Matt Schembechler, the son of the late University of Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler, said the team’s former doctor, Robert Anderson, sexually assaulted him when he was 10. But when he told his dad about it, the legendary coach did nothing to stop it—and even used violence to keep him quiet, he says.
Schembechler, 62, made the bombshell claims in a Thursday press conference with former Michigan players Daniel Kwiatkowski and Gilvanni Johnson, who also accused Anderson of sexually abusing them. The trio said they hoped their public disclosures will prompt the university to stop letting something similar happen again.
He alleges Anderson assaulted him in 1969 by anally probing him during a physical he needed for youth football. But when he approached his dad about it, he says, the elder Schembechler lashed out, punching his son and attacking his mother, Millie. “It knocked me all the way across the kitchen,” he said in an interview with ESPN ahead of the press conference.
“Bo’s temper was legendary,” Schembechler, who was adopted by Bo in 1968, said on Thursday. “This was the beginning of the end of the relationship with him.”
Millie went to the university’s athletic director, Don Canham, to report the abuse. Canham fired Anderson, Schembechler alleges, but Bo interceded.
“Anderson was able to continue this abuse for so long because he was supported by a culture that placed the reputation of the university above the health and safety of the students,” he said. “That is the culture that made my father a legend.”
Schembechler went to Anderson twice more for physicals and said the doctor tried to molest him again, but he managed to stop him. Anderson continued working for the university for 30 years.
He said his father let the same thing happen to other members of the team, who spoke about Anderson’s abuse in locker rooms.
Kwiatkowski said players were considered “Andersized” when they left their appointment. He alleged on Thursday that he was digitally raped by Anderson during a routine physical. When he brought it up with the coach, he was told to “toughen up.”
“Bo didn’t keep me safe,” said Kwiatkowski, who added that he has avoided seeing doctors ever since and has found it hard to maintain relationships with women.
“As far as I was concerned, I was raped my freshman year,” he said.
Johnson said he was recruited by the university for football and basketball, with the school’s coaches promising his family that he would be well taken care of. While there, he would hear reports of a “Dr. Anal” who would fondle young players—something he alleges he experienced himself, 15 to 20 times.
When he brought his experiences with Anderson up to Bo, Johnson alleges he was blacklisted. He wasn’t allowed to play basketball as he was promised, he said, and felt he was put “in the doghouse.“ Johnson said two of his marriages failed due to his trauma. He said he came forward due to his own experience working with kids who were molested.
“I don’t want any other kids to have to go through what those kids went through,” Johnson said as he fought back tears. “Myself, my former Michigan teammates.”
The allegations are the biggest revelation yet in the case against Anderson, which has spanned 50 years. Law firm WilmerHale was contracted last year by the University of Michigan to investigate Anderson’s misconduct after over 100 people made claims.
In its report last month, the firm concluded that Anderson, who worked at the university from 1966 to 2003, was a serial abuser. It also found that university officials, including Bo Schembechler, knew about Anderson’s abuse and did nothing to stop it. Kwiatkowski and Johnson served as confidential sources for the report.
The elder Schembechler died in 2006, while Anderson died in 2008.
The law firm’s report said Anderson abused players on “countless occasions,” including through unnecessary rectal exams, inappropriate touching, and by exchanging medical treatment for sexual contact. Six hundred people came forward with their experiences, the report said, with 300 of them sitting for interviews.
Due to the length of time since the events occurred, the report couldn’t confirm whether the abuse happened as described, but due to the similarities in witness testimonials, it concluded that Anderson “engaged in a pervasive, decades-long, destructive pattern of sexual misconduct.”
Matt Schembechler’s disclosure is another crack in the fractured father-son relationship. In 1999, he sued both his father and the university, claiming the two interfered in his quest to turn old stadium bleachers into souvenirs. That suit was dismissed.
He said he came forward now due to society being more accepting of survivors’ experiences.
“What [do] I want out of it? [T]hat nobody even considers doing this to another kid in college,” he said.