The men below are former University of Michigan students who are all sexual abuse survivors of Dr. Robert Anderson. They have decided to share their stories to help create awareness of the sexual abuse that has occurred at the University of Michigan. For privacy reasons, some have chosen to remain anonymous.
University of Michigan sexual assault victim says he felt like he’d been gut punched when he read about the Anderson sexual abuse cover-up.
When news broke that University of Michigan Dr. Robert Anderson’s sexual abuse was covered up for decades, one victim was so devastated he couldn’t get out of bed to go to work.
The victim, “Sam,” has asked to remain anonymous.
“I was completely numb….I couldn’t get out of bed for two days and I couldn’t go to work. It felt like a gut punch,” Sam said. “What we’re finding out is this university that I’ve loved for so long was involved in a cover-up of a sexual predator. That’s not sitting well with me in any way.”
Sam, who attended U-M in the early 1990s, said the cover-up “angers him to no end.”
“Anderson’s victims were young people, like me, most of us were away from home for the first time,” he said.
“We were trying to manage school, money and our social lives – all those pressures. It’s an exciting time in life but at the end of the day we were still kids working our tails off trying to figure it out.”
Sam went to the health center for both a knee issue and fearing he might have been exposed to an STD the previous weekend.
“I saw two doctors. The first physician went by the book and performed a legitimate test,” he said. “When he left the second physician, Dr. Anderson, came in and announced he was going to check my knee then give me a complete physical. He gave me a rectal exam, inspected my genitals and had his hands all over my body, even my neck, shoulders and torso.”
He remembers leaving the exam room and thinking “that’s messed up. I didn’t go in there for all of that. It was completely humiliating.”
Sam never told anyone what happened and never heard about any other students being assaulted.
At the time of his assault, Sam was an athletic young man, a member of the crew team, while Anderson was the doctor assigned to give athletes physicals.
“I was a big guy from a small town,” he said. “I was a sports guy and played hockey all my life. I thought I could protect myself. So, I couldn’t help but wonder, ‘How did I let that happen?’ It bothered me for a while but eventually I shut it out.”
Today Sam is overwhelmed by the Anderson revelations and now wonders how the assault impacted his life in the intervening years.
“All of the stuff that’s coming to light makes me wonder how much it’s piled on. These kinds of traumas get embedded in your psyche and your nervous system and have a profound affect. Here we are years later, finding out dozens of similar stories regarding Anderson’s abuse. Many of these abuses were reported along the way and nothing happened, nothing was done,” he said. “It’s disturbing as hell that Michigan looked the other way.”
He asked, “Why didn’t the university actively protect its students? Students are to be prized and honored: without them U-M wouldn’t exist.”
He’s calling on university leaders to admit to the cover-up and put new policies in place that permit current and future students to report abusive behavior.
“Students who do report abuse need to be heard and believed. There needs to be a better way, Michigan has to do better,” he said.
Sam has discussed what happened with a therapist he’s been seeing for depression and anxiety; both symptoms are common among sexual abuse victims, which is why he’s encouraging other Anderson victims to seek counseling as well.
“I believe therapy is more important now than ever before,” he said. “I’m finding it takes on a different form to go after this specific issue.”
Sam has also reported the Anderson incident to the U-M hotline that was set up as part of the university’s investigation into the Anderson years. That number is 866-990-0111.
“Dr. Robert Anderson’s sexual abuse was an ‘open secret.’ “
Ward Black grew up in suburban Chicago, where sex was never discussed by his parents or in the greater community. But he quickly learned that being a student at the University of Michigan involved being sexually abused.
“I’m an athlete, I’m a freshman and I looked like I was 14 years old when I arrived on campus,” Ward said.
He arrived at U-M in July 1969 as a summer school student. More about that later.
In the fall of 1969, Ward was in his late teens when he saw “Dr. A” for the first of four annual athletic physical exams. To his surprise, the exams included being digitally penetrated.
“Having a hernia and prostrate check was a given thing when you saw Dr. A in his office,” he said. “He was always checking for hernias and prostate problems whenever an athlete needed treatment for an injury of any nature. I think abuse is the right word to describe what happened because I don’t think you need to be checking prostates on 19-year-olds.”
When Ward complained to gymnastics Coach Newt Loken about the doctor, who was nicknamed “Dr. Drop Your Drawers,” the conversation went nowhere.
“Coach smiled a little, shrugged his shoulders and changed the subject,” Ward said.
Ward attributed Coach Loken’s inaction to a campus culture that both revered and feared Athletic Director Don Canham.
