'Bo Knew': A Day of Reckoning Has Come to The University of Michigan

A lot has come to light over the last month regarding the University of Michigan, former university doctor Robert Anderson and legendary coach Bo Schembechler.

Imagine, if you will, that you're an 18-year old who is about to step foot on the University of Michigan's campus as a student-athlete for the first time.  You've been provided with a scholarship to play football for one of the top programs in the country and at one of the top academic institutions in the world.  You've been promised a top education and access to some of the best medical care available anywhere in the country.  You're young, you're inexperienced, you're living away from your home for the first time in your life and you trust the folks who've promised to take care of you.

Imagine that a trainer for the University of Michigan has given you the information for the team doctor who will perform your physical exam before you can begin practice.  Imagine that, during your exam, the procedure is extremely uncomfortable and feels wrong, but that you also have been led to believe that this is the way things are done. 

Imagine spending the majority of your adult life avoiding doctors due to your experience as a student-athlete, only to find out that you've developed stage-four prostate cancer that could have been discovered and treated much earlier.

Imagine finding out decades later that the medical care you received as a student athlete wasn't just uncomfortable, but that it was actually sexual assault - performed by a rapist who abused hundreds (if not thousands) of individuals before you.

For former Michigan football player Chuck Christian, that isn't just something he imagined - it's something that he actually experienced.

Christian was born in Mississippi and raised in the inner-city of Detroit, where he excelled as both a basketball and football player.  "Before I got to Michigan, I was being recruited by schools all over the country", said Christian.  "I ended up choosing Michigan because the coach came out and he told my mom that Michigan was the leaders and best, and Michigan was the best in everything, and he just really hyped up Michigan."

Christian said that one of the big selling points for Michigan during the recruiting process was that level of medical care he would have access to.

"I wasn't used to that", said Christian.  "Growing up, we didn't have good medical insurance or anything.  So that was tough.  But when I got to Michigan, he said 'you're going to have the best of everything, you're going to go to the rose bowl, you're going to get the best education that you could possibly get by coming to Michigan'.  My mom loved what they said, and she said, 'Chuck, I really want you to go to Michigan because the coaches are saying that they're really going to take good care of you.'  So that's how I ended up going to Michigan".

Though Christian was eager to begin his colligate career as a Michigan Wolverine, he would first need to pay a visit to the University doctor to receive a physical exam before he could compete in his first football practice.

"Before we could start hitting or anything, we had to get our physicals", said Christian. "The trainer gave me Dr. Anderson's information and told me go meet him at this building at get my physical."

According to Christian, the exam went from being fairly routine to something that felt terribly wrong.

“It started off pretty much like any other physical. He checked my joints, my knees, all this stuff...and then he said ‘Ok, bend over’, Christian recalled.  "I saw him in the corner snapping a glove on his hand and then he lubricated it.  He's like, 'I've got to check you, this is a thorough physical.' I'm like, 'Dang, nobody told me about this.'  And then he put his finger up my butt, and I screamed like a baby.

"He said, 'You feel pressure, don't you?'  I said, 'No! I feel pain!  I know the difference between pain and pressure!' And then he did that, he fondled me for a while, and I'm thinking, 'Man, I've never had a physical like that before.'"

Once the procedure was over, Christian ran into another freshman football player who was sitting in the lobby after completing the same physical exam with Dr. Anderson.

“When I came out of the office with him, there was another player - another freshman - sitting there in the lobby. It seemed like he was just sitting there trying to gather himself because he had gone in just before me. I looked at him and he looked at me, I said ‘Did Dr. Anderson put his finger in your butt?’ He said ‘Yea, I feel violated.’ I said ‘Yeah man, that was painful. I’ve never had that done before’. He said, ‘Me either.'"

Shocked at what had just occurred, Christian decided to approach some of the upperclassmen to see if they had the same experiences with Dr. Anderson.

“I talked to some upperclassmen, some juniors and seniors, and they said ‘Oh yea, he’s going to do that to you for four years.'"

Even though the exam left him feeling uncomfortable, Christian believed that the treatment he had received was just how things were done at this level.

“I’m like wow, so I guess we’re in the big leagues now and this is the way that physicals are done. Because, you know, I came from an inner-city school in Detroit, so I didn’t know what a physical was until I got to Michigan. So I said, I guess this is the way that physicals are done all over the country because, if it’s done at Michigan - and I know Michigan’s the leader and best, and I know that Michigan does everything right - so this must be a legitimate way of doing a physical.”

“We did not know. For the most part, we didn’t know because we never thought that Michigan would hire a predator as the team doctor. So we never thought that he would be doing predatory things to us.”

As Christian began practicing with teammates, it soon became apparent that Dr. Anderson's conduct was common knowledge among both the players and the coaches. 

“When the practices started, that’s when the jokes started," Christian recalled. "And it wasn’t just the coaches. It was the coaches, the trainers...mostly the coaches and the trainers that were doing that. It was just a running joke in there. I heard that if you hurt your toe and you go see (Dr.) Anderson for your toe, that he was going to put his finger in your butt for whatever reason. The coaches and the trainers knew this, they knew that he was going to do that. But for some reason, that was ok and they never told us that it was inappropriate or that he shouldn’t be doing that. It was just normal. In fact, some of the coaches had it done to them when they were players.” 

