We Are No Different
The grave-walk for Bo Schembechler, who ignored and enabled the serial sexual assaulter that worked for him, went on as scheduled.
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Content warning: this post addresses issues regarding serial sexual assault.
I was going to write about basketball or more on The Game. Then the tweets began crossing my timeline.
I don’t know why I expected the annual grave-walk to meet its deserved end this year. The idea that a depressingly large segment of Michigan fans would be any different than those at Penn State who still worship at the altar of Joe Paterno was naive fantasy.
When the names are removed, can you figure out which disgraced coach these quotes are about?
“The claims are just that: They are claims. They're accusations,” said [REDACTED]. “They were never proven in court.”
“Our experiences tell us that the [COACH] we knew would never have tolerated any abuse or mistreatment of his players, his staff, or any other individual.”
“One of the players who made the charges against him, [REDACTED], was dismissed from the football team in 1980 because of drug related issues that he had within the team. He said – I don’t want to attack the accuser, there’s a fine line you walk when you do that.”
"I definitely think that everything that has happened isn't at all indicative of the kind of man that he was."
“There's nothing that ever was swept under the rug or ignored. He addressed everything in a timely fashion. That's the [COACH] that I knew.”
Not that it really matters, but: 1 and 4 regard Paterno; 2, 3, and 5 are about Schembechler. Number three was uttered by Jim Brandstatter, the radio voice of Michigan football. The last quote is from Jim Harbaugh. Neither person has apologized or walked back their statements.
Nothing has changed since I wrote the above in June. I’m sure the University’s silence has emboldened Schembechler loyalists to continue their idolatry.
While the line of the callous placed flowers on Schembechler’s grave, one brave local defaced the statue that shouldn’t still be standing.
The act cuts to the core of Schembechler’s inaction and the devastating consequences. He knew — we have overwhelming corroborative evidence that says so — and when he refused to act, he contributed to the suffering of so many. There is very real blood on the hands of a person who ignores sexual assault.
I will once again post the words of Schembechler himself, from a book on leadership that, given the source, is no longer worth the paper it’s printed on:
By his own standard, Schembechler is a failed leader, and he knew what was going on.
Yet the survivors of the abuse Schembechler allowed to continue under his watch can see the likes of Steve Kornacki, who until last year was the athletic department’s in-house columnist, publicly defending and deifying him:
Well, Steve, whether genuine or not, Schembechler’s charm had a purpose. He successfully built a cult of personality, leveraged it to make money as a self-styled leadership guru, and benefits from it to this day as wide-eyed suckers leap to his defense. He’s not the first and he’s far from the last.
As horrific sexual assault scandals emerged at Penn State, Michigan State, and Ohio State, Michigan partisans — whether fans, media members, or those working for the school — said this would never happen here, that U-M is different, and if anything of the sort were to come to light, the response would be completely different.
Then the Anderson scandal, evidently an open secret on campus for decades, finally emerged from rumor to report. Six months later, there are flowers on Schembechler’s grave, placed by people either pretending the last year didn’t happen or acknowledging that they don’t care.
They’d rather worship a myth than reckon with reality.
While that’s a relatable desire, this is a reality that can’t be ignored. Continuing to do so is an affront to the survivors of Anderson, so many of whom wouldn’t have been victimized if Schembechler had wielded his considerable power to stop the abuse.
If we can’t hold these so-called leaders accountable when they’re dead, how can we expect to stop the next Schembechler or Paterno and the abuser they’re protecting? Last night was a disheartening reminder that, collectively, we’ve learned nothing.
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Sexual assault survivors are at elevated risk of depression, PTSD, and suicide. As a survivor myself, this certainly tracks with my personal experience.
I never said I was feeling better and, in fact, was not feeling well at all. Don’t ever say something like that to a chronically ill person.