How Many Schembechlers?

The Man They Called Goldfinger.

The University of Michigan, my alma mater, has been rocked by an unthinkable sexual-abuse scandal. Dr. Robert Anderson served as an athletic team doctor for thirty-five years and throughout that time, he sexually abused male students so frequently that it was a running joke among athletes. Except for those who were traumatized, of course.

This story has been out there for a while. But the latest disturbing turn is that several former football players — and many observers of Michigan athletics — say that legendary coach Bo Schembechler absolutely knew about Anderson’s abuse. Some say they told Bo; others say that he kept such a tight fist on his program that he couldn’t possibly have been ignorant. Just like Joe Paterno at Penn State.

And just like Paterno, the statue of Schembechler that adorns the athletic campus will almost certainly be removed sometime.

But what does this have to do with Vermont politics, you say?

These scandals have become so commonplace that I can’t help but believe that there are many more like them, so far undiscovered. And if you think this state is exempt, well, check your Vermont exceptionalism at the door.

A few years ago when I was employed by an actual news organization, we had a staff meeting to discuss story ideas. At the time, one of these youth-abuse scandals was in the headlines. And I said, someone should take a look at Vermont institutions that serve children and teens. Schools, obviously; but also organized athletic programs and summer camps and sports camps and scout troops, among other things. Churches, and not just Roman Catholic.

The response from my peers was what I call The Vermont Stare. You can almost see your words whizzing over their heads as they just don’t process what you’re saying. It’s not even denial, it’s just incomprehension. My suggestion died as quickly as it was born.

But I would be amazed if there isn’t a full-bore scandal or three lurking in our weeds. It’s simple math. In past times when where such things were kept secret, some percentage of those who worked with children were abusing their charges. And some percentage of institutional leaders actively covered it up or looked the other way.

I don’t know if our scandals (besides the Burlington diocese’s) will ever be revealed. Maybe not, since Vermonters do like to ignore the elephants in the room and our news media is barely able to do anything more than cover the daily grind. Not much room for investigative journalism in these parts.

But odds are, we’ve got skeletons in our attic.

Until now, Bo Schembechler was completely above reproach. He was an icon of Michigan football, which has its own Vermont-sized streak of exceptionalism. (In Ann Arbor, they sell T-shirts that say “Harvard: The Michigan of the East.”) He was a hard man, but his integrity was unshakable. He preached character-building. He had no patience for those who didn’t live up to his standards. During his tenure, everybody believed that Michigan football “did things the right way.”

Turns out, Schembechler was just like all those bishops and archbishops: A pristine outer shell concealing who-knows-what within. There’s a lot of those shells everywhere, and some of them are hiding some really nasty stuff.


2 thoughts on “How Many Schembechlers?

  1. zim

    I have no doubt there are many, many skeletons in the closet. The recent story regarding the Randolf teacher who, literally, got off scot free for abusing teenagers is just simply gross and probably just the tip of the iceberg. The DA’s push to plea it down to nothing and sweep it under the carpet tells the real story of how this state works. Corruption, nepotism, incompetence are all covered over with the ‘holier than thou’ Vermont ‘we are so special’ bum-smoke the dominant classes are always blowing up our backsides.

    The press, of course, is the main culprit in this as they endeavor ‘not to inform the public’ but manage the range of acceptable opinion (Overton Window) in order to serve the interests of the dominate class of affluent middle class white people who think they are the apex of human aspiration and therefore whatever they want and think must ultimately be the universal need and desire of all life. There is so little freedom other than to move out of it. No wonder most young people with means and a future leave it. Those that don’t usual end up addicted and/or otherwise marginalized.

    I’ve been in Vermont going on 8 yrs and find the culture of Vermont thoroughly stifling, small minded and public discourse so narrowly circumscribed that Vermonters can only seems to prattle on to excess about themselves and how special they are. That was one of the less amusing traits I’d discovered about ‘real’ Vermonters – they only talk about themselves and believe the world somehow revolves around ