There wasn’t a kid in America in the 1970s who loved Bo Schembechler more than I did.
Growing up in nearby Toledo, we had season tickets for University of Michigan football games, so I lived and died with Bo and his team. I shed many a tear when Michigan lost, which happened far too often against Ohio State in the regular-season finale and Pac-8 teams in the Rose Bowl.
Later, when I became a journalist and interviewed Bo on occasion, something whimsical always popped into my head: What would that young girl sitting with her father and siblings in Michigan Stadium have thought of this?
Which brings us to Thursday and the absolutely horrible allegation made by Schembechler’s son Matt that when he told his father he had been sexually assaulted as a 10-year-old boy by Michigan football team doctor Robert Anderson during a 1969 physical, Bo flew into a rage — not against the doctor, but against the boy, punching his son with a closed fist to the chest, knocking him across the kitchen.
“I don’t want to hear this,” Matt Schembechler quoted his father as saying, according to the Detroit Free Press. “Never talk to me about this again.”
Matt Schembechler said Anderson fondled his genitals and digitally penetrated him. “I tried to tell him repeatedly,” Matt said of Bo, “but my efforts earned me a punch in the chest. It was the beginning of the end for our relationship.”
Hundreds of Michigan athletes have accused Anderson of sexually assaulting them, including fondling them and giving them rectal exams even though they came to him complaining of a sore throat, bad elbow or other ailment. 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. More than 800 cases in all are currently in mediation in federal court.
Only one of those people, though, is Bo’s son. If what he said Thursday is true, it would mean his father not only allowed Anderson to continue sexually assaulting and abusing young people for potentially another 34 years until he retired in 2003, he also perpetrated domestic violence against his young son in his own home. Schembechler died in 2006. Anderson died in 2008.
If it’s true, the University of Michigan must do to Schembechler what Penn State did to Joe Paterno after he ignored Jerry Sandusky’s sexual assaults of young boys. The statue must come down. The football building needs to be renamed. All reverence for the man must cease, replaced by revulsion.
Cancel culture? You bet. If this is true, Bo Schembechler isn’t a legend, he’s a monster.
There has already been one investigation of Anderson’s alleged abuse, but it sounds like another is in order now that Matt Schembechler has told his story to the news media. The default position of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh so far has been to defend Bo and stick his head in the sand.
That’s not going to work anymore. It’s not just Matt Schembechler; he was joined at the news conference by two former Michigan players, Daniel Kwiatkowski, an offensive lineman from 1977-79, and Gilvanni Johnson, a wide receiver from 1982-86. Kwiatkowski said he was assaulted by Anderson four times. Johnson said he was assaulted 15 times.
“Before my freshman physical, you would hear players joking about having to see ‘Dr. Anal,’” Johnson said. “The exam was very painful. I felt humiliated and confused. I’d never had a physical like that. I told Bo that Dr. Anderson played with my genitals and he put his finger in my anus. Bo said he would check on that with the medical staff. I never heard back from Bo.”
Attorney Mick Grewal, who represents Matt Schembechler and dozens of others in the case, said it bluntly: “Bo knew. If Bo listened to his son, these two gentlemen (Kwiatkowski and Johnson) would not be sitting up here today.”
The horrifying stories these men told strike at the heart of everything Michigan is and has been over the past 50 years: its legacy, its identity, its good name. Bo wasn’t just Michigan football. He was Michigan.
For years, he also was the Big Ten — he and Woody Hayes. Ah, the Big Ten. Look at the massive sexual abuse and sexual assault scandals the conference has given us: Penn State, Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan. My God, it’s staggering.
What was said by Bo’s son and two of Bo’s players Thursday cannot be ignored. This is not just about Anderson. It’s about Bo. What did he know? When did he know it? How many times was he told?
So many questions, including one more: What would that young girl sitting with her father and siblings in Michigan Stadium have thought of this?