“Athletes would ask their coaches, ‘Do I have to go to this guy,’ and that’s where it would end,” he said. “The coaches would not go any further than that. They would not go to the administration and they would not go to Athletic Director Don Canham because Canham was all-powerful – nobody bucked him. He made so much money for the university and the athletic department because he excelled at what he did.”
He added that Coach Loken could have been putting his job in jeopardy if he sent complaints about Anderson up the ladder.
“Canham created an environment of fear, which was basically a cover-up of Dr. Anderson’s abuse of athletes,” Ward said. “Canham even brought Anderson back after he was fired.”
Anderson was demoted from his position as health service director in 1976 because of rumors of sexual misconduct. Yet he was allowed to remain on staff as an athletic team doctor.
“Canham didn’t want any negative publicity about the athletic department, so nobody wanted to rock the boat,” Ward said, “And if somebody’s rockin’ it let ‘em go. I think that’s why the Michigan wrestler was dismissed from that team.”
According to the Detroit Free Press, wrestler Tad Deluca wrote a nine-page letter to Canham and Coach Bill Johannesen that said, “Something is wrong with Dr. Anderson. Regardless of what you go in there for, Dr. Anderson makes you drop your drawers.”
Deluca was thrown off the wrestling team and his scholarship was taken away.
Coach Johannesen told the Associated Press earlier this year that none of his athletes reported being abused by Anderson, although he did recall hearing them “joking” about Anderson.
Ward described Anderson’s abuse as an “open secret.”
“We athletes talked about it amongst ourselves,” he said. “I was co-president of the undergraduate Lettermen’s Club for three years, so I supervised a lot of guys from different sports – gymnastics, swimming and diving, hockey, baseball, wrestling, track and field, and cross country.
In the late 1960s and early ‘70s, the U-M Intramural Sports Building was where “everybody intersected – faculty, staff, students and athletes. There was only one shower area and it was an open shower area, and when you went to take a shower you’d always see gay professors hanging out there, staring at you. We called them the prunes,” Ward said. “The university shouldn’t have allowed that.”
He went on to describe a gay campus culture where naked professors participated in closed, faculty-only water polo matches during the summer of 1969, when Ward was hired as a part-time lifeguard.
“That first day was a real eye-opener,” he said. “I had no idea what I was signing up for until that first day.”
Asked if there was sex involved, Ward replied, “No, not really. But sex was implied because they were naked and the pool was closed to the public.”
Were you propositioned?
“Yes, kind of. There was never anything physical but I knew what was going on because they hit on me. Throughout my four years on campus, anytime I’d be approached I just excused myself and walked away. I never gave anybody any indication that we should have lunch or dinner or whatever,” Ward said.
Looking back, Ward’s biggest complaint is that university administrators permitted an inappropriate sexual culture to flourish on campus.
“My biggest complaint is that the professors were using campus facilities to hit on people. One of the things I really believe is that professors shouldn’t be trolling for sex on campus. I’m not anti-gay and I believe in personal freedom, which means I don’t have any problem with consensual sex among adults. But adults hitting on immature teenagers is another story,” he said. “Professors shouldn’t be hitting on students in the first place, let alone while they’re using campus facilities. At the very least, take it off campus.”
Ward has been involved in gymnastics since he was five years old. He began teaching age-group gymnastics as an eighth grader and worked for USA Gymnastics from 1979-84. Ward has also coached men’s and women’s college gymnastics, including a stint as an assistant coach at the University of Oklahoma from 1973-76. Although he’s now retired, Ward continues to follow and write about the sport, and has written extensively about the Michigan State/Dr. Larry Nasser gymnastics scandal.
“Nasser and Anderson are exactly alike,” he said. “Both doctors participated in a masquerade: Anderson cloaked his abuse under the guise of hernia and prostate checks, while Nasser said he was massaging young female gymnasts’ pelvic floors to ease their back pain, when in reality he was molesting them.”
He hopes to see the University of Michigan establish a transparent complaint process, so athletes and other students are believed when they complain about sexual abuse.
“If I make a formal or informal complaint to my coach it should go someplace. My coach should not be afraid to go to an administrator or ombudsman. Don’t shut the coaches or the students down – no one should be afraid to come forward.”
Ward is encouraging other men who were victimized by Dr. Anderson to also come forward. He believes strength in numbers will help ensure the Anderson case isn’t swept away as a “he said, she said” type of story.
