Disgraced University of Michigan doctor Robert Anderson was closely involved in the school’s athletic department for decades, including helping famed athletic director Don Canham cut costs by requiring annual physicals and teaming with legendary football coach Bo Schembechler to set up an important drug testing program.
Anderson’s sexual assaults were so well known among Michigan athletes, accusers have said, that he earned nicknames — “Dr. Drop Your Drawers” and “Dr. Glove.” Anderson was known to give unnecessary rectal and testicular exams to students. He also allegedly traded sexual favors for letters to Vietnam-era draft boards establishing men as homosexual and thus make them eligible for a draft deferment.
In letters, memos, postcards, meeting minutes and other official papers documenting Canham’s and Schembechler’s time at Michigan, Anderson’s name pops up regularly. He’s found in letters documenting ideas discussed on football team plane trips; on rosters for stays at hotels for bowl games, and even in less-than-flattering reviews of his doctoring, a Detroit Free Press review of boxes of documents stored at Michigan’s Bentley Historical Library show.
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Canham and Schembechler are credited most often for building the Block M brand into a marketing powerhouse, starting in the late ’60s.
Documents show both men firmly in control of their programs — Canham writes multiple letters to his staff about making fewer long-distance telephone calls, which would save money, while Schembechler sends a note to a staffer saying four players, including current Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh, then a star quarterback, would be coming in for extra running in order to adjust their attitudes.
The Detroit Free Press could find no documents in the official collection that show Schembechler or Canham knew about Anderson’s alleged sexual misconduct.
All three men are now dead. Canham died in 2005. Schembechler, in 2006. Anderson, 2008.
Michigan is looking into Anderson’s entire career, including his time with the athletic department, the school said. On Saturday, after lawyers for accusers raised issues, the university dropped a law firm, Steptoe and Johnson, that it had hired to look into Anderson. The lawyers for those claiming to be assaulted by Anderson pointed out the firm had represented the late financier Jeffrey Epstein and director Roman Polanski, both of whom were accused of sexual assault.
There is one claim that Canham knew about Anderson’s alleged sexual assaults.
A former Michigan wrestler named Tad Deluca came forward late last month about a letter he wrote in 1975 and sent to his coach and Canham reporting that Anderson had sexually assaulted him. Deluca said he was thrown off the team after his report. A letter back to Deluca from Canham confirms the loss of the scholarship. Deluca and his attorney, Parker Stinar, have not released the letters, but have read portions of them to the media.
The letters are not included in the archives. In its policy and practices manual on its web site, the Bentley archive says it collects documents that help document the growth, development and history of the university. It does not claim to create an exhaustive record that includes every document.
Anderson: Let’s set up mandatory physicals for athletes
A track-and-field athlete turned coach, Canham took over as Michigan’s athletic director in 1968, the same year Anderson was hired as head of the University Health Service and as one of two physicians for the football team.
Canham would spend the next 21 years building the athletic department into arguably the top collegiate department in the country. He hired legendary coaches, including Schembechler, hockey coach Red Berenson and softball coach Carol Hutchins.
He used business skill and marketing wizardry to revolutionize how the department ran, including launching the first-ever direct marketing ticket campaign.
His collected files suggest a man who was on top of everything. He wrote letters chastising his staff for coming late to work, wondering why doors were propped open in facilities and worrying over the high cost of long-distance phone calls. He also was a key player in the Big Ten and NCAA, helping to fuel growth in revenues for each. Under his leadership, the football program began setting national attendance records in a stadium that regularly wasn’t three-quarters full before his time.
It didn’t take long for Canham and Anderson to collaborate.
In November 1968, on the flight home from a 35-0 pasting of Northwestern’s football team, the two chatted about how to save the athletic department money on health care and get more athletes through the health services.
Two days after landing, Anderson sent a memo to Canham, recapping the conversation.
“I have attempted to make a preseason physical examination compulsory for all athletes,” Anderson wrote. “This works quite well as a recommendation, but it lacks teeth for the few athletes and coaches who do not heed suggestions without a little prodding.”
The letter says making athletes take regular physicals could help diagnose problems down the road. The document notes annual physicals were not mandatory at the time.
Anderson went on to write that he could lower costs by $1,000 an academic year. Canham wrote back one day later: “I assure you that we will implement the program as you outlined it. I think that probably the first thing we should do is set a date for all sports as to when the physical must be complete.”
By the 1980s, it was routine for athletes to report for physicals when they arrived on campus. For lots of them, that meant seeing Anderson, according to more than a dozen lawsuits already filed in federal court by former athletes, all who have petitioned the court to remain anonymous.
One football player, on the team from 1980 to 1985, arrived on campus as an 18-year-old freshman. He was told Anderson would be his doctor by his coaches, according to a federal lawsuit filed Thursday. The player is not named in the suit. He was also told Anderson had to give him a physical before he was able to play. At that physical, he was sexually assaulted, including being given an invasive rectal exam and his genitals grabbed and manipulated, the suit says.
Another football player, in a separate lawsuit, relates a similar story about a preseason physical, as does a hockey player in another suit. Those former athletes aren’t named in the suits.
One year after the exchange with Canham, Anderson wrote to head athletic trainer Lindsey McLean about a new system for treating athletes that was being studied. Anderson notes a drawback to the new program: “In the past, any athlete, at any time of the year, coming to the Health Services was seen by myself or Dr. Max Durfee. With the new system, it will place the nursing and secretarial staff in the position of being unable to show any special privileges to athletes …” He goes on to say an athlete might then chose another doctor instead of himself.
