The statue on the University of Michigan campus honoring longtime football coach Bo Schembechler was vandalized Tuesday night with a message of support for victims sexually abused by a former team doctor.
Red paint was thrown over the statue, and at the base in black paint were the words "Bo knew #hailtothevictims."
An anonymous local resident acting in solidarity with the Hail to the Victims campaign for men sexually assaulted by Robert Anderson, a sports doctor at the school in the 1970s and the 1980s, claimed responsibility for the defacement, according to an email sent to the Detroit Free Press.
"Bo Schembechler is long seen as an iconic Michigan coach, but he knew that Robert Anderson, the team's doctor ... was sexually assaulting countless players each year," the email said.
It referred to Matt Schembechler, Bo Schembechler's son, who said Anderson molested him when he was 10 and playing football for a “Junior Wolverines” team in 1969. He said he told his father, who responded by screaming, "I don't want to hear this." That was followed by "a punch in the chest," Matt Schembechler said over the summer.
The email went on to say: "When Bo's son confronted him about his own assault, Bo punched him and told him to keep quiet. Bo pulled strings and bent over backwards to ensure that Anderson could keep his job. It is time for the world to know that Bo is responsible for the abuse of innumerable Michigan football players."
Bo Schembechler died in 2006.
Hundreds of people, most of them men involved in sports, said Anderson molested them when he was a university doctor. A federal class-action lawsuit filed in May claimed that the school put students at risk by failing to enforce policies to prevent sexual violence on campus. The university has acknowledged the sexual assaults and is working with survivors through a confidential, court-guided mediation process.
"The University of Michigan offers its heartfelt apology for the abuse perpetrated by the late Robert Anderson (deceased in 2008)," university President Mark S. Schlissel said in a statement this year.
Former NFL player Jon Vaughn, who played for the University of Michigan, started camping in a tent outside Schlissel’s home early last month, initiating a sit-in protest claiming that the school is not doing enough to protect students from sexual assaults.
"As a victim of sexual assault, it was like being on an ever-shrinking island," Vaughn told NPR. "And once I was able to get the courage to speak my truth, that island started to get bigger, and my internal strength started to grow."
Dozens of people joined him last month, including other former athletes who said they were molested by Anderson. Vaughn was still camping out Wednesday.
A cleanup team began washing the red paint off the statue in front of the campus football building Wednesday morning.
"We understand and appreciate the passionate advocacy on behalf of those who were abused by the late Robert Anderson," Rick Fitzgerald, the university's associate vice president for public affairs, said by email. “But the vandalism to the University of Michigan statue of Bo Schembechler will be investigated fully in order to hold those responsible accountable for their actions.”