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Anderson survivors: Bo Schembechler knew of abuse and did not stop it

enlarged image of a school ID
Emma Winowiecki
Michigan Radio

Updated June 10, 2021 at 2:41 p.m.

Former legendary late University of Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler knew about Dr. Robert Anderson's abuse as early as 1969. That's according to three survivors who came forward with detailed information at a press conference today, including Schembechler's own son, Matt, who claims he was abused at the age of 10.

photos of three men
Credit Emma Winowiecki / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Left: Matt Schembechler; Top right: Daniel Kwiatkowski; Bottom right: Gilvanni Johnson. All three men spoke at a press conference Thursday confirming Bo Schembechler knew of Anderson abuse.

Also coming forward were former Michigan football players Daniel Kwiatkowski and Gilvanni Johnson, who were referenced anonymously in a university-commissioned report conducted by WilmerHale.

The three men described their experience with the late Anderson, noting that he made efforts to arouse them, digitally penetrated them, and inappropriately touched them.

"I was 17 years old and full of piss and vigor and wanting to become a Michigan Man and Michigan football player. But Bo didn't keep me safe. He broke his promise to me and my family in the fall of 1977," Kwiatkowski said at the conference. "Bo knew. Everybody knew. It's hard to share this story, but I hope that in doing so I can bring some peace to other survivors."

Johnson described coming to Bo Schembechler about what had happened to him while getting a physical before his freshman season in 1982. Bo told him he would look into it, but Johnson never heard anything about it again. Other players told Johnson to not bring it up with Bo again or else he might jeopardize his scholarship. Johnson saw Anderson about 15-20 more times during his career at Michigan.

"If Bo had stopped Dr. Anderson after the first exam my freshman year, the rest of the assaults would never have happened," Johnson said. "If he had stopped Dr. Anderson before 1982, I would not have been victimized at all."

Current Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh made comments earlier this month defending Bo Schembechler.

"I can tell you this," Harbaugh said to the media at a showcase event at Ferris State, Thursday, June 3. "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."

Several times during Thursday's press conference, Matt Schembechler urged those in attendance not to bring Harbaugh into the discussion and that his comments were not why he came forward.

"I love the Harbaugh family. Jim has nothing to do with this," Schembechler said. "Don't draw Jim Harbuagh into this. He deserves no negative feedback in this. Jim didn't know. As a kid he was a bit naive. Don't take shots at Jim. He doesn't deserve it."

However, Johnson confirmed that Harbaugh's comments did play a part in him coming forward.

"He don't know what I went through. He don't know what me and Bo said," Johnson said. "Like I said, he can say what he went through and what he did, but I know for myself that I told Bo and the relationship we had afterwards. I'm not saying that he did know, but I am saying there's no way that all of this goes on and you not even be privileged with information. Sometimes things are just overlooked."

All three men agreed that the University of Michigan needs to take accountability to ensure a situation like this does not happen again. 

Original Post: June 9, 2021

The son of the legendary late University of Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler says he was sexually assaulted by Dr. Robert Anderson. Matt Schembechler and two former U of M football players will speak about their experiences with Anderson—and what they told Schembechler about them—at a press conference scheduled for Thursday.

Bo Schembechler in 1985
Credit UM Bentley Historical Library
Bo Schembechler in 1985.

A recent university-commissioned report, conducted by the law firm WilmerHale, found that Anderson, who died in 2008, sexually abused U of M patients and athletes on “countless occasions” during his decades with the school.

That report also found that several former U of M football players informed Schembechler of Anderson’s abuse during routine physical exams. According to the report, Schembechler either dismissed those reports, or did nothing about them.

Two of the players who did so, and were referenced anonymously in the WilmerHale report, are Daniel Kwiatkowski and Gilvanni Johnson. They will speak alongside Matt Schembechler on Thursday, according to a press release put out by the men’s attorneys on Wednesday.

“Matt Schembechler will set the record straight regarding his own abuse by Dr. Anderson and his father’s failure to protect him and other athletes,” according to the release. It goes on to say that Kwiatiowski was assaulted by Anderson during a 1977 physical, but upon reporting it to Bo Schembechler was advised to “toughen up.”

Johnson reports that he was assaulted in 1982, and reported that to Bo Schembechler. Schembechler promised to address the issue with medical staff, but apparently never did so. Johnson reports that he was then sexually assaulted by Anderson another 15-20 times.

Schembechler was not the only U of M employee who was apparently informed about Anderson’s misconduct, but either dismissed or ignored it. The WilmerHale report found that “At least a small number of University personnel were aware from early days of concerns about Dr. Anderson’s conduct with patients.”

Attorneys for some Anderson survivors have called the WilmerHale report inadequate, and called on Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel to conduct a full criminal investigation. Current U of M President Mark Schlissel “offers [the university's] heartfelt apology for the abuse perpetrated by the late Robert Anderson.”

Bo Schembechler coached U of M football from 1969-1989, compiling a 234-65-8 record and earning a spot in the College Football Hall of Fame. He died in 2006.

*Editor's Note: The University of Michigan holds Michigan Radio's license.

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Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
Jodi is Michigan Public's Director of Digital Audiences, leading and developing the station’s overall digital strategy.
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