Horrific Details Of Sexual Abuse at Michigan Largely Ignored Amid Debates Over Legacies

The disturbing 240-page report detailing the widespread abuse by a former University doctor has been overshadowed by debates over Bo Schembechler's legacy.
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It's been a little over two months since University of Michigan Regents released a report by the WilmerHale law firm.  The report came on the heels of a year-long investigation into Robert Anderson, a former doctor at the University of Michigan.  The investigation culminated in a 240-page report detailing disturbing abuse and misconduct by Dr. Anderson from 1966 to 2003.

Within that 240-page accounting was the name of a man known by virtually everyone within the college football community - former legendary head coach Bo Schembechler.

According to the report, multiple individuals, including members of his football team, claim to have approached Schembechler about Dr. Anderson's misconduct.  One of those individuals is former University of Michigan student Richard Goldman, who claims to have told Schembechler about Anderson's abuse on three separate occasions.  Goldman also claims he overheard an argument between Schembechler and Athletic Director Don Canham over complaints about Dr. Anderson's misconduct.

“Now I could hear Bo clearly and what he was saying," said Goldman. He was telling Canham, ‘What in the hell are you doing? Why hasn't this man been fired? This is the third time that this has happened. Why have you done nothing?’"

Schembechler's inclusion in the report immediately grabbed the attention of everyone who was following this story, so much so that the entire story became about Schembechler himself.  It was about what he knew, when he knew, his statue, the building in his name - it was about his legacy.  For weeks, the Michigan media, fans and alumni battled over Schembechler's role within this tragedy and how it should impact his legacy, all but completely ignoring the survivors and what they experienced during their time at the University of Michigan.

What little attention the survivors did receive from the Michigan community came mostly in the form of ridicule, including one prominent member - and current employee of the University of Michigan - openly disparaging the victims during a series of radio interviews.  Additionally, more than 100 former members of Schembechler's football program, including Jack Harbaugh, added their signatures to an open letter defending the former head coach.

While the debate over Schembechler's legacy raged on, the most important part of the report was quickly brushed aside and forgotten.

The WilmerHale report is far more than just one name on one page. In its entirety, the report is a disturbing account of a massive institutional failure that occurred over the course of nearly four decades.  It's an institutional failure that led to the repeated sexual assault of thousands of University of Michigan students and student athletes.

There's absolutely no doubt that what these students and student athletes endured is tragic, but perhaps equally as tragic is the fact that most of the abuse was preventable.

Though the WilmerHale report came far short of exposing the full-extent of Dr. Anderson's misconduct, there was more than enough evidence to determine that what occurred at the University of Michigan from 1966-2003 is the largest sexual abuse scandal in the history of college athletics.

Here is just a handful of important excerpts from the WilmerHale report.

Improper Examinations

"We have no doubt based on the evidence available to us, including the first-hand accounts of his patients, that Dr. Anderson engaged in a pervasive, decades-long, destructive pattern of sexual misconduct."

"Each of the medical experts we consulted confirmed that sensitive examinations like the ones described above are generally not indicated as part of an examination of college age patients for illness or injury, or as part of a routine PPE (pre-participation exam)."

"It was never consistent with the standard of care - in 1966, 2003, or today - to perform a genital or rectal examination on a patient seeking treatment for a knee injury."

"Rectal or prostate examinations were not part of standard PPEs or general physicals for asymptomatic college-age males without relevant medical histories at any point during Dr. Anderson's University career."

"Dr. Anderson's conduct was not consistent with any recognized standard of care and was, on the contrary, grossly improper."

"Dr. Anderson committed grossly improper behavior with his patients that constituted sexual assault by any definition."

"Dr. Anderson committed sexual misconduct on countless occasions during his nearly four decades as a University employee. He engaged in practices that were improper in a clinical or educational setting - and would have been improper in any other setting."

"Several patients told us that Dr. Anderson proposed, implicitly or explicitly, engaging in quid pro quo arrangements involving sexual contact in exchange for expensive medication."

Scope of Abuse

"This finding is based on the information received from almost 600 of Dr. Anderson's former patients and interviews with more than 300 of those patients."

"We recognize that this group of patients represents only a fraction of the total patients treated by Dr. Anderson in University settings between the late 1960's and early 2000's.  In all likelihood, Dr. Anderson abused many patients in addition to those who provided information to us."

"Many patients who shared the their information with us may not see their specific experiences reflected in the report.  That does not reflect a judgement on our part that those patients were not credible or that their experience were not significant.  Rather, it is a necessary consequence of the scope and duration of Dr. Anderson's misconduct, such that it is impossible to chronicle every improper incident."