It wasn't until decades later that Christian finally realized that his experience was Dr. Anderson was far more than just an uncomfortable exam.

“A year ago is when I discovered it," Christian said. "One of my teammates called me, I was in the hospital...I was about to die of cancer, and I was in the hospital bed and one of my teammates called me. He said, ‘Chuck, you remember Dr. Anderson?’ I said ‘Yeah, how can you forget him?’ He said, ‘Yea, you know those physicals he used to give us? They were illegal. The physicals that he was giving us were illegal. He was not supposed to be penetrating us.’ And that’s how I found out.”

Spending much of his adult life avoiding doctors, Christian began to develop serious health problems later in life - leading to the discovery of advanced colon cancer roughly five years ago.  By the time it was discovered, the cancer had spread to his spine, shoulders, tailbone, ribs and hips, leading doctors to give Christian roughly three years to live.  As Christian recalled, his avoidance of doctors was a direct result of the experience he had with Dr. Anderson during his time at the University of Michigan.

"Stuff started coming back to me and that's why I wouldn't go see a doctor.  I came down with prostate a little over five years ago, and when I discovered I had prostate cancer, my doctor was like, 'why didn't you come in sooner?' My doctors were trying to get me to come in sooner, but I wouldn't go and I never could figure out why I wouldn't go."

"When I was 45, I went - because I was having trouble with blood in my urine - so I went in to see a urologist. The doctor said, 'I've got to do a digital exam on you'.  And...a digital exam sounds like a high-tech exam, you know, on a screen or a scan.  I didn't know he meant a finger," Christian explained. "So I said, 'Ok fine, you can do a digital exam.'  And then he went over into the corner and slapped on a glove, and I said, 'Oh no, oh no. This is the same thing (Dr.) Anderson did to me.  I'll never let anybody do that to me again.'"

"If I had gotten the exam done at that point, they could have discovered the prostate cancer sooner and they wouldn't have given me a death sentence."

Christian would ultimately become the first Michigan Football player to speak publicly about the abuse he suffered at the hands of Dr. Robert Anderson during his time at Michigan.  Since that time, hundreds of former Michigan Football players and student athletes have come forward to share their experience with Dr. Anderson as well.  

Given how widespread the abuse was, Christian now believes that former Michigan Football head coach, Bo Schembechler, had to have known what was happening.

“Things have turned 180...a complete 180. You know, I loved Bo. I got to experience things I would have never experienced. I got to get a degree in painting and I got to meet some of the most awesome guys in the world. That really meant a lot to me. Some of my fondest memories were my Michigan years. My wife, I met her 43 years ago at Michigan. So, all those good memories when I think about Michigan, and Michigan football and Bo. And then all of this comes out and it’s just hard. It’s hard to process.

“Bo wasn’t the guy I thought he was. Because, in my brain, I’m thinking Bo wouldn't let this happen to his players. If he knew, he would have stopped it. But then, I’m seeing Dan Kwiatkowski was one of my teammates, and there were other things that let me know that Bo knew.

“He knew it was a thing. Because everybody talked about it, and Bo knew everything that was going on. He would laugh and joke about the fact that he knew everything. That’s why if somebody failed a class, Bo knew. If somebody got a speeding ticket, Bo knew. If somebody got into a fight, Bo knew. Bo knew everything and he would brag and laugh about the fact that he knew everything, and that we couldn't get away with anything without him knowing. So, he knew what was happening to us.

“In fact, a lot of the former players called me up and they said, ‘Chuck, tell me that Bo didn’t know.’ They were like, ‘Bo was like a father to me, man. Tell me that Bo didn’t know because that’s my safe place.' Thinking that Bo didn’t know. Because if Bo knew, then all of this stuff that he taught us was BS. All of the stuff that he ingrained in our brains was BS. And, I didn’t want to break my friend's heart by saying that Bo did know. But now more and more is coming out. Bo knew, Bo definitely knew.”

Unfortunately, Christian's experience is just one of hundreds that have now come to light involving former university doctor Robert Anderson.  

The tragedy in all of this isn't just the fact that it happened, but that it was also preventable.  As an employee of the University of Michigan, Anderson was allowed to continue his abuse for over three decades without any intervention from the university itself.  Not only is it clear that Anderson's abuse was common knowledge among both players and coaches, it's also become clear that those in a position to put an end to the abuse failed in their duty to do so - and includes Bo Schembechler.

Regardless of whether or not you believe that Schembechler was fully aware of what was happening, the harsh reality is that he was a key part of what is now being recognized as a massive institutional failure at the University of Michigan - a failure that led to hundreds, if not thousands, of preventable sexual assaults.  Schembechler spent over 20 years in Ann Arbor as one of the most powerful and plugged-in men at the University of Michigan, including his time as the Athletic Director from 1988-1990.  Put simply, he had a responsibility that went far beyond wins and losses on the football field.   

While it's likely that we'll never know the full extent of Anderson's abuse and the institutional failures that enabled him for over three decades, we do know that the University of Michigan now has more than enough information to make an informed decision on how to move forward.  One way or another, it's a decision that will have dramatic consequences in the weeks, months and even years ahead.

The clock is ticking.