For over a week, a former college football player has been camped out in a pop-up tent in front of the historic, 22-room residence of the University of Michigan president.
Jon Vaughn, a star running back for the Michigan Wolverines in 1988 and 1989, is one of the hundreds of university alumni who say they were sexually abused by the school’s former sports doctor.
And Vaughn said he intends to remain in his little tent, and in that very spot on campus, until President Mark Schlissel and the school’s regents come out and explain in person why the university did not protect him and the others from a known sexual predator named Dr. Robert Anderson.
“I’m staying until the job is done,” Vaughn told NBC News.
What began as a one-man protest against the university that Vaughn believes failed him has become a rallying point for other Anderson victims, some of whom have traveled from as far away as Boston to thank him and show solidarity by waiting with him for Schlissel to show up.
Some days, Vaughn said, he has been joined by dozens of other men like him, men who were abused and taken advantage of by Anderson, men who have come by to stand vigil and demand respect. He said some of the female athletes who were violated by Dr. Larry Nassar at Michigan State University have also stopped by.
One of them was Trinea Gonczar, who was a young gymnast when Nassar began abusing her and whose testimony helped send him to prison, Vaughn said.
“Nassar’s and Anderson’s methods were virtually identical: abuse under the guise of medical treatment,” said Parker Stinar, an attorney for some of the men suing Michigan for damages.
So far, Schlissel has been ignoring him, Vaughn said.
“Several mornings, we’ve seen him leaving for work,” he said. “He tries not to look at us. So zero contact so far. Most of our contact has been with the university police.”
They’ve been “very cordial,” he said.
When NBC News reached out to the University of Michigan and asked if Schlissel would meet with Vaughn, spokeswoman Kim Broekhuizen released a general statement praising the survivors “for their bravery in coming forward.”
“We also are working toward fair compensation for the Anderson survivors through the confidential, court-supervised mediation process that is continuing,” the statement read. “Out of respect for that process, there is nothing more we are able to share.”
That echoed remarks Schlissel and the Board of Regents made in a joint statement this year that said, in part: “We are committed to resolving their claims and to continuing the court-guided confidential mediation process.”
In July, the university announced it was making “sweeping revisions” to how it deals with cases of sexual misconduct and creating a new Equity, Civil Rights and Title IX Office to handle cases like these.
John Sellek, a spokesperson for the survivors, said Vaughn took it upon himself to stage a public protest against a university that so far has apologized for failing to rein-in Anderson, who died in 2008, but still has not reached a settlement with the 850 largely male accusers it has been in mediation with for a year.
“This is how he chose to raise awareness,” Sellek said of Vaughn. “I think it’s working.”
Vaughn, who is 51, lives in the Dallas suburb of Frisco, played four seasons in the NFL after leaving Michigan. He is also one of the few men suing the university who has not done so anonymously as a John Doe.
“My name was good enough for me to play football here and in the NFL,” he said. “I worked hard to put respect behind my name.”
Like the other victims, Vaughn said he did not understand, back when he was a young running back, that the unnecessary testicular and rectal exams that Anderson insisted on performing were a violation.
“I just thought that this is what was par for the course for an exam at Michigan to play on their football team,” Vaughn told The Undefeated website earlier. “That’s how it was stated to me. It was a sense of relief that the first step in the journey of becoming a Michigan Man was over.”
But the experience left him with a life-long aversion to being examined by doctors. And three decades passed before Vaughn realized that he, like so many others, had been victimized. The catalyst, he said, was a news article about the Anderson scandal.
“I went through a multitude of emotions after reading that,” Vaughn said. “Anger, denial, shame, disbelief.”
Since then, Vaughn has been one of the most vocal critics of his alma mater’s leadership and has forged a friendship with whistleblower Tad DeLuca, who alleges he was booted off the wrestling team in 1975 after he complained to his coaches about what Anderson was doing.
“Tad has come by to support us,” Vaughn said. “So have a lot of students who weren’t even alive when all this was happening.”
Some of them weren’t even aware of what Anderson had done.
“Some of them learned about it the first time from me,” he said. “I’ve also heard some heartbreaking stories from them, which tells me the university still hasn’t gotten a handle on sexual assault. I talked to one inspiring young woman who said she worries more about getting raped on campus than she does about picking out a major.”
Vaughn said supporters have come by with food and drinks, and he’s been allowed to use the student union for bathroom breaks. He said sleeping in the tent has been challenging, especially for his bad back.
“We were trained to thrive in a sport of organized chaos,” Vaughn said. “We learned to block out the pain. Mentally, you just push through.”
The Anderson case echoes the ongoing Dr. Richard Strauss scandal at Michigan’s Big 10 rival Ohio State University, where hundreds of men have accused the university of failing to protect them from a predator doctor.
Just as in Michigan, an independent investigation concluded that the coaches and administrators at Ohio State knew for decades that Strauss was sexually abusing young men but failed to stop him. And this weekend, some of the Strauss victims are planning to head to Ann Arbor to show solidarity with Vaughn and the Anderson victims.
“I feel these men have suffered the same kind of abuse that we experienced as athletes at OSU,” said former Ohio State wrestler Rocky Ratliff, who is also a lawyer representing dozens of other Strauss victims. “I’m deeply saddened and disgusted with the rhetoric I am hearing coming from the University of Michigan.”