A University of Michigan student told Bo Schembechler he was sexually assaulted by Dr. Richard Anderson, a lawsuit alleged Thursday. This happened in 1982, when the student, known as John Doe 17, was examined by Anderson for migraine headaches and said he was digitally penetrated.
The student was part of the broadcast team in the athletic department and had a relationship with Schembechler. The coach had recommended Anderson, the team doctor. And when the student reported back to Schembechler what Anderson had done, the coach allegedly reacted angrily and told him to tell the athletic director, Don Canham.
In other words, he passed his coach’s whistle to someone else. That’s not just disappointing, it’s unsurprising.
How could it not be at this point?
[ Archive papers show Dr. Anderson’s ties to Michigan football program ]
Almost 400 accusers have come forward about alleged abuse by Dr. Anderson. There are at least 50 lawsuits. We will likely never know the scope of who knew what and when.
But we do know this: the University of Michigan let a predator roam its campus for damn near 40 years, including at least two decades after John Doe 17 said he told the most famous coach in the school’s history that a doctor forced his finger into his rectum while examining him for a headache.
Should Schembechler have done more? By today’s standard, absolutely. There is protocol and the chain of command; there is doing what’s right.
But by the standards of 1982? Well, it’s easy to harshly judge an era by applying the standards of contemporary society. In this instance, though, the coach still knew it was wrong.
That’s why he reacted angrily. That’s why he sent John Doe 17 to Canham’s office.
Schembechler was right that Canham needed to know. He was wrong in who delivered the news. And to whom it should’ve been delivered.
At the very least, the coach should’ve told the athletic director himself and saved John Doe 17 more shame.
He also should’ve followed up. Even though John Doe 17 said in a news conference Thursday that he didn’t blame the coach and that Canham was at fault and that he would defend Schembechler “until the day I die.”
This isn’t surprising, either. Few things are harder than reconsidering a hero. And Schembechler was a hero to many.
“You need to keep in mind what the structure was,” John Doe 17 said when asked if Schembechler should have done more. “No coach, no assistant coach could come forward and do anything. I cannot blame Bo for not being able to come forward and speak to the media. Don speaks on any issue … Bo was powerless. I would hope that every other football player who was there would say the same thing.”
Sure, Canham was Schembechler’s boss. He ran the athletic department. He was very successful at raising money and expanding the reach of sports on campus.
Yet the coach was the face of the university. He was an icon by 1982. He used to regularly beat Ohio State. He kept Michigan Stadium full and donors’ pockets open. He had more than enough credit in the bank to seek some justice.
He could’ve led a quiet campaign to get Anderson investigated. He could’ve steered John Doe 17 to the police. This was 1982. Not 1882.
He also could’ve lobbied for Anderson’s removal, especially when he became U-M’s athletic director in 1988. But then that would’ve brought unwanted attention to campus, and to his beloved football program.
Which is to say that while Schembechler may have shown mercy and concern upon hearing John Doe 17’s story, he ultimately showed more concern for the Block “M” brand. What other conclusion can you draw?
That he was scared?
Yes, that’s possible. Sexual assault – particularly male on male – was hardly the subject of public conversation in 1982. In those days, predators often survived, even thrived, because society looked away with a mix of horror and paralysis, desperate to shove an abuser into someone else’s space.
[ Women also claim abuse by former University of Michigan doctor ]
Isn’t that what the school did when it moved Anderson from student health services to the athletic departmen…