Two former Michigan football players said Thursday they believe they could have been spared from sexual assaults if their coach, Bo Schembechler, had addressed complaints about former team doctor Robert Anderson made by Schembechler’s son Matt.
Both players said they also tried to warn Bo Schembechler about Anderson’s abusive treatment and were ignored.
Dan Kwiatkowski and Gilvanni Johnson joined Matt Schembechler on Thursday at a news conference in Michigan to share their stories. Kwiatkowski played offensive tackle for the Wolverines in the late 1970s; Johnson played wide receiver in the early 1980s.
Both men said they previously talked to investigators about being molested by Anderson while they were on the football team, but publicly revealed their identities for the first time earlier this week.
“If [Bo Schembechler] had stopped Anderson before 1982, I would not have been victimized at all,” Johnson said.
Anderson served in a variety of roles at the University of Michigan from 1966 to 2003, working closely with the athletic department for most of that time. More than 800 former patients have made legal claims that Anderson sexually assaulted them during physical exams and other routine medical appointments. Anderson died in 2008, a decade before claims about his abuse were widely publicized.
On Wednesday, Matt Schembechler said he was sexually assaulted by Anderson in 1969 when he was 10 years old. Matt Schembechler said that when he told his father what happened shortly after his appointment, the coach told his son he didn’t want to hear about it. Bo Schembechler then “put hands on” his wife, Millie, and punched his son in the chest, Matt Schembechler said.
Matt Schembechler said his father then blocked an attempt to fire Anderson.
Bo Schembechler died in 2006. Millie died in 1992.
“[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 during Thursday’s news conference. “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.”
Glenn “Shemy” Schembechler, who is Matt’s brother and Bo’s son, told ESPN on Thursday that he did not believe Matt’s story. Glenn, who is 10 years younger than Matt, said his father was “as loving of a person as you could imagine” and that if the coach had known that Anderson was sexually assaulting patients that he would have stopped it.
Glenn Schembechler said he could not refute the experiences of other players, but said he did not think his father was aware that Anderson was doing anything more than what would have been typical or acceptable in a physical exam at the time.
“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 on Thursday said that when he told Bo Schembechler about how Anderson digitally penetrated his rectum, the coach told him to “toughen up.”
Johnson said he told Bo Schembechler about Anderson assaulting him after his physical exam as a freshman. Johnson said the coach said he would check with the medical staff, but he did not follow up after the initial conversation.
Kwiatkowski and Johnson both said Anderson’s actions had long-term impacts on their trust in doctors and their personal relationships. They said players frequently joked about Anderson in the locker room when teammates returned from treatment.
Johnson said he recalled assistant coaches telling players that if they didn’t work hard, they would have to go have a visit with Anderson.
“Only now do I realize how crazy it was to threaten rape as a way of motivating players to work harder,” Johnson said.
Glenn Schembechler refuted allegations that his father hit his brother and mother, saying there was “no way” that his father would do that or that his mother would stand for being treated that way. He said he didn’t witness any type of violent conduct in his home while growing up.
Glenn Schembechler said he has not spoken with his brother for more than a decade and that relationships within their family have long been frayed.
Glenn Schembechler said his brother’s relationship with his father soured decades ago. In 1999, Matt sued his father and the University of Michigan over a dispute related to a sports memorabilia company he was running.
Matt Schembechler on Thursday said his father’s response to claims about Anderson in 1969 was “the beginning of the end” of their relationship.
“I was saddened, but I can’t say I was shocked,” Glenn Schembechler 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.”
Kwiatkowski, Johnson and Matt Schembechler on Thursday said they were coming forward now in hopes of preventing similar situations from happening in the future. Johnson said he was partially motivated to speak up after hearing comments made last week by current Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh.
Harbaugh, who played for Michigan while Schembechler was coaching the team in the 1980s, told reporters before this week’s allegations that he does not recall any instance when Schembechler left potential problems unaddressed.
“He never sat on anything,” Harbaugh said, according to the Detroit Free Press. “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.”
The three men who spoke Thursday are among hundreds suing the University of Michigan for failing to stop Anderson. A law firm hired by the school in 2020 found that multiple school employees failed to act when presented with credible claims about Anderson’s assaults. A mediation process to settle the claims began last October, but not has not yet produced any settlement.
“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.”