Former student athletes allege Bo Schembechler, Don Canham knew about Anderson’s abuse

Thursday, July 30, 2020 - 1:30pm

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Courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library

A former University of Michigan student alleged in a press conference Thursday that legendary football coach Bo Schembechler and former athletic director Don Canham knew of of team doctor Robert Anderson’s sexual abuse, Attorneys Spethen Estey, James White and Michelle Simpson Tuegel held the press conference along with the former student to announce a lawsuit against the Univeristy containing over 50 complaints against Anderson. 

The former student claims Anderson assaulted him when he went to see the team doctor for help with migraines. The former student was a student play-by-play football announcer from 1981-1983. Schembechler advised the student — filing as “John Doe EB17” — to file a sexual abuse complaint with Canham in 1982, according to the lawsuit. 

“What Bo said to me when I first came to him was, ‘Get your butt —and I'm going to clean the language up— get your butt into Canham’s office and tell him what happened right now,” the former student said. “He was visibly angry.”

Canham allegedly ignored the complaint and took no action against Anderson. 

“His response literally was to blow me off,” the former student said. “He did nothing. In effect, in my opinion, Canham perpetrated Anderson’s abuse.”

The student said Canham was all-powerful as athletic director from 1968-1988, a period when Canham and Schembechler lifted the University’s football team into a national brand.

“Believe me when I tell you that the Board of Trustees at the time, including all the coaches — it didn’t matter what field these coaches were in — everyone was afraid of Don Canham,” the former student said. “If you crossed him the wrong way, if you looked at him the wrong way, said something he didn’t like, you were fired and dismissed and thrown right off the broadcast.”

The student said he believes he was the first to inform Schembechler of the abuse. 

The lawsuit contains 53 survivors of Anderson’s alleged sexual abuse, including 27 football players from the 1968-1986 teams, as well as members of the baseball, gymnastics, basketball, crew, track and field and cross country teams, students and staff of the University and local high school students.

Former cross country coach Ron Warhurst joked with his student-athletes about Anderson’s sexual abuses, stating in essence, “So you have a sore throat, you have to go to Anderson, drop your drawers and get your hernia checked,” the lawsuit says. 

When a student-athlete reported sexual abuse in the 1970s, Warhurst allegedly responsed, “Deal with it fucker.” 

Attorney Jamie White of White Law PLLC said his clients are all “Michigan Men” who do not want permanent harm to come to the University as a result of the lawsuit.

“What they want is this university to be an example, be a voice for not only the University of Michigan, but for the sexual abuse victims in the future,” White said. “And they have that opportunity. Michigan has an opportunity to be a part of an important dialogue. The conversation can eventually focus on being a solution and a cure for this cancer that has plagued our institutions over the course of several decades.”

University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald told The Daily in an email that the University has great confidence in the WilmerHale investigation, which the court paused in June. Fitzgerald added the University believes the investigation should restart immediately citing more than 50 former patients having contacted WilmerHale since the pause.

“At the University of Michigan, we condemn all sexual misconduct. This type of conduct is reprehensible – and whether it takes place now or took place in the past, it is unacceptable,” Fitzgerald wrote. “...Through July 23, there have been 394 unique complaints regarding Anderson that are being investigated by the WilmerHale.”

Attorney Michelle Simpson Tuegel, who helped negotiate a $500 million settlement with Michigan State University and victims of Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse, said what era Anderson’s abuse happened in, whether he perpetrated males or females or whether his alleged victims were student athletes does not excuse the University from responsibility.

“There was a person in a position of power and adults who were in positions of power knew what was going on at University of Michigan, well before John Doe EV-17 was ever abused,” Simpson Tuegel said. “They were put on notice, and they need to answer for that and they need to compensate and make right the damage that has been done. We hope that they will do that in a faster and a kinder way than Michigan State did, than Ohio State did, than Baylor University did. I think that they can learn from the mistakes of these other institutions and how they handle this and how they make it right, and we hope they do.”

 

Summer News Editor Calder Lewis can be reached at calderll@umich.edu