Monday, June 14, 2021

Bo Schembechler and Sexual Abuse At The University of Michigan

If you grew up in the state of Michigan in the seventies or eighties, the University of Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler was something akin to a demigod. You might not have cared for Bo if you were a Michigan State or heaven forbid Ohio State fan but Bo was an icon. 
He restored the U-M football team to prominence. He won thirteen Big Ten Titles. Bo was, at least as far as the public could see, a tough mean SOB with a hidden heart of gold who turned boys into "Michigan Men". For much of the time Bo was at U-M, there weren't many other winning local teams, professional or collegiate. More than anyone before or since, Bo Schembechler was Michigan. 
If you were searching for a stereotypical hard nosed masculine football coach who preached and lived doing the right thing, if you wanted to find a man who drank TNT and smoked dynamite, if you were hunting for a man who stood in the path of the Apocalypse and sneered "Is that your best shot?", then Bo Schembechler was that man.
Be tough. Stand up for yourself. Be a man. Put the welfare and safety of your peers and those under your protection before your own well being. Always do the right thing no matter what it costs. The team, the team, the team. That's what Bo was all about. Or so we were led to believe. Apparently, allegedly, there was another side. 
Just 10 years old at the time, Matt Schembechler said that he summoned the courage to tell his new stepfather a horrific, uncomfortable and humiliating truth: During a physical examination he’d been fondled and digitally penetrated by a doctor, Robert Anderson. Anderson was the team doctor for the University of Michigan football team, which Matt’s stepfather, Bo, coached. This was 1969, and as Matt tells it now, Bo told him he didn’t want to hear about the incident and even struck the child hard enough to knock him across the kitchen in the family’s Ann Arbor home.
“My effort earned me a punch in the chest,” Matt Schembechler said Thursday at a news conference. Undeterred, Matt said his mother, Millie, had Michigan athletic director Don Canham over to the house to hear the story. Matt described what happened and said Canham went to fire Anderson, only to have Bo step in the way and save Anderson’s job.

Anderson would remain the Wolverines' team doctor until 2003, which spanned 13 Big Ten championships won by Schembechler during a heralded career.
It also resulted in some 850 allegations from former players that Anderson would routinely fondle, abuse and rape them during routine physical therapy and checkups.
The allegations against Anderson, who died in 2008, aren’t new. They were so prevalent at the time that Anderson was dubbed “Dr. Anal” by members of the football program. Also not new is the idea that Bo Schembechler, who died in 2006, knew generally of Anderson’s abuse. A recent university-funded report even detailed numerous stories of Bo being directly told. That included one from Daniel Kwiatkowski, an offensive lineman from 1977-79, who on Thursday detailed his own molestation by Anderson and his reporting of it to Schembechler.
“Bo said, ‘Toughen up,” Kwiatkowski said. “Bo knew.”
“Bo knows everything that goes on on campus,” said Gilvanni Johnson, a Michigan wide receiver from 1982 to 1986, while fighting back tears. Johnson added that Anderson’s behavior was so well-known that coaches would threaten trips to see him as a motivational ploy. "Only now do I realize how crazy it was to threaten rape as a way to make players work harder," Johnson said.

Some people have said that these allegations are not consistent with the Bo they knew. Well of course. I'm sure Dr. Anderson didn't molest every college player he met, either. Many of the people mentioned in these stories have departed this world. 
But the issue is not just what a dead football coach knew or didn't know. The real issue is that there are living former coaches, doctors, and other administrators in and out of the University of Michigan athletic department who had to have known about Anderson's alleged behavior. And it wasn't just football players who were Anderson's prey. 
Four complaints could have uncovered Anderson's behavior early in his career, the report says. Among them was a 1975 letter written by former UM wrestler Tad DeLuca to coach Bill Johannesen and assistant wrestling coach Cal Jenkins complaining about the doctor. But neither coach asked about Anderson's behavior or referred it for an investigation, according to WilmerHale. DeLuca wrote a second letter in 2018 that triggered the UM police investigation that became public when Stone came forward in 2020.
Jokes, banter, and innuendo about Anderson’s conduct were widespread but did not cause concern among UM officials, the report says. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, at least three separate complaints reached Thomas Easthope, the former associate vice president for student services, according to the report. But Anderson wasn't fired. Instead, he was moved to the Athletic Department and Michigan Medicine, according to WilmerHale.
So it looks as if the entire University brain trust over a multi-decade period either knew or should have known about Anderson's behavior. And they looked the other way. Integrity is doing the right thing when no one knows about it or when it costs you. 
It's too late for the University to show that. That boat has long sailed. All the University can do now is (1) make financial amends to the victims, (2) provide total transparency as to who knew what and when and (3) rename the buildings and remove the statues. But I doubt that the second will happen.
Some people have downplayed Anderson's actions or asked why the various young strong male athletes didn't throw Anderson a beating. I think those are silly questions. 
There are grown people who are right this minute tolerating racist/sexist treatment or bullying behavior at their job because they feel they must provide for their family. There are other grown people who are accepting abuse from their spouse or lover.  There are even some parents who are ignoring their children's complaints about an uncle who touches them inappropriately. Surely we wouldn't expect college athletes to show more courage than adults. This is just another example that sexual predators come in both genders and all walks of life and sexualities. And so do sexual assault victims. 
I'd like to believe that none of this is true. But when you have 800+ allegations and proof that at the very least the University looked the other way, it's true. Schembechler and the other U-M employees who knew and did nothing were and are scumbags. Those still alive should all be fired, sued, and possibly imprisoned.
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