Jim, University of Michigan Baseball Player
“No one should have to go through what I went through. The university needs to make sure doctors are properly vetted and procedures are set-up so physicians aren’t alone with athletes. A nurse or nurse’s assistant should always be in the room. My assault probably wouldn’t have happened if someone else had been there.”
Dr. Robert Anderson’s sexual abuse of students had gone unchecked for decades when he molested a young baseball player during a mandatory physical exam.
The player, “Jim,” has asked to remain anonymous.
Until recently, Jim never told anyone what happened during that traumatizing exam. He’s coming forward now – after more than 30 years of silence – to add his voice to the growing chorus of students and athletes who want to make sure that current and future students are protected from predator-doctors like Anderson.
Jim’s sexual assault occurred in the spring of 1988.
“No one should have to go through what I went through,” he said. “The university needs to make sure doctors are properly vetted and procedures are set-up so physicians aren’t alone with athletes. A nurse or nurse’s assistant should always be in the room. My assault probably wouldn’t have happened if someone else had been there.”
But it was just Jim, alone with Dr. Anderson.
“He wanted to give me a hernia exam, which requires you to pull down your pants and underwear a little bit. They probe a certain area, you cough twice and you’re done,” Jim said.
When Jim didn’t fully expose himself, Anderson became irritated.
“He asked me to lay on my back and he pulled my pants and underwear down to my knees,” Jim said. “He grabbed my testicles and scrotum, manipulating my penis for about three minutes. When I got off the gurney he asked me to bend over and touch my knees. It was very awkward because my pants were still down.”
Jim said he’d had extensive physicals before but “never like that. He was doing stuff he didn’t explain and it gave me the creeps.”
All he could think was, “when this is over I’m getting out of here as fast as I can.”
Other baseball players apparently experienced the same thing, Jim saying that “we all talked about it in the locker room, but we didn’t talk about it in detail. Everyone just looked at each other and said, ‘That guy is gay.’ We didn’t dwell on it; you just manned up because you didn’t want the other guys to know it bothered you.”
Jim isn’t sure if his baseball coaches and trainers knew about Anderson’s assaults but he didn’t complain to them because he was afraid of being kicked off the team.
“I wasn’t going to risk having it jeopardize my position with the team because I’d always wanted to play ball at U-M,” he said.
What happened that day has had lasting effects.
He said, “Every time I’ve gone to the doctor since then I’ve been leery. When I needed medical attention regarding a rectal concern, I sought out a female proctologist.”
Other than that, he’s tried to banish the memory. But everything came flooding back when the Anderson scandal broke in early 2020.
Seeing Anderson’s name in the news all the time makes it hard to move on, but Jim hopes that support from his tight-knit family will see him through the difficult times to come.
“I could barely speak when I told my wife and kids because it’s very traumatic to admit what happened; I’ve tried to push it away but I know I need to confront it. I’m still ashamed and it’s still humiliating,” Jim said. “My family was shocked and sad for me when I told them.”
Jim is an educator who says he’s done his best to protect his children and other children from harm.
“I’m there to protect them even if I couldn’t protect myself,” he said. “I’ve talked to my kids about what to expect in a physical and I have a mantra that I go through with my students. I go over established protocols with other staff members that say no student should be alone with any staff member – especially during a physical with a doctor. It’s a precaution that ensures the physical is done right.”
That mantra and the established protocols are things that Jim takes to heart because he knows “what it feels like to be on the other side.”
Jim Barahal, University of Michigan Pre-Med Student
“I remember leaving the health center and thinking, ‘What was that?’ But it’s something guys just don’t talk about.”
Our client Jim Barahal was a pre-med student at the University of Michigan when he went to the university’s health service in the mid-1970s for a sore throat.
The visit didn’t go as expected: Jim was digitally penetrated by Dr. Robert E. Anderson, who was the health service director at the time. “I never forgot it,” Jim said. “I don’t want my life’s legacy to be that of a victim but physicians need to know they can’t do that.” Jim graduated from U-M’s medical school in 1978. As a pre-med student, Jim knew immediately that Dr. Anderson’s actions were “completely inappropriate” but he was too embarrassed to tell anyone. “I remember leaving the health center and thinking, ‘What was that?’ But it’s something guys just don’t talk about,” he said.
He joins more than 100 former U-M students and student-athletes who have recently come forward alleging they were sexually abused by Dr. Anderson. Victims have reported being assaulted as far back as the late 1960s; the abuse continued until 2002, the Associated Press reports.
