Editor’s Note: The author of this op-ed has requested anonymity for fear of professional retaliation. Given the sensitive nature of the op-ed and the importance of his account, The Michigan Daily agreed to keep the author anonymous to the public and to our staff. In accordance with our ethics policy (which can be found in full in our bylaws), the Editor-in-Chief and Managing Editor are aware of and have verified the author’s identity.
I stumbled upon the article in bed in early 2020 on yet another sleepless night. As I absorbed the story about Dr. Robert Anderson and his sexual abuse of University of Michigan students, panic engulfed my stomach, and bile rose in my throat. Something was horribly wrong. I ran to the bathroom, vomited and lay down on the tiled floor.
A dark memory came into focus. One I had hidden from everyone, including myself, but that had interrupted my sleep for 25 years. I flashed back to the events in a cold examining room that shattered my world, my self-confidence … my everything. What took its place was twitching anxiety and unfathomable shame that would consume much of my life, leading me to question every relationship, decision and emotion I have had as a son, husband, father, co-worker, neighbor and friend. It also endangered my health: Since that day, I have never visited a doctor.
Yes, I am a victim of Anderson along with hundreds, if not thousands, of other former U-M students.
I have long been consumed by the why: Why did this happen to me? Why didn’t I say anything? Why did no one take the allegations seriously? Why didn’t the University protect me? Was I easy prey? Was I weak? Was I expendable?
I was a Michigan Man. A student-athlete. As a Michigan Man you live by standards others dare to attain. We practiced, studied and played with every ounce of our ability. We pressed through pain because that was what the coaches demanded and what the fans wanted. You couldn’t have any chinks in the armor, and weakness was never an option.
And because I, along with the hundreds of other male student-athlete survivors of Anderson were “Michigan Men,” our experiences and traumas are largely unknown outside of Michigan and continue to be marginalized in a unique way. Because we were “Michigan Men,” the atrocities we encountered and traumas that continue to haunt us today are somehow lessened, swept under the rug in the shadow of our perceived strength and size. As if “Michigan Men” were built to endure the pain.
But I was a naive kid, only 18, which in retrospect was prime prey.
I remember the moment I decided to no longer be Anderson’s victim. I had had enough. I ran from the examining room. My trust in authority was gone, as was my dream of being a U-M athlete. He had now stolen both.
As a result, I quit the team that day to avoid Anderson and turned instead to Labatt Blue to camouflage my shame. Labatt turned into Jack Daniels, which turned into Nyquil. Thankfully, I stopped myself before it turned into something stronger. But by then, distancing myself from those closest to me had become my new norm.
The emotional vacuum I created eventually led me to jump from job-to-job, industry-to-industry, friend-to-friend. Instead of opening the door to relationships, I repeatedly, and purposefully, slammed the door shut just as I did the day I ran out of the examining room, vowing never to go back there and be hurt again.
But when I killed my association with the sport I loved, I killed my ability to truly love. I now realize how much I have missed in life by feeling so little and am working to communicate more freely with my family and friends. But I am also angrier than ever before about what happened to me and so many others.
As student-athletes, we put our trust in the University and those around us to do the right thing on and off the field. We knew the University made money off our talents, filling stadiums with paying fans. It was a relationship we accepted. But maybe the relationship with the fans and the University is a facade, maybe athletes are worthless to the University if we aren’t winning. And most definitely, part of that relationship was being aware that our coaches would uncomfortably chuckle when appointments with Anderson were mentioned, as would other athletes who either had firsthand knowledge as I did or had heard through teammates that the rumors were, in fact, true.
Now, experiencing how the “Leaders and Best” are ignoring, neglecting and overlooking our experiences as victims disgusts me.
The Michigan Machine that relied on us for revenue now views us as an uncomfortable chorus of complainers. The money we helped them make is now being used to hire law firms and investigators to minimize our existence. Staff, many of whom may still be working in the athletics department, likely knew more than they shared with investigators. Now, witnessing how the “Leaders and Best” are denying survivors transparency and attempting to avoid accountability for the decades upon decades of their institutional failures sickens me. Along with the acts of Anderson, the University’s lack of transparency should also sicken former and current athletes, students, staff, alumni and the public.
To the largest alumni base in the world, to Michigan fans everywhere, to donors, corporate sponsors and prospective student-athletes, I ask you to stand up as you do for us in Michigan athletic venues. Do what we did for you: rise up, persevere, press on. Tell University leaders we do not accept what happened, nor will we allow it to occur on any college campus, any institution or in any sliver of society again. Let’s uncover the uncomfortable truth about what really happened and change the conversation forever. Because that is what Michigan Men (people) do: We do what is right.
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