Matt remembers. “I don’t want to hear this,” Matt said Bo said, adding Bo also said “never talk to me about this again.” Matt said Bo also punched him the chest, hard enough to knock him down on his butt.
Nothing happened to Anderson, so a little later Millie went up the street to their neighbor — then-U-M Athletic Director Don Canham, who also would become a legend in the athletic department’s history. Matt said Canham came to Schembechler’s house while Bo was at practice. Matt told him the same story. Don got quiet and said he’d take care of it.
The young Matt thought that meant Anderson would be fired. Later, he heard Bo and Millie arguing and heard Bo say something about needing Anderson on his staff.
Canham died in 2005. Bo Schembechler died a year later. Anderson died in 2008.
What Bo knew about Anderson and what he did has divided his former players. His most famous disciple and former quarterback, Jim Harbaugh, is now the head coach.
Last week, Harbaugh defended his former coach’s reputation when asked about the Anderson situation at a football camp at Ferris State.
“I can tell you this,” Harbaugh said. “Bo Schembechler … there was nothing that I saw in the times when I was a kid here, my dad was on staff or when I played here … 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. There’s nothing that ever was swept under the rug or ignored. He addressed everything in a timely fashion. That’s the Bo Schembechler that I knew.”
Matt and Bo have had a rough history. In January 1999, Matt Schembechler sued his father, U-M, campus police and school officials after he claimed they sabotaged his efforts to make souvenirs from discarded stadium bleachers. The lawsuit was thrown out in federal court a few months later.
“I don’t hate Bo,” Matt said. “I don’t like him.”
Contact David Jesse: 313-222-8851 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @reporterdavidj. Subscribe to the Detroit Free Press.