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Matt Schembechler, son of legendary University of Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler, alongside former players Daniel Kwiatkowski and Gilvanni Johnson claimed in a press conference on Thursday that Bo Schembechler was aware that deceased U-M doctor Robert E. Anderson sexually assaulted student athletes.
Their statements come after the law firm WilmerHale issued a 240-page report on its investigation into Anderson, concluding the former doctor abused potentially more than 800 patients, 90% of them being young men. According to the report, more than two dozen U-M employees were informed of the abuse, including the then-football coach Schembechler.
During the press conference, Matt Schembechler and two other survivors, Kwiatkowski and Johnson, said they personally discussed the incidents with Schembechler. After Kwiatkowski was molested and violated during his first physical appointment with Anderson in 1977, he turned to his coach to let him know what had happened. Schembechler allegedly told Kwiatkowski to “toughen up” and took no further action, Kwiatkowski said.
“I can’t believe Bo would break his promise to protect and take care of me like family,” Kwiatkowski said. “I graduated and moved on from U-M, but the scars of what happened to me by Dr. Anderson and Bo never went away.”
Kwiatkowski said his experience was not isolated, but one shared by many of his peers and commonly discussed by members of the team together.
“If you were to walk to our locker room at that time, it was a constant joke,” Kwiatkowski said. “If you had come back from the doctor, you got teased because you got ‘Dr. Andersized.’”
Johnson reiterated many of Kwiatkowski’s claims, explaining how B. Schembechler made him the same vow to protect him once he became a member of the team. When Johnson was also sexually assaulted during his first meeting with Anderson in 1982 and reported the incident to his coach, he said B. Schembechler did not respond accordingly. As Johnson alleges, Schembechler took no action. In the following years, Johnson said he was abused 15 to 20 more times.
“Don’t get me wrong, Bo was a good coach, legendary coach,” Johnson said. “But for me, my memories of him at this point is (he) allowed kids, 17 or 18 year olds, to continue to be assaulted when (he) could do something about it. Being a great coach doesn’t give you a pathway to let other things happen to kids.”
The survivors also addressed and disputed the claims from the current U-M football coach Jim Harbaugh that Schembechler was not aware of the abuse. Last week, Harbaugh, who was a star quarterback in the 1980s while Schembechler and Anderson were both leading figures in the football program, said he did not think Schembechler would purposefully ignore allegations from his players relating to Anderson.
“Nothing was ever swept under the rug or ignored,” Harbaugh said. “He addressed everything in a timely fashion. That’s the Bo Schembechler that I know.”
When posed questions about Harbaugh’s potential involvement and knowledge of the abuse, Matt Schembechler denied any claim that Harbaugh was aware, since he was much younger at the time. Johnson said he could not say for certain how much Harbaugh knew but it was not Harbaugh’s place to speak for the survivors.
“Coach Harbaugh’s experience is his experience,” Johnson said. “He can’t speak for us, what we went through. I don’t know what he went through. But pretty much everybody knew because it was joked about around players so there’s no way he could not have known.”
In a statement released following the conference, U-M President Mark Schlissel and the Board of Regents wrote that the University expressed remorse for the survivors and denounced the behavior of Anderson; however the statement did not hold the former coach or the University accountable.
“Our sympathy for all of Anderson’s victims is deep and unwavering, and we thank them for their bravery in coming forward,” Fitzgerald wrote. “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.”
Additionally, the University affirmed their commitment to improving the culture on campus, specifically concerning sexual assault allegations. Some of the measures enforced within the past few decades to prevent further abuse include implementing a new misconduct policy on all U-M campuses, requiring sexual misconduct training for all U-M employees and undergoing criminal background checks for all employees.
But according to the survivors and Matt Schembechler, these efforts are not enough. Attorney Mick Grewal said in order to properly move forward and fully address the systemic problem, the University needs to admit their own responsibility and role in perpetuating the abuse.
“How many more do we need?” Grewal said. “We need to start having total accountability. We need to stop the argument that we are immune from responsibility. We need to now do what is right…I’m hopeful that these strong survivors have made some inroads to that finally happening.”
Summer News Editor Lily Gooding can be reached at email@example.com.