Costs for medical services were still on Canham’s mind on June 19, 1980, when he wrote to Fritz Seyferth, the recruiting director for the Michigan football team in the 1980s. Seyferth later served as Michigan’s assistant athletic director and in 1998, became the No. 2 person in Michigan’s athletic department. He retired in January 2000 as the executive associate athletic director.
Canham wanted Seyferth toenforce a plan to use an athlete’s family’s medical coverage to save money on football-related injuries.
“Please get together with Russ Miller (the head trainer) and Dr. Anderson as to how we can use the insurance that the parents have before reverting to our insurance,” Canham wrote.
Schembechler was copied on the note.
A key part of the football team
By the mid-1980s, Schembechler was a coaching icon. The winningest Division I coach in college football in the 1970s, he had won with a slight edge in the Ten Year War with Ohio State and coach Woody Hayes. Schembechler’s offense was diversifying, and in 1985, led by Harbaugh at quarterback, Schembechler’s Wolverines had one of their finest seasons under the legend. They went 10–1–1, beat Nebraska 27–23 in the Fiesta Bowl, and ended with a No. 2 ranking in the final polls, the highest finish ever for one of Schembechler’s teams.
And along for every season? Anderson.
When Michigan headed to the Rose Bowl in 1978 to play the University of Washington, a hand-written list of the traveling party staying in the team hotel included Robert Anderson and family, according to documents housed in the Bentley archives. Anderson’s name is also included on every other roster or traveling party collected in Schembechler’s papers, a Detroit Free Press review found. Anderson is also found throughout athletic department papers about the football program covering all sorts of topics and across decades.
In the 1980s, Schembechler was concerned about the rise of steroids and other drugs in college football. He began bringing in a local FBI agent to talk to his players. And he asked his medical staff to come up with a drug-testing plan.
On June 6, 1986, head athletic trainer Miller wrote a memo to “Bo” outlining a plan of testing and costs.
“Positives (results) to be followed up by you and Dr. Anderson with appropriate evaluation and consultation,” Miller wrote. The memo came on letterhead from University of Michigan Athletic Sports Medicine. In the staff list on the right side of the document, Robert E. Anderson, MD, Team Physician, is listed first.
Miller also recommended a hire for another staff member to work with athletes with drug issues. He told Schembechler they would be hiring a person Anderson recommended.
At the end of the 1994-95 school year, Anderson had been at the University of Michigan for nearly three decades. He was well-known to athletes, both for good and for bad.
“He was everywhere,” said John Manly, a lawyer who represents wrestlers, football players and other athletes who say they were sexually assaulted by Anderson. “He was around constantly and all the athletes were told they had to see him.”
Anderson was such a key member of the athletic department that he’s the focus of a section in the annual University of Michigan Student-Athlete Exit Interview. The Detroit Free Press reviewed a copy of the report at the Bentley Historical Library.
A summary of the interviews with 39 athletes from 17 different sports praises another athletic department doctor but then reports: “Dr. Anderson, a little senile, diagnosis wrong, never confident with his conclusions.”
Male athletes ranked the quality of the physicians — three are mentioned in the report — lower than female athletes did. Men, just 28% of them, said the overall quality of physicians was excellent, while 38% of women did. Women also gave the doctors, including Anderson, better grades than men did in professionalism, with 74% of women giving an excellent or very good score. Only 56% of men gave the same scores.
One athlete, whose name isn’t included — reported preferring “self-treatment rather than seeing Dr. Anderson again.”
Anderson continued to work for the department until 2003, when he retired.
Athletes aren’t the only ones accusing Anderson of sexually assaulting them.
Ed Glazier and two other men told the Detroit Free Press independently of each other Anderson sexually assaulted them long ago when they went to him for letters certifying them as homosexuals so they could try for deferments from the Vietnam war draft.
Another accuser, JP DesCamp, last week told of his assault by Anderson.
DesCamp said in 1973, General Motors sent him to Anderson for a physical to keep his flight status so he could travel for the company. DesCamp was 22. The exam started normally.
“Things got weird when Dr. Anderson made me lay on his table and removed my underpants,” DesCamp said. He went on to describe graphic abuse, including a rectal exam and testicular fondling. DesCamp said he later talked to other pilots who said they knew about Anderson and would pay out of their own pocket for physicals with other doctors.
There have been multiple federal lawsuits filed against Michigan alleging a cover-up of Anderson’s misdeeds. Each one charges that the university knew for decades about the abuse.
More than 100 people have called a hotline seeking information on him. That number is 866-990-0111.
Michigan has had no direct comment on the merits of the suits.
“We can’t comment other than to deeply apologize for the harm caused by Robert E. Anderson,” spokeswoman Kim Broekhuizen said. “We recognize the enormous strength and courage it takes for survivors to come forward and share their stories.
“The university continues to encourage those who have been harmed by Robert E. Anderson or who have evidence of his misconduct to come forward. It’s important that the University of Michigan hear your voices.
“We also want those who have been affected by Robert Anderson to have access to confidential support and counseling. The university is offering counseling services at no personal cost to anyone affected by Anderson.”
Contact David Jesse: 313-222-8851 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @reporterdavidj