Former Michigan wrestlers urge more victims to ‘speak up’
SOUTHFIELD, Mich. (AP) — The whistleblower whose letter to University of Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel alleging sexual assault sparked an investigation into a former school doctor says he was inspired by the women who testified against convicted Michigan State physician Larry Nassar.
An attorney for Tad DeLuca said Thursday that his client complained to his wrestling coach in 1975 that Dr. Robert E. Anderson molested him during medical exams. In response, then-coach Bill Johannesen humiliated DeLuca, kicked him off the team and effectively removed his financial assistance, the attorney said.
“I spoke up again by letter in 2018 after hearing an NPR story about the MSU gymnasts, women who I am in awe of,” DeLuca said at a news conference in suburban Detroit. “Once again, the University of Michigan ignored me.
“I’m here today to speak up again, to let the University of Michigan know that I will not be ignored.”
DeLuca’s 2018 letter of complaint about Anderson, now deceased, led to a university police investigation that became public last week. Two other former Michigan wrestlers who allege they were abused by Anderson also spoke to reporters Thursday: Tom Evashevski and Andy Hrovat, the first athlete to publicly say Anderson molested him.
Evashevski was in school with DeLuca at Michigan in the mid-1970s. Hrovat was a star wrestler in the late 1990s for the Wolverines and went on to compete for the U.S. at the 2008 Olympics.
“These were and are physically and mentally tough men,” said attorney Parker Stinar, who represents the trio. “But they were all victims of sexual abuse and victims of an institution that ignored warning after warning after warning about a predator preying on young individuals.”
DeLuca put his complaints about Anderson in writing in 1975 in a letter to Johannesen. Subsequently, Johannesen read DeLuca’s letter to his teammates in an effort to humiliate him, kicked him off the team and took away his scholarship, according to Stinar.
Johannesen denied in interviews this week with The Associated Press that any of his student-athletes ever told him Anderson touched them inappropriately.
“You can’t call him a coach,” said DeLuca, a retired teacher in northern Michigan. “‘Coach’ is a term of endearment.”
Stinar, who met with the school’s general counsel Thursday afternoon, predicts “hundreds of more victims” will emerge, and that his firm already represents more than a dozen.
Several other law firms have spent the past week talking to potential accusers about legal action. Among them are attorneys Michelle Simpson Tuegel and H. James White, who represented more than 60 people who were abused by Nassar at Michigan State.
White said Thursday that the number of potential Anderson victims is “extremely troubling,” adding that “the University of Michigan and the community at large should brace itself.”
Stinar, who is based in Denver, said the university must explain its years of inaction.
“For nearly four decades, the University of Michigan allowed Dr. Anderson to prey on vulnerable young individuals away from home for the first time,” he said. “I ask the University of Michigan this: Why didn’t you act in 1975 or earlier to prevent the sexual abuse of possibly hundreds of other victims?”
Hours after the news conference, the University of Michigan released a statement.
“The three brave men who came forward today to share their stories delivered a powerful message,” the statement read. “We want to encourage everyone harmed by Robert E. Anderson or who has evidence of his misconduct to come forward. At the University of Michigan, we want to hear your voices.”
Attorney Mick Grewal, who is based in Okemos, Michigan, and is partnering with firms in Grand Rapids and California, said more than 30 accusers have retained their services. He said he expects the number to grow rapidly because assaults potentially occurred over a 30- to 50-year period.
“This case is evolving more quickly than we would ever believe, even more quickly than the Nassar case,” he said.
School officials have acknowledged some school employees were aware of accusations against Anderson prior to DeLuca’s 2018 complaint. Last week, the university’s president apologized to “anyone who was harmed” by Anderson and offered counseling services.
The school launched an investigation into the doctor’s behavior following abuse allegations from five people and also established a hotline for those who came into contact with Anderson.
DeLuca hopes more people follow his lead.
“Everybody who was abused by this doctor, the doctor everyone knew was doing this, was abusing athletes and students, should speak up and let everyone know they will not be ignored,” DeLuca said. “It just, it has to stop. Period.”
Separately, the Ann Arbor school district said it’s investigating whether Anderson had a role with local schools. A police report suggested he performed sports physicals years ago.
“This is the first time we have heard this information,” Superintendent Jeanice Swift said.
The Flint district said it confirmed that someone with Anderson’s name was an employee at some point, but “we do not have information about his employment history.”
“We encourage anyone with information regarding this matter to contact local law enforcement,” the district said.
Associated Press writers Ed White in Detroit and David Eggert in Lansing contributed to this report.
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