Matt Schembechler, the son of former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler, and former Wolverines football players Daniel Kwiatkowski and Gilvanni Johnson shared graphic details of Dr. Robert E. Anderson’s sexual abuse at a press conference on Thursday.
The survivors also said that the famous coach knew about Anderson’s abuse but failed to act.
“Anderson’s abuse was the worst kept secret at Michigan,” Matt said Thursday. “Anderson was able to continue this abuse for so long because he was supported by a culture that wanted to preserve the reputation.”
The younger Schembechler said that Anderson sexually molested him when he was 10 years old, but when he told his father, Bo allegedly became physical with him.
Attorney Mick Grewal pointed at a picture of a young Matt on Thursday, saying, “We are talking about a predator pedophile who was protected by Bo Schembechler.”
Kwiatkowski, who played offensive tackle from 1977 to ’79 but attended Michigan until 1981, said Bo promised his family that he would be like a father to him.
“We were a poor working class family, and my parents were very worried about my future being able to pay for medical bills,” Kwiatkowski said. “Bo promised my family that he would keep me safe, making sure I got the best medical treatment.”
But Kwiatkowski said Coach Schembechler broke that promise in the fall of 1977. The freshman was attending his first mandatory physical with Anderson, and during the visit, the former team physician “molested and violated” Kwiatkowski. Anderson allegedly “caressed” the player’s testicles, and proceeded to ask him detailed questions about his sex life.
“After I tried to answer his questions, he bent over and put his head near my penis and began blowing on it, telling me, ‘It’s O.K. to get an erection,’ ” Kwiatkowski shared. “He then digitally raped my rectum multiple times.”
The former player recalled telling himself that “there’s no way that Bo would let something bad happened to us.” But when Kwiatkowski told his coach what happened, he said to “toughen up.”
“I knew then I was on my own and Bo was never going to protect us from Dr. Anderson.”
Bo allegedly forced Kwiatkowski to attend three more physicals with Anderson in ’78, ’79 and ’81, and the former player said the team doctor violated him “again and again.”
“The scars of what happened to me by Dr. Anderson and Bo never went away,” he said. “I have avoided doctors ever since that time, jeopardizing my own health.”
Johnson, a Michigan wide receiver from 1982 to ’86, started by saying “everybody knew Bo knew everything that happened on campus.” He was recruited to play basketball and football, and Johnson said as he broke down in tears that the Michigan coaches assured his mother that her son would be kept safe.
But he realized after getting to campus that the statement was far from the truth. Johnson recalled hearing players joke about having to see “Dr. Anus” before his freshman physical.
Johnson said he was sexually assaulted during the physical, and that Anderson “commented on my genitals, played with my genitals.” He had to see Anderson again, and he says the same thing happened.
“After that, I told Bo that Dr. Anderson played with my genitals and put his finger in my anus,” Johnson said. “Bo said that he would check on that with the medical staff. I never heard back from Bo.”
Johnson continued, saying coaches would joke about Anderson and threaten to send players to him if they weren’t working hard enough.
As the press conference continued, Michigan released a statement about the matter.
“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.”
Anderson worked at the school for nearly 40 years, from 1966 to 2003. He regularly administered athletes’ physicals, and hundreds of former patients have said Anderson abused and harassed them during routine medical visits.
An investigation by the WilmerHale firm earlier this year confirmed the reports, saying Anderson’s behavior was “not consistent with any recognized standard of care and was, on the contrary, grossly improper.”
A statue of Bo Schembechler, who died in 2006, still stands tall on Michigan’s campus. During the press conference, neither Matt nor the two former players called for it to be brought down. Instead, they repeatedly called for accountability.
“Bo knew,” Grewal said. “If Bo listened to his son, these two gentlemen would not be sitting up here today.”
And Matt agreed.
“Don’t get me wrong, Bo was a good coach,” Johnson said. “But, for me, in my remembrance of him at this point, is he allowed kids 17 or 18 years old to continue to be assaulted when he could have did something about it.”
When asked about current Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, who recently defended Bo, Matt was quick to say Harbaugh had “nothing to do with this.”
“I beg you, don’t draw Jim Harbaugh into this. He deserves no negative feedback from this, none. Jim didn’t know. In fact, Jim was a kid, right? I would have to say in a respectful way, as a kid, he was a bit naive.”