A two-time Super Bowl champion and a former world-class wrestler came forward on Wednesday alleging that they were sexually abused by a University of Michigan team physician under the guise of physical exams.
Dr. Robert Anderson directed the school’s University Health Service before eventually becoming the wrestling, football, hockey and track teams’ doctor. He worked at UM from 1968 to 2003, before dying in 2008.
During his time with the school, he allegedly abused hundreds of students, most of whom were young men, according to attorney Parker Stinar. Former athletes claim Anderson would exam their genitalia for unrelated problems and injuries.
“What happened to me in that room with Dr. Anderson, I have no words for,” former San Francisco 49er safety Dwight Hicks said. “I felt that I had to suck it up. I’m going to be a Michigan man. Maybe this is part of it.”
Reached for comment, UM spokesman Rick Fitzgerald reiterated the university’s previous condemnation of sexual misconduct and noted the school hired a law firm — previously tapped to investigate sexual misconduct allegations against a former provost — to launch an independent probe. Pending litigation forbade him from sharing more, he said, directing CNN to a website with university statements and background on the allegations.
“We have great admiration for all of the former U-M athletes and students who are bravely stepping forward to share their stories,” Fitzgerald said in his email.
CNN has tried unsuccessfully to reach Anderson’s relatives, but his children told The Detroit News earlier this year they didn’t believe the accusations. Son Kurt Anderson said, “That is just not him,” and recalled grateful patients expressing their love for his dad at the 2008 funeral.
“That’s ridiculous,” daughter Jill Anderson told the paper. “My dad was a beloved doctor at the UM for so many years. He was very well-respected. Everyone said he treated them with the utmost integrity and care.”
Statute of limitations expired, prosecutor has said
Many students refrained from leveling accusations against Anderson out of “shame, embarrassment and anger,” said Airron Richardson, the former co-captain of the Wolverines wrestling team and an alternate for the 2000 Olympics team. “As a physician, I am acutely aware of how Anderson violated the trust of his patients and used medicine as his shield.”
He added that Anderson “veered far outside what was medically appropriate or necessary with his examinations.”
Following a lawsuit filed against the university and its Board of Regents, former athletes will enter mediation with the university this fall, Stinar said. The university knew of the abuse, the attorney alleged, but did not intervene.
“I’m still proud of that university,” Hicks said, tearing up, noting that his daughter and brother also graduated from the university. “It means a lot to our family because I thought we were family, but family sometimes disappoints you.”
Campus police opened an investigation into Anderson in July 2018 after a former athlete wrote athletic director Warde Manuel about abuse experienced in the 1970s. Investigators identified ex-patients who recounted Anderson’s alleged misconduct and unnecessary exams — most of them in the 1970s, though one account came from the 1990s, the university said.
“The allegations that were reported are disturbing and very serious,” University President Mark Schlissel has said. “We promptly began a police investigation and cooperated fully with the prosecutor’s office.”
The allegations resemble those against Larry Nassar at Michigan State University and Richard Strauss at Ohio State University — doctors who used their positions of trust to abuse students and athletes. The cases also allege that powerful institutions ignored or dismissed complaints about the misconduct.
The statute of limitations on the allegations has passed, so no criminal charges can be brought, the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office said in February.
Previous athletes who came forward
Lawyer Michael Wright represents other former student-athletes who allege having been abused by Anderson. One client — Chuck Christian, a tight end for the Wolverines from 1977 to 1981 — says he was so traumatized by Anderson’s unnecessary digital prostate exams that he refused to go see doctors for decades, no matter how ill he was. He now has stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
The problem at Michigan was systemic, Wright previously told CNN. After representing 150 Ohio State athletes in their lawsuit involving Strauss, he finds the Michigan case “very eerily similar.”
At a news conference in February, three former wrestlers, including 2008 Olympian Andy Hrovat, shared stories of alleged abuse. Tad Deluca, a Michigan wrestler from 1972 to 1976, recalled receiving penis, hernia and prostate exams for a dislocated elbow, he said.
Students knew the team physician as “Dr. Drop Your Drawers Anderson.” Deluca complained to his coach, he said, and lost his scholarship.
Hrovat, an All-American who graduated in 2002, recalled teammates warning him exams with Anderson “were going to get weird.”
“To have to go into a room knowing that you’re going to encounter this is just, to me, horrific,” Hrovat said. “That’s why it’s always been in the back of my mind that this wasn’t right.”