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Former Michigan football coach ignored warnings of sexual assault by team doctor

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In an explosive news conference on Thursday, two former players accused former Michigan head coach Bo Schembechler of ignoring their warnings of sexual assault from a former team doctor.

Dan Kwiatkowski and Gilvanni Johnson joined Matt Schembechler on Thursday to come out publicly for the first time and share their stories. The new conference came on the heels of Schembechler coming out on Wednesday and announcing that his father knew about the abuse at the hands of former team doctor Robert Anderson but refused to act on it.

Kwiatkowski, who was an offensive tackle during the 1970’s, and Johnson, who was a wide receiver in the early 1980’s, both said they had talked to investigators previously about being molested by Anderson while they were on the team but this was the first time they’ve publicly spoken on it.

“If [Bo Schembechler] had stopped Anderson before 1982, I would not have been victimized at all,” Johnson said.

Anderson, who died in 2008, had served in a variety of roles at the University of Michigan between 1966 and 2003, primarily with the athletic department. The claims of abuse were not made public until 2018, a full decade after his passing; more than 800 former patients have made legal claims that Anderson had sexually assualted them during physical exams and routine appointments.

On Wednesday, the elder Schembechler son, Matt, came out and said that Anderson had molested him in 1969 when he was just 10. When he went to tell his father shortly after, the coach said he didn’t want to hear about it and then proceeded to “put hands on” his wife, Millie, before punching Matt in the chest. Bo then blocked an attempt by the university to fire Anderson. Millie passed away in 1992, while Bo passed away in 2006.

During the new conference Thursday, Matt said that his father believed that loyalty to his team was important, and that Anderson was a huge part of that team.

“[Bo] believed no man is more important than the team. Dr. Anderson was part of Bo’s team, therefore he was more important than any man,” Matt Schembechler said. “I’m coming forward for my own healing and to help prevent people and institutions from exploiting the trust and power given to them in the future.”

Matt’s younger brother, Glenn “Shemy” Schembechler, did not believe his older brother’s claims, saying that the father he knew would have  put a stop to the behavior if he believed that Anderson was truly acting in the way his players had reported. While he did not refute the experiences of the players, he believes his father wasn’t aware that Anderson was doing anything outsider of the normal scope of his job.

“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.”

Kwiatkowski recalled a meeting with Bo Schembechler in which he reported that Anderson had digitally penetrated his rectum; in return the coach had told him to “toughen up”. Johnson had a similar experience, telling the coach that Anderson had sexually assaukted him after a physical exam as a freshman. Schembechler initially told Johnson he would follow up with the medical staff, but never followed up with Johnson afterwards. Both Kwiatkowski and Johnson said that Anderson’s actions had a long-term impact on their trust in doctors as well as their personal relationships.

Glenn Schembechler acknowledged that he hadn’t spoken to his brother Matt in more than a decade while refuting his allegations that their father had ever been violent while they were growing up.

“I was saddened, but I can’t say I was shocked,” Glenn said when asked about his reaction to his brother’s public statements this week. “My heart goes out to the victims, but I know for certain that if Bo were here, he’d feel the same way. He would have gone to any lengths to help his players.”

Kwaitkowski, Johnson and Matt Schembechler are among the hundreds of former students suing the University of Michigan for failing to stop the former doctor. A law firm hired by the university in 2020 discovered that multiple school employees ignored credible claims of Anderson’s sexual assaults. Last October, a mediation process to settle the claims began but has produced no settlement as of now.

“Our sympathy for all of Anderson’s victims is deep and unwavering, and we thank them for their bravery in coming forward,” said a statement from the University of Michigan in response to Matt Schembechler’s allegations. “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.”

 

Chris Bullock
Chris Bullock
Before joining The Ball Out, Chris Bullock was part of SB Nation's Swish Appeal for nearly three years, covering everything women's basketball. Chris has had the honor of doing live coverage of the WNBA Finals, the NCAA Tournament, and also was given his own column, "The Triple Double". A self-described "foodaholic", Chris lives in the San Diego area with his wife and two daughters, and also hosts his own podcast, "Conscious Cravings", where he speaks about his experience as a mental health advocate.

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