June 22, 2021

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Matt Schembechler: I told my dad about Dr. Anderson sexual assault in 1969

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In 1969, a young Matt Schembechler sat in his family’s Ann Arbor home, waiting for his dad to come in. He had news he needed to share — he had been sexually assaulted by the doctor that his dad, Bo Schembechler, then in the first year of what turned into an iconic career coaching the University of Michigan football team, had sent him to for a routine physical.

He thought that would end the doctor’s career at the University of Michigan. 

It didn’t.

Dr. Robert Anderson went on to work as a doctor at University of Michigan until 2002, including being the head medical doctor for Schembechler’s teams.

Hundreds of University of Michigan athletes have accused Anderson of sexually assaulting them, including fondling their genitals and giving them rectal exams, even when they showed up with sore elbows or sore throats. Other Michigan students have accused Anderson of giving out draft deferrals from the Vietnam War in exchange for sex acts. Hundreds of men have sued the university for not stopping Anderson. The cases are currently in mediation in federal court.

On Thursday afternoon, Matt Schembechler, along with Daniel Kwiatkowski, a Michigan offensive lineman from 1977-79, and Gilvanni Johnson, a wide receiver from 1982-86 who also played for the Detroit Lions in 1987, will hold a news conference to detail their allegations. According to a news release, Kwiatkowski was abused by Anderson four times and Johnson was assaulted 15 times.

“The thing with Dr. Anderson (and) Bo has stuck with me for years,” Matt Schembechler told the Free Press in a phone conversation Wednesday night. “It’s been hurtful, I felt betrayed. The coverage of what happened at MSU with Dr. Nassar really woke me up.”

MORE:Bo Schembechler’s son will speak about team doctor’s sexual abuse, father’s failure to protect him

Former Michigan Wolverines football coach Bo Schembechler speaks during a press conference on Nov. 13, 2006 before the school's game against Ohio State.

He said some players he knew have also talked in recent times about Anderson’s abuse and that helped him as he thought about coming forward to “help make sure that nobody again has to go through something like this.”

The news release said Kwiatkowski was first assaulted during his first team physical in 1977, and when he reported the conduct to his coach, Bo Schembechler said Kwiatkowski should “toughen up.”

According to the news release, Johnson told his coach he was assaulted by Anderson during his first physical in 1982, but after Schembechler said he would address it with the medical staff, no changes were made.

In May, an investigation conducted by the law firm WilmerHale concluded that Anderson’s misconduct was reported “several times between 1978 and 1981,” but that a “senior University administrator … did not take appropriate action.” 

Back in 1968, Anderson was just starting his career at Michigan. Bo Schembechler married Matt’s mom, Millie, and then in 1969 left Miami University of Ohio, where he had been the head coach, to come to Ann Arbor.

Once in Ann Arbor, Matt wanted to play in youth sports. Schembechler sent him to Anderson for a required physical.

Anderson fondled Matt’s genitals and digitally penetrated him.

He told his mom, Millie, about it right away.

“Even as a little kid, I knew it was really wrong,” he said. “I knew if I told her she would tell me if it was wrong.”

Millie, a nurse, was upset and told Matt he needed to tell Bo about it when he got home from coaching.

Matt did. 

Bo exploded in anger, Matt remembers. “I don’t want to hear this,” Matt said Bo said, adding Bo also said “never talk to me about this again.”

Nothing happened to Anderson, so a little later Millie went up the street to their neighbor — then-Michigan athletic director Don Canham, who also would become a legend in the athletic department’s history.

“I thought he was the bee’s knees so I was comfortable talking to him,” Matt said.

Canham came to Schembechler’s house while Bo was at practice. Matt told him the same story. Don got quiet and said he’d take care of it.

The young Matt thought that meant Anderson would be fired.

Later, he heard Bo and Millie arguing and heard Bo say something about needing Anderson on his staff.

Anderson went on to be heavily involved in all sorts of aspects of the athletic department, including the football team. In letters, memos, postcards, meeting minutes and other official papers documenting Canham’s and Schembechler’s time at Michigan, Anderson’s name pops up regularly. He’s found in letters documenting ideas discussed on football team plane trips; on rosters for stays at hotels for bowl games, and even in less-than-flattering reviews of his doctoring, a Free Press review of boxes of documents stored at Michigan’s Bentley Historical Library show.

Canham died in 2005. Bo Schembechler died a year later. Anderson died in 2008.

For the next several years, Matt got his physicals from someone else. But in 1975, Matt, now a high school sophomore, needed a physical.

With the neighbor doctor gone, Bo sent Matt back to Anderson. Anderson again sexually assaulted Matt. 

During those early years in Ann Arbor, the entire football staff, including the Schembechlers and Andersons, hung around together a lot.

“We were all very close,” Matt said. “It was our social network. It was really nice, a really wonderful situation, except for Dr. Anderson.”

Last week, current Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh defended his former coach’s reputation when asked about the Anderson situation at a football camp at Ferris State.

“I can tell you this,” Harbaugh said. “Bo Schembechler … there was nothing that I saw in the times when I was a kid here, my dad was on staff or when I played here … he never sat on anything. He never procrastinated on anything. He took care of it before the sun went down. That’s the Bo Schembechler that I know. There’s nothing that ever was swept under the rug or ignored. He addressed everything in a timely fashion. That’s the Bo Schembechler that I knew.” 

Contact David Jesse: djesse@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @reporterdavidj.

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