The University Insider is The Daily’s first faculty and staff-oriented newsletter. This weekly newsletter will give U-M faculty and staff the ability to see the most important issues on campus and in Ann Arbor — particularly those related to administrative decisions — from the perspective of an independent news organization. It will also provide a better understanding of student perspectives.
LSA sophomore Tommy Svetich sat around the TV with his friends to watch Matt Schembechler’s — son of former University of Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler — tell-all press conference, not knowing what to expect. But during the conference, the gruesome details made his insides turn.
“I didn’t know what to feel, honestly,” Svetich said. “I was just shocked, I didn’t know what I was feeling. It was just like my gut sank. It was just disgusting to think about.”
At the press conference, Matt Schembechler jointly alleged with former football players Daniel Kwiatkowski and Gilvanni Johnson, that Bo Schembechler knew of deceased U-M Dr. Robert E. Anderson’s continuous sexual assault of student athletes.
Matt Schembechler, Kwiatowksi and Johnson discussed their experiences with Anderson and how Bo Schembechler failed to act upon the alleged abuse. Kwiatkowski said Bo told him to “toughen up” after his first experience with Dr. Anderson’s sexual abuse during an appointment in 1997, and the whole football team knew of and joked about the abuse persisting at the time. Johnson said players called Dr. Anderson “Dr. Anus.”
“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.’”
Matt Schembechler said after his first appointment with Dr. Anderson in the fourth grade, he told his parents how Dr. Anderson abused him, causing Bo to lose his temper.
“When Bo got home, I told him what happened and it did not go well,” Matt Schmbechler said. “Bo’s temper was legendary and he lost it. He screamed, ‘I don’t want to hear this. I’m not hearing this.’
“I tried to tell him repeatedly, but my efforts earned me a punch in the chest. This was the beginning of the end of the relationship with him. I hoped my father would protect me, but he didn’t.”
Members of the U-M community took to social media to express their reactions and opinions to the press conference. Jane Coaston, a 2009 U-M alum and journalist for The New York Times, took to Twitter to state her stance on why the statue of Bo Schembechler on campus should be taken down.
“So much of Michigan football hagiography is Bo-centered (‘the team, the team, the team’),” Coaston tweeted on June 10. “But absolutely no hagiography or memory or halcyon ‘tradition’ is worth the sexual abuse of young people and the covering up of said abuse by people who were in positions of power.”
Coaston further explained in an interview with The Michigan Daily why she believes the statue should be taken down and the Hall should be renamed.
“In order to have a statue or something named after you, that is a privilege. It’s not a right,” Coaston said. “And I think that the University, specifically the athletic department, can make a decision by saying, ‘You don’t get this. You don’t always get to have a statue.’”
In a tweet from June 10, 2016 U-M alum Taylor Fulton expressed her resentment towards Bo Schembechler’s place in the football program.
“i want no part of michigan football — michigan anything, really — where bo schembechler is still heralded as some paragon of leadership. this makes me fucking sick.”
Fulton did not watch the press conference but instead read articles about the conference online. In an interview with The Daily, Fulton said she found the press conference to be “disheartening” and “horrifying for the victims,” and felt angry at how long Dr. Anderson’s abuse persisted and was kept secret.
“The thing that stuck with me was his son had mentioned this, and Bo was physically violent with him about it, that was really upsetting,” Fulton said. “Especially in a situation where Bo Schembechler is always talked about as some sort of leader or inspirational figure — to hear that is just really upsetting, just hard to swallow and hard to comprehend.”
Following the press conference, The University Office of Public Affairs released a statement on behalf of The University Board of Regents and President Mark Schlissel on Jun. 10. The statement offered sympathy to Dr. Anderson’s victims and condemned his actions.
“Our sympathy for all of Anderson’s victims is deep and unwavering, and we thank them for their bravery in coming forward,” the statement read. “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.”
The statement also listed some of the policies the University has adopted to protect student health and safety in the 17 years since Dr. Anderson departed from campus. A few of the policies included developing a misconduct policy, a policy designed to prevent inappropriate student-teacher relationships, required criminal background checks for new University employees and more.
Fulton denounced Public Affairs’ statement and believes the statement could have been “stronger.”
“You can’t just kind of turn the other cheek on it and say, ‘Oh, we’re so sorry that this happened.’ That’s just not enough.” Fulton said.
In a class of 2022 Facebook post on June 11, LSA senior Joshua Kooistra shared his feelings about the removal of Schembechler Hall and the removal of Bo’s statue.
“Rename the hall and blow the statue up with dynamite,” he wrote. “His own son was molested, and he went along with it! Both coach and doctor are culpable.”
Kooistra told The Daily how the substantial number of people who were sexually abused in addition to being complicit with the act has not and will never be “acceptable.” Kooistra further expressed his disappointment with the University’s statement in addition to the alleged abuse by the players but was not surprised given the University’s “very poor” track record regarding sexual misconduct.
“I found the apology laughable,” Kooistra said. “At least during my time at the University, there have been an additional eight cases that have gone through the judicial court system that have been determined to be abuse cases. Dr. Anderson left 17 years ago, but you hear just now all the recommendations to implement regarding sexual assault and harassment allegations. I just think the University, from everything that’s come out, has not made any actual progress.”
