DETROIT (AP) — A former gymnast at the University of Michigan said he tried to talk to his coach about being assaulted by a campus doctor during a routine physical in 1969 but was brushed off with a sneering smile that signaled “we’re changing the subject.”
Ward Black, a member of the 1970 national championship team, spoke exclusively to The Associated Press about being molested by Robert Anderson. He’s the latest to reveal that university coaches decades ago apparently were aware of allegations about the doctor but didn’t take the complaints higher.
“Nobody wanted Dr. Anderson to look at you, but you had no choice,” Black said Thursday. “He was the athletic department’s team doctor.”
Black, 68, is suing the university and has been interviewed by a law firm that was hired by the school to investigate complaints, which now exceed 300.
Anderson worked at Michigan from the mid-1960s through 2003. He died in 2008. The university has said it believes he assaulted athletes, and it wants to compensate victims outside court.
During his time as a gymnast, Black said he was molested during four annual physicals and two visits for toe and ankle injuries. He said Anderson insisted on checking his prostate before addressing injuries.
“He would listen, ask you to drop your pants and then he starts in,” Black said.
Black said he knew teammates as well as other Michigan athletes were assaulted.
“As long as Dr. Anderson did not make a … proposition to anybody for sex, we just blew it off,” said Black, who lives in Las Vegas and coached gymnastics at Oklahoma and Washington State.
“It’s like taking castor oil,” he said. “You go in there, you do your business. You try to get some information about injuries. All you want to do is get in and get out. No small talk, no nothing.”
In 1969, his first year at Michigan, Black said he tried to express his concern to gymnastics coach Newt Loken as they sat alone on a bench.
“I asked him what was up with Dr. A,” Black recalled. “Coach Loken’s an older gentleman, terrific communicator, terrific recruiter, terrific coach. Always gabby — but that shut him up.”
Loken had a “very wry, very Cheshire Cat smile,” Black said. “When you saw that smile it meant we’re changing the subject. He patted me on the knee, gave me that smile and changed the subject. And that’s as far as I got with him. … I knew he knew. We all knew he knew.”
Loken, who died in 2011, is a legend in Michigan gymnastics, coaching teams for 36 years and winning two national championships. The men’s training center is named for him.
Black called Anderson a “predator,” but he doesn’t hold Loken responsible.
“You’re a minor sport coach. And even if you’re a national champion, you’ve been there 20 years, you don’t rock the boat with Don Canham,” Black said, referring to the athletic director at the time. “He was feared like crazy.”
Black said he was inspired to speak publicly after reading about Tad DeLuca, the wrestler who sparked an investigation when he told the university in 2018 what Anderson did to him in the 1970s.
DeLuca said he told his coach, Bill Johannesen, and Canham in 1975 that he had been fondled and given unnecessary rectal exams. He said he was kicked off the team. Johannesen has denied being informed; Canham died in 2005.
“I wasn’t going to let him walk out on that limb all by himself,” Black said of DeLuca.
Allegations and investigations of sexual abuse by sports doctors have lately occurred at other universities, including Michigan State, Ohio State and Minnesota.
Associated Press writer Mike Householder contributed from Canton Township, Michigan.