In February, the Detroit News broke the story about allegations of abuse involving former University of Michigan sports doctor Robert Anderson. Since then, hundreds of men – and some women – have come forward to accuse Anderson of sexually assaulting them. Anderson worked at U of M from the mid-1960s until he retired in 2003. He died in 2008.
But survivors such as Jon Vaughn, who played football for U of M and in the NFL, want to see institutions implement protections for students who are abused on their campus, especially in sports.
As people victimized by Anderson continue to come forward, state legislators have been working on bills that allow survivors to seek justice through the courts. One of those lawmakers is Ryan Berman, a member of the Michigan House of Representatives.
Vaughn on accountability for universities and sports institutions
“I think you cannot discuss the Anderson case without discussing the Nassar case, without discussing Ohio State, without discussing Penn State, and I think there’s a case in Minnesota," Vaughn said. "That’s five of 14 Big Ten schools. Where’s the Big Ten in this? Where’s the NCAA in this? If you do your research, you’ll see that within the last 90 days or so, the NCAA argued in federal court that they had no responsibility for the protection of student athletes and abuse. But yet on their website, on the Big Ten and NCAA, they talk about, we are here for the protection of student athletes."
Berman’s new bill is called the Companion Bill. It is a bill that seeks to protect and empower sexual assault victims against public institutions that employ sexual predators. Similar measures were acted on after a lot of work and advocacy during the Larry Nassar trial, but failed.
Berman on what the new legislation could change
“The Companion Bill is access to justice which is the statute of limitation change, which is retroactive,” Berman said. “What it does is it opens up this one year period – so whether it gets enacted and enrolled this month, next month, or even in January next term, it would still open up that one year window for survivors to come forward like Jon Vaughn, like Tad Deluca, like Dr. John Lott, all of them could then go in and access justice in the court system.”
Berman on what he hopes this bill will accomplish
“For this issue, in particular, it’s something that when we looked at the Larry Nassar scandal and it just kept going on and on. And the victims felt like they were being revictimized by the way the university was handling it in their response and the legal challenges they faced. I believe this is something that we needed to come in and do to empower these survivors to seek justice and be well aware that we have their back,” Berman said.
Vaughn on Michigan being a national leader in protections for survivors
“We know there are definitely times where this could have been stopped, it hasn’t been. And that’s why it’s time for a bill like this to lead. And I think Michigan is trying to lead the nation and this type of support, this type of bill, so that then we can now use this as a template for other states. And then to go national because these doctors, these caregivers, are flying from one state to the next,” Vaughn said.
Vaughn on the legacy of the Dr. Anderson
“You wanted to be a Michigan Man, and so whatever you needed to do to be able to play or to get on the field, you take it as this was your badge of honor, but to come 30 years later, to realize that how insidious this has all been, and the university’s response? It’s just heartbreaking. This will go down, the Michigan Anderson case will go down, as the most egregious, insidious, molestation, rape and abuse and cover-up in the history of sports,” Vaughn said.
Stateside reached out to U of M for comment on the bills in the state Legislature and comments from Jon Vaughn. U of M spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald sent us this statement:
"The university is engaging in mediation with a number of attorneys representing former Anderson patients. The university is eager to engage with the former patients and their attorneys regarding the best approach to resolving these claims. We want to bring closure for those who have so bravely come forward to share their experiences and want to develop a fair resolution process that does not require drawn-out litigation.”
"Regarding the legislative proposal, the university will carefully review the proposal, but there is little more we can say at this time while the independent investigation by the WilmerHale law firm remains active."
This post was written by Stateside production assistant Catherine Nouhan.
U of M holds Michigan Radio's license.