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Former UM, Ohio State athletes say dual sexual assault scandals show change needed

Ann Arbor — Ahead of the Game between the University of Michigan and Ohio State University this weekend, former athletes from both schools held a press conference outside the on-campus home of UM President Mark Schlissel.

Jon Vaughn, a former UM football player who accused Dr. Robert Anderson of sexual misconduct, and Rocky Ratliff, a former OSU wrestler who has accused Dr. Richard Strauss of abusing him while he was at Ohio State, both spoke Wednesday about how they hope their alma maters will do more to address to the prevalence of sexual assault on their campuses.

“The university needs to get real about its culture of abuse and cover-up at the hands of students and also within their faculty,” said Vaughn, who has been camping out in front of Schlissel’s home since October. He said that when he comes to campus, he regularly hears from students who think more about avoiding sexual assault on campus than they do their major.

“There’s really nothing that they can say until they realize and admit that in some areas, we aren’t leaders and best.”

Vaughn said he will continue to camp in front of Schlissel’s house, joined at times by other supporters, until Schlissel and members of the Board of Regents speak to him and Anderson's other accusers. Anderson, who worked as the former head of University Health Service as a team physician for the college's Athletic Department, died in 2008.

Hundreds of accusers have come forward at both Michigan and Ohio State to accuse Anderson and Strauss respectively of sexual misconduct. In Anderson's case, more than 850 people, mostly men, are involved in mediation with the university. Another roughly 150 others have come forward since the fall of 2020 have come forward to say the doctor molested them but are not part of the formal mediation, according to former Michigan attorney general and attorney Mike Cox. 

Ohio State has received more than 2,800 instances of alleged sexual misconduct Strauss, who has since died, the Associated Press reported last month. The school has apologized and has settled with 185 plaintiffs for nearly $47 million and with dozens more people for amounts not yet disclosed.

UM spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said in an email Wednesday that, "We continue to work toward fair compensation for the Anderson survivors through the confidential, court-supervised mediation process and we are working every day to make our campus safer for every member of our community."

Ratliff and Vaughn’s news conference came just hours after news broke that someone vandalized the statue of Bo Schembechler outside of the training center named for the former football coach. The statue was covered with red paint, and “Bo knew #hailtothevictims” was painted on the ground beside it. “Hail to the Victims,” a play on “Hail to the Victors,” is a phrase Vaughn and other accusers have rallied around.

Vaughn said that while he couldn’t condone the action, he understood where it came from.

“It’s obvious the University of Michigan cares more about statues and buildings than they do people,” he said.

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Fitzgerald said an investigation into the incident is being run by UM's Division of Public Safety & Security.

Vaughn and Ratliff agreed that for many male victims of sexual assault, it can be difficult to come forward.

Experts estimate that roughly one in six men will be sexually assaulted at some point in their life, although male victims often don’t come forward until later in life. Vaughn said factors like the ethnic community one grows up in can also make it harder for a person to come forward.

“I was 18. I didn’t know what a prostate was, but I was told that I needed a prostate exam so I’d be clear to play,” Vaughn said, adding that no one could doubt his commitment to his teammates and team.

“Everything was under the guide of medical treatment,” he said. “I think there needs to be a day of reckoning to understand what the face of abuse survivors and victims look like. Until we’re able to get there, we’ll never be able to have a healing conversation.”

Twitter: @Hayley__Harding