While the allegations against Anderson are shocking, some are downright explosive: for example, three victims told the Detroit Free Press that Anderson traded sexual favors in exchange for letters that would help them avoid the Vietnam War draft.
“Anderson was known as “doctor drop your pants Anderson.” “
Jim was “appalled” to learn that Anderson had victimized other students during his 35-year tenure at the university.
Anderson retired in 2003 and died in 2008.
The university launched an investigation into the Anderson abuse allegations when news of the scandal broke in mid-February. The real rub, however, is that university officials apparently knew more than 40 years ago that Anderson was molesting students. Although Anderson was demoted when the abuse allegations initially came to light, he continued to work on campus as an athletic team doctor, among other things.
Evidence of retaliation against complainers has also come to light, with one former wrestler saying he was kicked off that team in 1975 because he complained about Anderson’s unnecessary rectal exams.
Other athletes had similar experiences, the wrestler said.
Jim was training with the cross-country team when his assault occurred. He decided to go public with his story now in hopes of helping other Anderson victims.
“The only way for victims to heal is if they’re believed and the only way they’ll be believed is if people like me come forward,” he said.
Jim is the longtime president and CEO of the Honolulu Marathon and was inducted into the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame in 2015. He’s now represented our U of M sexual abuse victim’s law firm. Attorneys Mike Bomberger and Steve Estey, the lead attorneys behind this website, are well-known for taking on big institutions that have acted negligently.
Bill Herndon: University of Michigan Student
“Dr. Anderson wouldn’t remove the needle from my arm until I agreed to give him oral sex.”
It’s been nearly 50 years since Bill Herndon was sexually abused by Dr. Robert Anderson but the memory of that horrible day is clear and the story he tells is shocking.
Bill grew up in North Carolina, where he taught himself to play the piano. He eventually gravitated to the organ and was taking lessons from a teacher who recommended he major in music at U-M.
“My teacher said, ‘I think you’d be happy there,’ which is why I set my sights on the University of Michigan,” he said.
Bill arrived on campus in the fall of 1971 with a secret: he knew he was gay but he hid his sexuality because he thought he was “the only homosexual in Ann Arbor.”
His U-M organ professor became a father figure of sorts and one day Bill confided that he was suffering from a urinary tract infection.
“I asked my professor what I should do and even though I wasn’t sexually active he suggested I go see Dr. Anderson for an STD test,” he recalled. “I was examined by Anderson and we did the ‘drop your drawers’ thing. He examined my penis and gave me a rectal exam, which I expected, but then he had me lie down on a gurney for a blood test. He got the needle in my arm…”
This is where the telling becomes difficult, so Bill takes a minute to collect himself before continuing.
“…and he pushed his crotch into my hand, which was off the gurney, and kept it there. Then, as he continued to press his crotch against my hand he said, ‘The medicine for this could be expensive but I can get you some for free. He kept up the pressure until I agreed to give him oral sex. He wouldn’t remove the needle until I agreed. Then he unzipped his pants and presented his penis for service.”
Bill does not think his professor knew Anderson was sexually abusing students.
Complaints about Anderson’s sexual misconduct date to at least 1968. According to the Detroit News, that’s when student Gary Bailey complained that Anderson “dropped his pants” and asked him to fondle his genitals. The News goes on to say that Mr. Bailey “never heard back from anyone” at the university.
Anderson was demoted as director of the health service in 1976 because of rumors about his sexual misconduct. Today, it’s hard to believe that Anderson’s “punishment” included being re-assigned as an athletic team doctor.
Bill called Anderson’s demotion a “sweetheart deal.”
“It was a double-dealing way of saying we fired him,” he said. “I view bureaucracies as institutions that are like a wagon train – when bad news comes along, they circle the wagons and protect themselves, and if anybody gets hurt in the process that’s OK – it’s just collateral damage.”
Bill’s abuse at the hands of Dr. Anderson damaged him in ways that continue to impact his life.
“I remember being scared to death,” he said. “I was ashamed, so I never officially reported it. But I got very depressed and my self-esteem went from zero to negative 100.”
And he dropped out at the end of his freshman year.
“In 1971, I thought it was my fault and it was OK for Dr. Anderson to assault me. That kind of thing was acceptable back then,” he said.
But it’s not acceptable today. With the advent of the #MeToo movement, Bill knew he couldn’t stay silent any longer.
“I decided to tell my story,” he said. “The day I called Estey & Bomberger I went to work as usual and one of my co-workers commented about people reporting 50-year-old sex crimes. He said, ‘All they’re interested in is money,’ and I said, ‘Funny you should mention that – I was sexually assaulted at the University of Michigan 50 years ago. I never reported it but I’ve thought about it all my life.’”
