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“U-M athletic director Don Canham knew Dr. Robert Anderson was assaulting students and did nothing to stop him”

August 14, 2020 | Survivor Stories

One of the 53 men suing the University of Michigan for allowing Dr. Robert Anderson to sexually assault students spoke about his abuse at a July 31 news conference.

The student, who is identified as John Doe 17 in the lawsuit, was a football play-by-play announcer at the university-owned radio station when he first saw Dr. Anderson for migraine headaches in 1981.

He got more than he bargained for when Anderson sexually assaulted him.

“I remember thinking afterward that was bizarre,” he said. “But then I saw Anderson again in 1982 and he assaulted me again. The second time it happened it was not just a ‘what was that,’ this was now a pattern and I knew something was very, very wrong.”

John Doe 17 was referred to Dr. Anderson by head football coach Bo Schembechler. So, when Anderson assaulted him that second time in 1982, he immediately told Schembechler about it.

“Schembechler was visibly angry. I felt from the look on his face and from his actions that this was the first time anybody had ever reported the abuse to him,” John Doe 17 said. “He also told me to get my butt into Canham and tell him right away.”

But Canham wasn’t interested in hearing what John Doe 17 had to say.

“He blew me off,” John Doe 17 said. “It was typical Don Canham. The man was such an arrogant ass that nothing anybody ever told him actually sunk in. He just blew it off like it was nothing and sent me on my way.”

Canham did not seem surprised at the news that Dr. Anderson was a sexual predator, he added.

John Doe 17 was still suffering from migraines when he saw Dr. Anderson a third time in 1983.

“This time I tried to stop him from assaulting me,” he said. “I did successfully fight him off but it was still quite an uncomfortable and disgusting experience. Let’s face it – when you go in for a migraine you don’t expect the type of exam that Anderson was trying to pull off.”

John Doe 17 again reported Anderson to Schembechler and Schembechler once again told him to tell Canham.

And again nothing happened.

Decades later, John Doe 17 talked to several football players who were also assaulted by Anderson. “None of them told their coaches or assistant coaches,” he said. “Nobody talked about it at all, none of the athletes talked about it, which is to be expected because it was embarrassing as hell.”

Which is why John Doe 17 puts the blame for Anderson’s actions squarely on Canham’s shoulders, who he described as a “God-like” figure on the Michigan campus.

“Protecting the institution was what Don was all about. Protecting his good name was what Don was all about. Protecting his ego was what Don Canham was all about and anybody who challenged him would have been thrown right out the door,” he said.

John Doe 17 said, too, that Canham was so powerful that assistant coaches, coaches and even the board of trustees didn’t dare cross him.

“You have to understand the structure at Michigan – Canham was the face of the university,” he said. “Canham ran the athletic department, meaning the coaches were completely powerless. So, if Canham chose to do nothing about Anderson, which of course he chose to do nothing, then nothing happened.”

Looking back, John Doe 17 is angry that Anderson operated with impunity for 40 years.

“When I see how far back this goes, to the 1960s, and I’m talking about me in the 1980s, what were they doing? Why did they allow this to continue,” he asked. “I couldn’t have been the first one to go to the athletic director and say, ‘This happened.’ It’s impossible.”

In fact, wrestler Tad Deluca was kicked off the team and lost his scholarship in 1975 for complaining about Dr. Anderson. When Tad appealed his punishment to Don Canham, he gave Canham a copy of a letter he’d written that included details of Anderson’s sexual assaults.”

So, if Canham had penalized Anderson in the ‘70s, then people like John Doe 17 wouldn’t have been sexually assaulted in the ‘80s and onward.

Today, John Doe 17 worries that the University of Michigan will try to discredit him and other Anderson victims, which is why he decided to speak out about his abuse.

“I don’t want to see another Michigan State/Larry Nasser disaster on my watch,” he said. “The university needs to stand up and acknowledge that they knew what happened but did nothing, and then settle this mess once and for all.”

He concluded, “We all know money won’t help the guys who have suffered for years but it is a form of punishment. And make no mistake: The University of Michigan needs to be punished for allowing this to happen. It’s the only assurance we have that it won’t happen again.”