Abuse victims to seek school action on Schembechler's legacy

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FILE - This file photo, date and location not known, provided by the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan, shows Dr. Robert E. Anderson. Former University of Michigan football players and others who say they were sexually abused by a now-deceased team doctor are expected to call for action by the University of Michigan's board as the legacy of the school's gridiron coach is being questioned over what he knew. The group has planned a news conference Wednesday June 16, 2021, in Ann Arbor, Mich. (Robert Kalmbach/Bentley Historical Library University of Michigan via AP, File)

DETROIT (AP) — Former University of Michigan football players and others who say they were sexually abused by a now-deceased team doctor are expected to call for action by the University of Michigan’s board as the legacy of the school’s legendary gridiron coach is being questioned over what he knew.

The group has planned a news conference in Ann Arbor on Wednesday — a day before Michigan regents are to hold a regularly scheduled meeting.

No action items involving former coach Bo Schembechler, Dr. Robert E. Anderson or litigation against the school by abuse victims were listed on the agenda for the virtual meeting.

The Associated Press emailed regents Tuesday for comment. A spokesman for regent Jordan Acker said he “will be willing to talk at some point but not now because this matter is ongoing.”

Hundreds of men allegedly were 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.

Parker Stinar, a lawyer representing former players and others who claim abuse by Anderson, said he expects Schembechler, along with a statue of the coach outside a campus football building that bears his name, to be discussed at Wednesday’s news event.

“I think the vast majority of players either before him (Schembechler), after him or during his course, believe that the statue needs to come down, believe the building needs to be changed, believe that his legacy is forever tarnished,” Stinar said Tuesday.

Daniel Kwiatkowski and Gilvanni Johnson, former players who claim they were abused by Anderson during their playing days, and Schembechler’s 62-year-old son, Matt Schembechler, said last week that Michigan’s winningest football coach was aware of claims that Anderson was abusing players during physicals, but ignored them.

Anderson “was supported by a culture that placed the reputation of the university above the health and safety of the students,” said Matt Schembechler, who said he was 10 when Anderson abused him during a physical for youth football, and that when he told his father, then in his first year of his iconic run with the Wolverines, Bo Schembecler became enraged and punched him in the chest. “That is the culture that made my father a legend and placed his statue in front of Schembechler Hall.”

Schembechler died in 2006, two years before Anderson’s death.

A report commissioned by the university and released last month says Schembechler was vividly told by at least four people that Robert Anderson had molested them during routine physicals or other exams. Yet, the report says, he took no direct steps and even told one man to “toughen up.”

When the WilmerHale report was released, another of Bo Schembechler’s sons, Shemy Schembechler, expressed skepticism that his father ignored complaints about Anderson. He insisted that his dad would have acted if players had shared concerns about the doctor.

On Tuesday, Shemy Schembechler, his wife, Megan, and Bo Schembechler’s widow, Cathy, said he never spoke to any of them about inappropriate behavior by Anderson.

“To the contrary, in our steadfast opinion, Bo was not aware of such conduct and assumed that any procedures were medically appropriate,” they wrote in a letter. “As he demonstrated at many points in his career and to us as a family, Bo had a clear and compelling sense of right and wrong: he would not have tolerated misconduct, especially toward any of his players, family members, coaches or to anyone associated with the University of Michigan’s football program.”

“If Bo had known of inappropriate conduct, we are certain that he would have stopped it immediately, reported it, and had Dr. Anderson removed from the University,” the letter continued.

Responding to that assertion, lawyers for survivors of Anderson’s alleged abuse say in statement that it isn’t surprising to hear some members of Schembechler’s family say the coach never spoke about inappropriate behavior by the doctors. They noted Schembechler did not tell anyone of the abuse.

"While it is understandable that they wish to erase the stain of the Anderson scandal from their family name, they cannot rewrite history. With each passing day, more victims are following the lead of Matt Schembechler and revealing the truth about what Bo and Don knew and when they knew it. “said Mick Grewal and Stephen Drew, Anderson Survivor’s Legal Team attorneys.

Bo Schembechler led the Wolverines from 1969-89 and won 194 games at the school. The Wolverines won or shared 13 Big Ten football championships during his career as coach.

A bronze statue of former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno was removed from outside the school's stadium in 2012 after his former assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, was convicted of child sexual abuse and an investigation accused Paterno and other former administrators of covering up complaints about Sandusky.

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