Former Michigan football player Chuck Christian filed a lawsuit against the university’s regents last week, making him the first named plaintiff in the burgeoning legal action regarding the alleged sexual abuse of former team doctor Robert Anderson.
Christian, who played tight end for the Wolverines in the late 1970s and early 1980s, filed his claim in federal court along with two of his former teammates, who remain anonymous in the complaint. All three men say that Anderson sexually assaulted them during mandatory physical exams while they were members of the football team. The lawsuit says the university showed a “pattern of deliberate indifference” to warning signs about Anderson’s abuse. Multiple former Michigan students say they told coaches and other authority figures on campus about Anderson’s abusive conduct.
Anderson served as a team physician for the athletic department at Michigan for more than three decades starting in the late 1960s. Former athletes spanning much of that time frame say Anderson’s sexual misconduct included fondling his patients’ genitals and penetrating their rectums. He retired in 2003 and died in 2008.
Christian and his teammates join more than 50 others who have filed anonymous lawsuits this year related to Anderson’s abuse. More than 20 others have filed a notice that they intend to take legal action against the school and hundreds more have retained lawyers but have not yet decided how they will proceed.
The university announced plans in late April to develop a process to resolve claims outside the court system with the stated goal of providing “more certain, faster relief” to Anderson’s victims. Attorney Michael Wright, who represents Christian and many other former Michigan athletes, said he and his clients have not yet received any answers to questions about what that resolution process will entail.
“At this point, we’re starting to lose patience with their process and how they’re communicating and handling the situation,” Wright told ESPN.
University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said Friday he had no update or details to share about Michigan’s plans to resolve the claims. University spokeswoman Kim Broekhuizen said the school had not yet been served with Christian’s lawsuit.
“The university is creating a process for resolving claims regarding Robert E. Anderson and it is offering confidential counseling to any former patients at no cost,” Broekhuizen said in a statement. “We have great admiration for Chuck Christian and other former U-M athletes who are bravely stepping forward to share their stories.”
Wright said he remains interested in reaching a settlement with the school without litigation. He said he filed a suit on behalf of Christian because of the former tight end’s current health situation. Christian was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer several years ago. He blames Anderson for instilling in him a fear of doctors that kept him from seeking medical treatment and a cure for his cancer before it spread to other parts of his body.
Wright said that he intends to file lawsuits on behalf of approximately 150 other clients soon if Michigan does not “very shortly sit down to discuss the process” it hopes to establish for settling claims outside of court. The university filed a motion to dismiss another Anderson-related lawsuit in early May brought by a different lawyer, citing an expired statute of limitations among other reasons.
The wave of complaints about Anderson during the past several months follows in the wake of a police investigation and an article printed in the Detroit News in February about the deceased doctor’s misconduct. Former Michigan wrestler Tad Deluca said he was prompted to speak up about Anderson in 2018 after watching coverage of the sentencing hearing of former Michigan State team physician Larry Nassar. Deluca wrote a letter to current athletic director Warde Manuel, which eventually prompted a university police investigation.
One of Anderson’s former supervisors told police he had attempted to fire the doctor in 1979 after someone raised concerns about sexual misconduct, according to the police report. Anderson resigned from his position at the University Health Service at that time but continued to work for the athletic department for another 24 years. Separately, Deluca told police that he was ridiculed after raising concerns about Anderson to his coach and to then-athletic director Don Canham in 1975.
Christian and the two teammates who joined the lawsuit say they were not aware that the school “had actively concealed and been deliberately indifferent to Anderson’s pattern of sexually assaulting male UM students” prior to February 2020, when news of the police investigation became public.
The school established a hotline for former patients of Anderson on the same day that the Detroit News published its article about the investigation. More than 250 individuals have made complaints about Anderson using the hotline so far. The school has hired Washington, D.C.-based law firm WilmerHale to conduct an investigation into past responses to complaints about Anderson.