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Lawsuits: UM Athletic Trainers Were Told About Abuse

Paul Steinbach

Lawsuits filed earlier this month on behalf of former University of Michigan football players claim multiple instances of sexual abuse by late athletic doctor Robert Anderson were reported to three different athletic trainers, but the physician continued to practice at the university for years.

As reported by mlive.com, one plaintiff was 17 years old in the late 1970s when he endured his first examination, which included Anderson fondling his genitalia and penetrating his anus digitally. This was repeated during a physical the following year, and the athlete made “a non-specific complaint” about Anderson’s exams to an athletic trainer, the lawsuit says.

Before his junior year physical, the athlete complained to another trainer that he didn’t want to endure Anderson’s physical exams — especially “the anal probe." When the athlete went in for his exam that year, Anderson did not assault him, according to the lawsuit, which adds the athlete wasn’t sure if the trainer had said something to Anderson, or if Anderson simply decided not to assault the athlete.

The athlete left Michigan before his football eligibility expired.

Related: Michigan Contacting Thousands About Medical Abuse

Another lawsuit filed three days earlier alleges that then-athletic trainer and current assistant athletic director Paul Schmidt, along with other football staffers, would “joke or ‘chuckle’ about players’ visits to Anderson as ‘they gotta go get fingered.’ ” The suit, filed on behalf of another anonymous athlete who played football at Michigan in the 1980s, said he was assaulted up to 15 times by Anderson, including during all four physical exams before each football season began, according to mlive.com. 

When the acts were taking place, the football player said he would “mentally go to a place where he ‘couldn’t hear anything, not listening to anything, I just wanted to get it over,’ ” the lawsuit says.

The athlete said he would hear “Schmitty” and other staff members joke about players’ visits to Anderson, and he wouldn’t question Anderson’s conduct because he was afraid to question an authority figure in the athletic department who could impact his playing time or scholarship, the lawsuit says.

A separate lawsuit against the university filed in late March alleges that Schmidt told a former Michigan football player to “get used to that," after reporting being sexually abused by Anderson during a physical exam.

UM has repeatedly apologized for any harm caused by Anderson and has hired Washington, D.C.-based law firm WilmerHale to conduct an investigation into allegations of sexual abuse against the late doctor, who worked at the university from 1968 to 2003. He died in 2008.

Schmidt and other current UM employees have not been available for comment during the university's investigation, but Schmidt has called Anderson a "very incredible doctor" and "personal friend," and claims he has never witnessed any abuse when present in Anderson's exam rooms.
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