NOVI, MI – Dwight Hicks and Airron Richardson consider themselves “Michigan men”. They were elite athletes at the University of Michigan – Hicks in football and Richardson in wrestling – and played their respective sports at high levels even after graduating from UM.
These Michigan men spoke at a press conference on Wednesday morning to share their story of how they were sexually abused by the late UM sports doctor Robert Anderson and, more importantly, to show how Anderson s ‘specifically targeted young black student-athletes.
Hicks began studying and playing football at UM in 1975. He said he was first abused by Anderson that year. In the exam room, Hicks said he knew something strange was going on and even asked Anderson about it, who told him it was “just part of the process.”
“I felt like I had to suck it off,” said Hicks, two-time Super Bowl champion with the San Francisco 49ers and four-time Pro Bowl selection. “I’m going to be a Michigan man – maybe that’s part of it. I don’t know, I didn’t have the words for that at 18. I just felt like this was the right thing to do, and I did.
Over the years, Hicks has said he deleted some of the things that happened to him, but as more and more stories came out he wondered what Anderson had done to him. He said he never presented himself to the university administration about the abuse because it was uncomfortable and personal. For these reasons, Hicks said a lot of people would probably never come forward.
Hicks isn’t the first former NFL player to speak out about Anderson’s abuse. Jon Vaughn, who played four seasons in the NFL and went to UM, said he was abused by Anderson between 10 and 12 times.
Richardson, a former UM wrestling team co-captain of the US national freestyle wrestling team, said he was also reluctant to come forward, even after one of his teammates – former Olympian Andy Hrovat – talked about abuse in the hands of Anderson.
The bond Richardson and Hicks share with dozens of other former UM student-athletes over Anderson’s abuse is unfortunate, he said, and comes with anger, embarrassment and shame.
The abuse particularly exasperates Richardson now that he is a doctor and father of a young son.
“(Anderson) deviated far from what was medically appropriate or necessary with his exam,” said Richardson, who was also an Olympic replacement for the 2000 Olympics. “Thinking about (my son) and his safety, though I had to trust his care of coaches and administrators was an additional catalyst for me (to come forward), should he follow in my footsteps. “
Read more MLive coverage of the Robert Anderson survey here.
Lawyers Parker Stinar, Jamie White, Michael Nimmo and Steve Estey represent nearly 200 Anderson survivors. Stinar said about half of Anderson’s victims were black. They believe Anderson was preying on young black student-athletes because they were vulnerable and he knew MU would not protect this population, Stinar said.
White has previously said black men are “particularly vulnerable” to abuse and reiterated that statement on Wednesday. He said the black population at UM is currently around 4.5% and was much smaller in the 1970s, and their victim group made up the majority of that class.
“What I would suggest to our community is that it wasn’t an accident,” White said. “… Anderson discovered this vulnerability. He was exposed to (UM), and they buried him. They buried it at the expense of these men and to bolster their bottom line and the brand – and for that, they need to be held accountable.
Neither Hicks nor Richardson went into details regarding Anderson’s conduct during physical exams, but Hicks said “Anderson’s reputation speaks for itself.” A 91-page police report and dozens of lawsuits filed by several attorneys show Anderson performed unnecessary hernia and prostate exams, as well as genital fondling.
The majority of the lawsuits were brought on behalf of former football players, with one complaint in particular that the late UM football coach Bo Schembechler and the late athletic director Don Canham were aware of Anderson’s conduct.
Hicks and Richardson did not say whether they thought the administrators were aware of Anderson’s abuse, but Richardson said he believed some current coaches and administrators had suffered similar abuse and were yet to comfortable to come forward.
Both men received university letters that were sent to over 300,000 alumni asking them to provide information about Anderson, but that was the only response they received.
In terms of compensation, Stinar said he wanted justice for his clients and said black men were historically given a lower settlement value than white men, Stinar said. He argued that Anderson’s survivors should receive fair compensation like the survivors of Jerry Sandusky at Penn State University and Larry Nassar at Michigan State University.
“UM Board of Regents, how much is a Michigan man worth?” Stinar asked. “We demand that (UM) finally represent what it claims to be, the leaders and the best. Full and fair liability and compensation – we do not require any discount. “