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Matt Schembechler comes forward against father Bo in UM sexual abuse case

Matt said he was first abused by Dr. Robert Anderson in 1969 when he was just 10 years old.
Published: Jun. 10, 2021 at 9:25 AM EDT|Updated: Jun. 10, 2021 at 6:09 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - Matt Schembechler, the son of legendary Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler, came forward with evidence against his father in the case involving a university doctor believed to have sexually abused hundreds of patients.

Schembechler’s attorney said his client was abused by Dr. Robert Anderson and that his father failed to protect him and other athletes.

Matt Schembechler stated that in 1969 when he was in the fourth grade, he was sent to Anderson for a physical exam before starting tackle football with the Junior Wolverines. At that time, Anderson was the team doctor for the University of Michigan.

“As a 10-year-old kid, I didn’t really know what to expect,” Schembechler said. “What Dr. Anderson did made me uncomfortable.” Schembechler went on to describe the inappropriate physical procedures Anderson performed. He said he told his mother Millie, a registered nurse, as soon as he got home. She wanted Matt to tell her husband in her presence.

“When Bo got home, I told him what happened. That did not go well,” Schembechler said. “Bo’s temper was legendary and he lost it. He screamed ‘I don’t want to hear this, I’m not hearing this.’ I tried to tell him repeatedly but my effort earned me a punch in the chest. This was the beginning of the end of the relationship with him. I hoped my father would protect me but he didn’t.”

Schembechler went on to say his mother did not give up and went over Bo’s head, asking athletic director Don Canham to come to their home to hear what happened to her son. Canham told Matt’s mother he would handle it.

“It is my understanding that Mr. Canham terminated Anderson, but shortly thereafter Bo had him reinstated,” Schembechler said. “Because he needed his team doctor and wanted to ensure Anderson stayed part of the Michigan team.”

Schembechler said he returned to Anderson for his next football physical while in the 10th grade. He stopped the physical after being groped by Anderson. He did not see Anderson again until his freshman year of college, prior to joining the Western Michigan University football team.

“This time, Anderson didn’t lay a hand on me,” Schembechler said. “He just signed the paper clearing me to play.”

Schembechler went on to say many other football players at the University of Michigan were not as fortunate as him. He said he heard stories about Anderson’s abuse while training with them in the mid-1970s.

“We now know, because of players coming forward, that Anderson’s abuse of players and students for over 30 years was the worst-kept secret at the university,” Schembechler said. “I understand the reverence people have for my father, including Jim Harbaugh. But I know the truth: Anderson abused me and countless others over three decades. It’s clear the culture of abuse at the University of Michigan has not changed and will not change until they acknowledge what happened. Anderson was able to continue this abuse for so long because he was supported by a culture that placed the reputation of the university above the health and safety of students. That is the culture that made my father a legend and placed his statue in front of Schembechler Hall.”

Schembechler ended his letter by saying:

“As a coach, he believed that no man is more important than the team. Dr. Anderson was part of the University of Michigan team, he was part of Bo’s team, therefore he was more important than any man. It’s very clear that Bo and the University always put themselves before any student-athlete or son just to support the brand. I’m coming forward for my own healing and to help prevent people and institutions from exploiting the trust, power, and authority given to them. I sincerely hope that in some way, we’ll be protecting others where Bo and the university failed to protect me.”

Following the reading of his letter, a photo of Matt from 1972 was presented by attorneys.

“This happened to a 10-year-old boy,” said Okemos-based attorney and University of Michigan graduate, Mick Grewal. “We’re talking about a pedophile predator that was protected by Bo Schembechler.”

Matt Schembechler, now 62, was joined by former Wolverines Daniel Kwiatkowski and Gilvanni Johnson at a news conference at the Sheraton Detroit Novi, stating they were assaulted several times by Anderson and alerted the coach, who did nothing to stop it.

Kwiatkowski, who attended Michigan from 1977-1981, reflected on Bo’s promise to his family as he recruited Daniel during his senior year of high school.

