Former Michigan wrestler Tad Deluca has said he wanted a listening ear. He wanted to tell someone what had happened to him, and he wanted accountability.
His coach at the time didn’t listen. His athletic director didn’t, either. Deluca was forced to watch as then-wrestling coach Bill Johannesen read his nine-page letter detailing his assault by team doctor Robert Anderson in front of his teammates. Deluca was kicked off the team. Athletic director Don Canham revoked his scholarship.
At a press conference in Feburary, Deluca declared to reporters: “I will not be ignored again.”
It wasn’t just Canham and Johannesen that ignored him.
According to a report by the Detroit Free Press released Thursday, Deluca sent athletic director Warde Manuel a letter in 2018, detailing Anderson’s abuse. University policy stipulated that Manuel report the allegations to Michigan’s Office of Institutional Equity, which handles Title IX allegations. But Manuel instead forwarded the letter to the University’s lawyers, alerting them to potential upcoming litigation. It was a move that protected the University above all else.
“I expect nothing. I want nothing,” Deluca’s letter concluded, according to the Free Press. “I just feel the need to report this.”
Anderson died in 2008. The hundreds of athletes he abused will never get to see him held accountable — but that doesn’t mean there was nothing more the school could do. They could have found other survivors. They could have figured out if anyone who knew about Anderson’s allegations still worked in the athletic department. They could have done the only thing Deluca claimed to want and listened.
It wouldn’t have taken Manuel much to do the right thing. Anderson retired in 2003, when many of the Wolverines’ current athletes were in diapers. Few — if any — people involved in the allegations still work in the athletic department. Many of them aren’t even alive.
Manuel just had to listen. But like the others before him, he didn’t.
Deluca’s allegations against Canham and Johannesen feel distant. Canham is dead. Johannesen hasn’t been associated with the University in years. It’s easy to look at those allegations and think, ‘That was 35 years ago. Things are different now.’
But Manuel is different. The others were vestiges of old times. Manuel is the one calling the shots for the foreseeable future.
Manuel has done good things as athletic director. His hire of Juwan Howard has been a hit. He’s also made several successful hires in non-revenue sports, such as Hannah Nielsen in women’s lacrosse and Sean Bormet in wrestling.
But none of that should matter if Manuel can’t do right by Michigan’s athletes — including former ones. Nothing in college sports is possible without them, and it’s supposed to be the job of the person in charge to create an environment where they’re in the best possible position to succeed. That means a culture of accountability, where it’s clear that abuse and misconduct will not be tolerated.
When it comes to cases of sexual assault, actions speak louder than words. The message Manuel sent is that he was committed to protecting the University’s image before the well-being of his student-athletes. That encourages a culture of silence — one that ensures that things like this will keep happening.
Michigan’s Student Sexual Misconduct Policy is clear on what needed to be done.
“Responsible employees (including Manuel) must immediately report any information they learn about suspected Prohibited Conduct to OIE or the Title IX Coordinator,” reads the first sentence of the policy. “Failure by a responsible employee to timely report a suspected Prohibited Conduct may subject them to appropriate discipline, up to and including removal from their position.”
The policy sends a strong message: This is a fireable offense. And if it doesn’t cost Manuel his job, he should at least face strong punishment, such as a hefty fine or suspension. This, after all, goes deeper than one incident. If Manuel escapes unscathed, it sends a message to future athletes, coaches and athletic directors alike about who the University will protect — and it isn’t the athletes.
All Manuel had to do was listen and follow the correct procedure. All he had to do was make it clear that if anyone committed misconduct again, they would be held accountable.
But he didn’t. Instead, he protected his school’s image, and in the process enabled the kind of culture that allows abusers to go unchecked.
Michigan’s first priority in dealing with a scandal of this magnitude should be to establish a strong culture of accountability, one dedicated to making sure this never happens again. And now, that culture needs to start at the top.
Gerson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @aria_gerson.