Likewise, Fulton believes the University should confront the renaming of Schembechler Hall and the removal of his statue in the same way other schools with “complicated sports legacies” such as Penn State University and Michigan State University have.
“I think a lot of students and alumni should have at least a strong moral consideration to hold ourselves to the same standard,” Fulton said. “There’s so much to be said about the history of the program, but a statue and a hall named after someone who has covered up decades of abuse is not a history you necessarily want to continue to celebrate.”
Coaston found the alleged abuse to be “unshocking” given how “common” and “ordinary” similar situations have occurred in elite Division 1 athletic programs, like Penn State and Michigan State, across the country.
“When you involve this much money, especially with athletic departments, especially with the power that that money has, universities tend to do a bad job with this,” Coaston said. “I would say the University has done a bad job of protecting students, and specifically student athletes in this instance, but that’s not rare. And I think that what’s most depressing: this is not a story of this one rogue entity. This is a story of something that has happened, happened, happened and happened.”
Coaston added, however, that the “dictatorial attitude” of how college football programs are traditionally ran are increasingly being defied by student-athletes for the better, and is how the University can further prevent sexual misconduct and other issues stemming from power-dynamics from occurring.
“Michigan is actually doing a better job of allowing players, basketball and elsewhere, to speak out and to change what that power dynamic looks like,” Coaston said. “I think we see now players are standing up for themselves, and I want them to recognize and understand that standing up for themselves and standing up for each other — that’s how I think you can dissuade, and hopefully prevent future such power imbalances where this takes place.”
Furthermore, Fulton thinks there are alternative ways to honor and discuss the history of the football program that do not celebrate Schembechler’s years of alleged complicity with Dr. Anderson’s alleged abuse.
“There are ways to discuss the history of the program without necessarily continuing, I think, to glamorize a person who now has at least a complicated legacy at Michigan if not a completely tarnished (one),” Fulton said. “And, quite frankly, it should not have a legacy here at Michigan anymore.”
Svetich thinks the building should be renamed, but is neither against nor for the removal of Bo’s statue.
“I think Schembecler Hall should be renamed, but a statue — I mean, you can’t take away from what he did when and how good of a coach he was,” Sveetich said. “The hall is where the athletes live, and if he wasn’t respecting the athletes, there’s no way that his name should be on the building.”
Public Affairs said they “have no further information to share at this time,” in an email to The Daily when asked to comment about the press conference and potential renaming of Schembechler Hall and removal of Bo Schembechler’s statue.
Some members of the U-M community feel differently about the press conference and allegations against Bo Schembechler. After the press conference, Matt Schembechler’s brother and Bo’s son Glenn “Shemy” Schembechler told ESPN on June 10 that although he could not disprove any of the players’ allegations, he does not believe Matt’s accusations about Bo hitting Matt and his mother, and thinks he Bo must have been unaware of Dr. Anderson’s abuse due to his “loving” nature.
“None of us were in that room when those players were talking to Bo,” Glenn Schembechler said. “The Bo I knew would have taken care of it and found another doctor. It would be that easy.”
Following his comments, Glenn Schembechler, along with Bo Schembechler’s wife Cathy Schembechler and daughter-in-law Megan Schembechler, released a statement on Tuesday condemning the allegations against Bo Schembechler’s actions and knowledge of Dr. Anderson’s abuse.
“To the contrary, in our steadfast opinion, Bo was not aware of such conduct and assumed that any procedures were medically appropriate,” the letter said. “As he demonstrated at many points in his career and to us as a family, Bo had a clear and compelling sense of right and wrong: he would not have tolerated misconduct, especially toward any of his players, family members, coaches or to anyone associated with the University of Michigan’s football program.”
In response to this statement, Mick Grewal and Stephen Drew, members of Anderson Survivor’s Legal Team Attorneys, rebuked the comments that Bo would have had Dr. Anderson removed from the University and how Cathy, Glenn and Megan Schembechler “were not even around” at the time when Matt Schembechler initially revealed his abuse by Dr. Anderson in 1969.
“Dr. Anderson was able to continue his abuse for three decades supported by a culture that placed the reputation of the University above the health and safety of its students. That is the culture that made Bo Schembechler a legend and placed his statue in front of Schembechler Hall,” Grewal and Drew said in the statement. “While it is understandable that they wish to erase the stain of the Anderson scandal from their family name, they cannot rewrite history.”
Current U-M football coach Jim Harbaugh defended his former coach Bo Schembechler to reporters at a collegiate football showcase at Ferris State University on June 3.
“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.”
Kooistra added how, although a person’s legacy can be multifaceted, he cannot understand how Harbaugh could be oblivious to Bo Schembechler’s concealment of Dr. Anderson’s abuse.
“People aren’t frozen in time,” Kooistra said. “People can have their legacy and have two sides of them. (But) I don’t know how Harbaugh would be able to claim that he didn’t know about it.”
When asked to comment about the press conference, Associate Athletic Director of the University’s football program David Ablauf wrote in an email to The Daily: “We do not have anything additional to add from what was issued by the University yesterday,” and referred to the statement released by Public Affairs.
Director of Athletics Warde Manuel did not reply to multiple requests for comment.
Martha Lewand can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org