Several former players, coaches of staff members of Michigan football who played and worked for Bo Schembechler are coming to his defense.
Last week, two former players, Gilvanni Johnson and David Kwiatkowski, along with Schembechler’s son, Matt, detailed the sexual abuse they suffered as patients of Dr. Robert Anderson, the longtime physician and football team doctor.
All three men said in a news conference on Thursday that they told the iconic football coach what Anderson did to them, but the younger Schembechler (in 1969), Kwaitkowski (1977) and Johnson (1982) all said the coach did nothing about it.
But now another group of the ex-players’ peers have started an online petition to defend Schembechler’s legacy.
“Our experiences tell us that the Bo Schembechler we knew would never have tolerated any abuse or mistreatment of his players, his staff, or any other individual,” the petition on Change.org reads. “We believe firmly, that if he were aware of such behavior, Coach Schembechler would have acted immediately to put a stop to it and would have made sure anyone responsible for it would have been removed from the University of Michigan football program.
JEFF SEIDEL: Bo Schembechler’s legacy forever damaged. His statue should come down
“We want to be clear, as a group we are sympathetic to all victims of sexual abuse. Yearly physicals by family doctors, or athletic physicals by a university doctor were the same physicals as performed by the United States military. There was no reason to suspect abuse in those circumstances. If Coach Schembechler was aware of any criminal or sexual abuse, as we stated above, in our opinion, he would have been outraged and taken action immediately. It is reasonable to assume that Coach Schembechler, like many at the time, believed the physicals were not abusive but rather performed in accordance with standard medical practices.”
Meanwhile, in a news conference on Wednesday, dozens of other former players and U-M students are expected to meet outside of Michigan Stadium to go public as survivors of Anderson’s abuse and call for the Board of Regents to take action.
MITCH ALBOM: Allegations against Bo Schembechler are devastating; so are the victims’ stories
Jim Brandstatter, the former U-M offensive lineman under Schembechler and longtime voice of Wolverines football, said in radio interviews over the weekend that it’s not fair to connect his former coach to Anderson.
“I got tremendous sympathy for those who suffered the misconduct of Dr. Anderson. Don’t get me wrong there, that conduct is inexcusable. But in my opinion to tie Bo to that is also wrong. Especially just on allegations,” Brandstatter said according to published reports. “Let’s face it, Bo is being convicted with no real documentable proof — just statements. My defense of Bo’s integrity and character should carry as much weight – I think anyway, there are others out there who don’t think so — but carry as much weight his accusers. In law, isn’t every accused afforded the right to a vigorous defense? Well, Bo is gone now, and he has no defense.”
Two weeks ago, in just his second public comments about Schembechler’s connection to the Anderson report, U-M coach Jim Harbaugh, who played at Michigan from 1982-86 when Anderson was working with the team, said he did not believe Schembechler would have stood idly by if he knew about Anderson’s behavior.
SHAWN WINDSOR: Whatever you think about Dr. Anderson survivors, don’t ask ‘why now?’
“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,” Harbaugh said.
The Free Press has reached out to each member of the Board of Regents regarding the status of the statue of Bo Schembechler outside of Schembechler Hall on campus. None of responded except chairwoman Denise Ilitch, who forwarded the statement released by the university during last week’s news conference. It reads:
“Our sympathy for all of Anderson’s victims is deep and unwavering, and we thank them for their bravery in coming forward. 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.”
Free Press staff writers John Wisely and David Jesse contributed to this report. Contact Kirkland Crawford: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @HiKirkHere.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Ex-Michigan football players start petition defending Bo Schembechler