Targets of Dr. Anderson's Abuse

"A significant number of affected patients were members of susceptible populations.  Some had limited experience with doctors or had never before received an adult physical examination."

"A number of LGBTQ patients felt that they had little choice but to abide by Dr. Anderson's abuse, as reporting him meant outing themselves at a time when LGBTQ individuals were stigmatized."

"Some student athletes feared they would lose playing time or their scholarships if they complained to their coaches."

"Some patients needed Dr. Anderson's help to get a medical exemption from the Vietnam War-era draft."

There is no gray area when it comes to Robert Anderson and his misconduct while employed by the University of Michigan. 

Beyond the countless instances of improper rectal examinations - otherwise known as rape, the WilmerHale report detailed several different methods that Dr. Anderson would use to assault his patients.  According to the report, Dr. Anderson would ask some of his patients to perform sexual acts on him, including quid pro quo arrangements involving sexual contact in exchange for expensive medication.

Dr. Robert Anderson was employed by the University of Michigan from 1966-2003

Dr. Robert Anderson was employed by the University of Michigan from 1966-2003

One of the more disturbing methods was how Dr. Anderson collected sperm from his patients.  Not only were patients asked to give the sample in front of him, Dr. Anderson would often assist his patients during the process.  

I recently had a discussion with Jon Vaughn, former University of Michigan football player and survivor of Dr. Anderson's sexual abuse, during which he described his encounters with the former doctor.  From 1988-1990, Vaughn estimates that he was sexually assaulted by Dr. Anderson over 40 times.  During our discussion, Vaughn gave a brutally honest account of one encounter with Anderson in particular.

"I gave my first sperm sample my freshman year," said Vaughn.  The freshman running back had developed some discomfort in his groin area, leading to a visit with Dr. Anderson one day before practice.  "He told me, 'I'm going to need a sperm sample in order to be able to treat you.' This is the first time I've ever had to give a sperm sample in my life."

Under the guise of conducting a standard medical procedure, Dr. Anderson assisted Vaughn with the process, claiming it was necessary for a good sample.  

"He said he needed to be the one to take the sperm sample so that it was complete." 

Dr. Anderson would ultimately collect sperm samples from Vaughn on four separate occasions during his collegiate career - and now Vaughn wants answers.

jon vaughn

Former University of Michigan running back Jon Vaughn speaks at a press conference near Michigan Stadium.

"It was a periodic thing in which he took those samples," said Vaughn.  "Once those samples were taken, still to this day I can't find the chain of custody or the records of where my sperm is."

Vaughn claims that he, through his attorney, has made several attempts to gain access to his medical records from the University of Michigan. In response, Vaughn says that the University of Michigan claims the records no longer exist.

Amos Guiora, Law Professor at the University of Utah and author of the book, "Armies of Enablers", says that the missing records are part of a bigger issue that the University of Michigan needs to answer for.  Guiora points to UM's purchase of Dr. Anderson's private practice in the mid-90's,  at which point the University of Michigan took ownership of all medical records for Anderson's patients.  

"Anderson had medical records that the University of Michigan wanted to own," said Guiora. "One of the issues that absolutely needs to be addressed is who authorized the purchase of Dr. Anderson's practice".

Just prior to Michigan's purchase of his private practice in the mid-90's, Anderson was facing a lawsuit over an accusation of sexual assault. The 1995 lawsuit alleged that Anderson sexually assaulted a patient during a pre-employment physical.  Once the University of Michigan acquired his practice, Anderson would be required to complete an application process for credentials, which were required in order to maintain his practice within the Michigan Medicine system. According to the WilmerHale report, it was another missed opportunity by the University of Michigan to put an end to Anderson's abuse.

"The University did not conduct due diligence with respect to a 1995 lawsuit alleging that Dr. Anderson assaulted a patient during a pre-employment physical. Dr. Anderson himself disclosed the lawsuit on an application for Michigan Medicine credentials in September 1996."  

Time and time again, the WilmerHale report describes multiple instances in which University of Michigan leadership failed to recognize or take action against Dr. Anderson's misconduct. The failure to act allowed a sexual predator to violate and assault thousands of students and student athletes over the course of nearly four decades.

In addition to battling with the abuse itself, many of the survivors are now in a battle over transparency and accountability.

That is the story.

Yes, Bo Schembechler is a part of this story. Former University doctor Robert Anderson is also a part of this story, as is former Athletic Director Don Canham, former student reporter Richard Goldman, former wrestler Tad Deluca, former football layer Jon Vaughn and the thousands of others who were impacted by this tragedy.  

What happened at the University of Michigan from 1966-2003 is a tragedy worthy of our attention, as are the survivors who continue to fight for transparency and accountability.