“During the meeting, aBo made promises to my parents,” Kwiatkowski said. “Bo promised them that if I attended the University of Michigan and played football, that Bo would be a father to me and look after me like I was family. We were a poor, working-class family and my parents were very worried about my future and being able to pay medical bills. Bo promised my family that he would keep me safe and make sure that I got the best medical treatment. We were sold. When Bo left my house, my family and I knew there was no question I was going to become a ‘Michigan Man.’”

Kwiatkowski said he was just 17 and Bo did not keep him safe.

“He broke his promise to me and my family in the fall of 1977,” Kwiatkowski said. “My freshman year, I attended my first mandatory physical with Dr. Anderson. During that physical, Dr. Anderson molested and violated me.” Kwiatkowski said Anderson asked him detailed questions about his sex life, before moving on to highlight the inappropriate actions of Anderson.

“I couldn’t believe that Bo and the university would break its promise to protect and take care of me like family. I kept telling myself there’s no way that Bo would let something bad happen to us. After practice one day, I approached Bo and reported to him that Dr. Anderson had digitally raped my rectum. Bo looked at me and said ‘toughen up.’ Bo knew, I knew then I was on my own and Bo was never going to protect us from Dr. Anderson.”

Kwiatkowski said that after he reported what Dr. Anderson had done, Bo forced him to attend three more physicals with Dr. Anderson in 1978, 1979, and 1981. Anderson violated him again and again.

“The scars of what happened to me by Dr. Anderson and Bo never went away, I have avoided doctors ever since that time, jeopardizing my own health.”

Kwiatkowski attended a University of Michigan reunion in 1999. Both Dr. Anderson and Bo Schembechler attended as well.

“It was supposed to be a celebration of U of M and its players, and all that we accomplished, But When I saw Dr. Anderson, I immediately became sick, just like I had 20 years earlier as a teenager,” Kwiatkowski said. “Here I am, an adult, feeling anxious and sick to my stomach, just like I had when I went into those exam rooms with Dr. Anderson. When it finally came time to say hello to Bo at the reunion, I felt oddly nervous. That’s when Bo told me: ‘Don’t be afraid of me, I can’t hurt you anymore.’ Bo’s statement couldn’t have been further from the truth.”

Johnson reflected on how Bo knew everything that happened on the Ann Arbor campus, and how Bo promised his family the same things he had promised Kwiatkowski and his family.

“Before my pre-season physical my freshman year, you would hear of a classmate talking about seeing ‘Dr. Anal” - I didn’t know what that meant,” Johnson said. He went on to say that Anderson performed a painful, humiliating exam.

Johnson said Anderson’s actions happened repeatedly at each following exam. Johnson told Bo about the uncomfortable exams.

“Bo said he would check on that with the medical staff. I never heard back from Bo and we never discussed it with me again. Other players told me not to bring it up again for fear that Bo would pull my scholarship. I was told not to rock the boat.”

Johnson went on to say that coaches at Michigan would joke about Dr. Anderson and threaten with his exams if they felt student-athletes were not working hard enough.

“Only now do I realize how crazy it is to threaten rape as a way of motivating players to work harder.”

Johnson says he saw Dr. Anderson about 15-20 times during his four years at Michigan.

“Because of my experience, I do not trust doctors and have delayed important medical care. I have trust issues, relationship issues, and intimacy issues. I have always been too promiscuous in an effort to prove to myself and to others that I’m a man. Because Michigan did not take care of me like they promised my mother, I was molested over and over again.”

Johnson claims he lost two marriages because of Bo’s decision to keep Dr. Anderson on staff, knowing he was molesting athletes.

“I am grateful for the chance to tell my story and hope that other people who may be in similar positions know it’s okay to protect yourself from a perverted doctor and the coaches that cover up for him.”

Johnson said the reason he decided to come forward is that he was a social worker who dealt with children who were being molested, saying some of the most heinous things he saw were n the kids’ files.