Going forward, Bill hopes to see more effective policies and services put in place to protect current and future students. An October 2019 U-M report said that women on campus are less confident than men that sexual assault complaints would be taken seriously or investigated fairly.
“They need to make sure people’s complaints are credibly addressed,” Bill said. “I know they have processes in place today that deal with sexual abuse, but apparently they’re not working like they should be. Back in 1971 there wasn’t anywhere you could go to complain without fear of reprisal, so when students today come forward and say, ‘Person A did this to me,’ the university needs to take it seriously and deal with it up front.”
He did offer kudos to U-M for setting up a nationwide network of mental health counselors who are available to help Dr. Anderson’s victims.
“I didn’t think talking about this would be so emotional but now I think many of us may need to talk to professionals,” he said.
Bill reported his abuse to the U-M hotline that was set up in mid-February 2020, shortly after news of Anderson’s abuse became public. To date, he is one of more than 100 students and student-athletes who have come forward.
Steve: University of Michigan Hockey Player
“Dr. Robert Anderson’s inappropriate sexual behavior was a “running joke’ in the locker room.”
A scholarship athlete who attended the University of Michigan in the 1970s says Dr. Robert Anderson’s so-called “hernia checks” were openly discussed by hockey players in the locker room.
The hockey player, “Steve,” has chosen to remain anonymous.
“We called him ‘Dr. A’ and we joked about having to see him for a hernia check,” Steve said. “I don’t recall if we talked about it outright but it was implied that hernia checks were a synonym for him squeezing your testicles and having you cough. We talked about it so openly that it’s hard for me to believe the coaches, equipment managers and training staff didn’t hear us. It was not a secret.”
Steve thinks the testicle-squeezing gave Anderson a “rush.”
“I never saw him sexually aroused,” he said. “But I think it was a rush for him. He did it often enough that it makes you wonder…”
Rectal exams were another way Anderson abused male students and student-athletes.
“It seems like every time I went to see him he gave me a rectal exam,” Steve said. “He even gave me a rectal exam when I went in for non-sports-related injuries. After a while, I started going to the health service if I got a cold or anything unrelated to sports. So, I tried to limit my visits to Anderson but sometimes I wouldn’t be cleared to play if I didn’t go see him. We all had to go.”
He added that there was an “underlying anxiety of having to see him that was always there.”
Steve believes he was molested by Anderson more than a dozen times, including one time when the doctor played with his foreskin.
“I knew what he was doing was inappropriate and it made me feel uncomfortable,” he said. “It made me question my sexuality, which really upset me.”
There are several reasons why Steve did not report Anderson’s ongoing abuse.
He said, “I had a great fear that people might think I enjoyed what Anderson was doing and I was definitely afraid of having to leave school. Also, Anderson was a doctor, an authority figure, and I was brought up to trust and respect authority.”
The M-U/Anderson case is eerily similar to the Ohio State/Richard Strauss scandal. Strauss was a health services doctor who also gave physicals to male athletes. It’s estimated more than 1,000 young men were sexually abused by Strauss during the nearly 20 years he worked at OSU.
Many of Strauss’ victims said they didn’t report being abused because they were taught to trust and respect authority figures; still others said they’ve avoided doctors for much of their adult lives because Strauss destroyed their ability to trust.
“I’ve always avoided urologists and I think it was related to what Dr. Anderson did,” Steve said. “I finally went for a few prostate exams when I was in my fifties that were clinical and professional, and they didn’t last long.”
Steve is now in his sixties and said, “As I approach the third period of my life I want the truth to come out and I want my voice to be heard. What he did was wrong.”
A student of Eastern philosophy, Steve has never seen a “traditional” counselor but said, “I could definitely use counseling. I’d also like to see an anonymous service set-up for current athletes who are sexually abused to come forward without being penalized. I’d love to see that.”
When the Anderson scandal broke in mid-February 2020, Steve’s “mind went dizzy with the revelations. I had blocked it out until I read about it.”
After reading about it, Steve reached out to a college girlfriend who told him that he became “anxious and started to laugh nervously whenever Anderson’s name came up. She knew he was a sore subject and she knew he made me uncomfortable.”
Even though the scandal has upset and angered Steve, the revelations have also brought perspective.
“I was talking to my wife about living an authentic life and this suddenly appears, and it showed me that all my previous spiritual learning helped prepare me for this next chapter of my life.”