The University of Michigan said Wednesday it will pay $490 million to 1,000+ former athletes who have accused the late Dr. Robert Anderson, UM’s team physician for 37 years, of traumatic sexual abuse. The agreement is one of the largest ever settled with an American university to resolve allegations of sexual abuse.
“Dr. Drop Your Drawers” is what the male university athletes called him, but no one was laughing and officials did nothing. Former UM athletes claim that repetitive visits to see Dr. Anderson were required to participate in UM athletic programs, and not just football: wrestling, hockey, swimming, track/field and tennis. Sex assault happens to men, too. In this case, powerful athletes whose careers could take them to the top of the game.
Anderson, who died in 2008, has thus far been accused of 1,194 allegations of on-campus rape, 916 allegations of fondling and one off-campus rape—2,111 reports over his 37-year career. Only a handful of females were reportedly involved, but some charges have been brought by former UM female athletes. It may be the largest sex assault case by a single perpetrator in U.S. history and, notwithstanding the difference between sports and religion, possibly the largest sex assault scandal since the Catholic Church, pundits suggest.
The University of Michigan claims it was only made aware of the allegations against Anderson when former UM wrestler Tad Deluca, inspired by #MeToo and Nasser’s conviction, wrote a letter to current UM Athletic Director Warde Manuel in May 2018 disclosing abuse he faced in the 1970s. That sparked a response from UM officials, who for the first time opened a hotline for victims to call. Deluca said he first wrote a nine-page letter to then-athletic director Don Canham and a coach, Bill Johannesen, in 1975. Canham and Johannesen immediately kicked him off the team and stripped him of his full-ride scholarship.
The abuses ranged from painful instrument penetration, genital fondling and forced masturbation to rape. Jon Vaughn, former NFL star running back and a Black man who was a UM student 30 years ago, said the doctor collected semen from him on multiple occasions, waving off the procedure as research on creating “a perfect Black athlete.” About half of Anderson’s victims were Black.
Robert Stone, now a national sportscaster, went public in March 2020, and soon an army of victims coalesced, setting off a flurry of investigations. Olympians, Super Bowl champions and NFL heroes publicly announced they were preyed upon by Anderson while the UM athletic department continued to do nothing. In fact, Vaughn says, he believes the coaching staff came to use the threat of Anderson visits to make players work harder on the field.
Matthew Schembechler, former UM football player and adopted son of once-mythic Coach Bo Schembechler, said he was abused by Anderson at age 10—including testicle fondling and digital rectal sodomy. When he revealed the incident, his father punched him so hard he flew across the room shouting, “I will not hear Dr. Anderson denigrated.”
January 4, 2022, Michigan House legislation announced that a 30-day window would be created for former Anderson victims to file a lawsuit regardless of statute of limitations and without government immunity for the university. Michigan’s notoriously short statute of limitations for sexual assault has kept untold victims from seeking court action, while harboring the institutions that shelter abusers and abuse.
Along with Anderson, most of the other key figures are now dead: Head Coach Bo Schembechler, UM Athletic Director Don Canham and former UM Vice President of Student Life Tom Easthope, the latter claiming he once fired Anderson but, in fact, did not. Bill Johannesen, one of the only coaches still living, denies ever receiving Deluca’s nine-page letter in 1975.
“Believe me when I tell you that the board of trustees at the time, including all of the coaches—everyone was afraid of Canham,” an anonymous former athlete said. Anderson, however, was once reportedly fired by Canham and then reinstated by Schembechler.
Survivors say they want to be called individually by name to receive a no-buts personal apology from the system that destroyed their college sports careers and ruptured their futures.
They were also demanding legal, retroactive, retribution for 1,050 champions growing old. Today they won a solid victory toward that end, while the saga continues.
If you were abused by Dr. Anderson, there is still time to take part in the lawsuit. Contact us now to get started.