“I don’t want any other kids to go through what those kids went through, myself, my former teammates, Michigan teammates, kids in the future - they shouldn’t have to go through this,” Johnson said. “Hopefully, we’ll bring light to the situation where it never happens again.”

Gerwal emphasized that Bo knew the story of all three survivors.

“I don’t think it needs to be ever said again that Bo did not know. Bo knew,” Gerwal said. “If Bo had listened to his son, these two gentlemen would not be sitting up here today. If Bo had listened to either one of them, hundreds of victims could have been saved. This needs to change, our culture needs to change.”

Grand Rapids-based attorney Stephen R. Drew attended the University of Michigan before Bo’s tenure and before Canham. He started in 1967, graduating from Michigan Law in 1974.

“I was on campus during this time. I celebrated the 24-12 victory that Bo had over Woody (Hayes). Believe me, as a student, we celebrated,” Drew said, reflecting on Bo’s 1969 win during the “Ten Year War” between Michigan and Ohio State. “But the time is always right to do what is right.”

Drew went on to say that the time was right in 1969, the 1970s, and the 1980s for Bo, Canham, and others in management at the university to stop Anderson’s actions.

“It is more than a coincidence that in several universities, physicians and other persons of authority in athletic departments have become predators and that they have been allowed and enabled to sexually abuse these children, these young students, and visitors to their campus,” Drew said. “Michigan State, Penn State, Ohio State, Southern California, charges against UCLA, and now Michigan - how many more do we need? We need to have total accountability. We need to stop the argument that we are immune from responsibility.”

Drew quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. saying “we need to now do what is right... so that people who are entrusted to these universities, the students and people that invited on campus, are protected and are more important than the power, the privilege, and the profits of the program. More important than the team. More important even than the brand. The brand needs to be accountability.”

A 240-page report paid for by the university found that Anderson, who was an athletic team doctor, sexually abused patients on “countless occasions.”

When asked why he chose to come forward now, decades later, Matt Schembechler said the opportunity was there and he feels that socially, they are all ready to accept it and handle it responsibly.

“I don’t think we were ready as a culture even back in the 70s we were ready to handle this,” he said. “What do I want out of it? That nobody even considers doing this to another kid in college, to trusting athletes.”

He stated that he could care less what his father may have thought of the news conference. When asked if he had “that much” animosity towards the late coach, Matt said “That much experience. I don’t hate Bo. I just don’t like him.”

Kwiatkowski and Johnson emphasized that Bo knew everything about the team, including how they felt about Anderson.

“If you would have walked through our locker room at that time, it was a constant joke,” Kwiatkowski said. “If you had come back from the doctor, you got teased because you ‘got Dr, Andersonized.’ It was common knowledge.”

All of the survivors were asked what Michigan needed to do to take accountability, including removing a statue or renaming a building.

“Me, personally, it’s that they wouldn’t allow a predator to persist for all those years,” Kwiatkowski said. “It wasn’t just Bo Schembechler that allowed that predator to persist - it was the whole university. He was fired, re-hired, he hid. There’s a lot of facts that you guys should be looking up that went on during that time. It was all about saving money as far as I’m concerned. They were starting to build that brand, build that program and they built it on our backs.”

“Don’t get me wrong, Bo was a good coach,” said Johnson. “But, for me, in my remembrance of him at this point, is he allowed kids 17 or 18 years old to continue to be assaulted when he could have did something about it. Being a great coach doesn’t give you a pathway to let other things happen to kids.”

Anderson served UM as the head of University Health Services and the team physician from 1966-2003. He also worked as a training physician for the UM Athletic Department beginning in 1968. He died in 2008.

Bo Schembechler was the head football coach at Miami University before leading Michigan for two decades, from 1969 until 1989 compiling a career record of 234–65–8. He died in 2006.

The University of Michigan’s football facility is named Schembechler Hall in his honor.

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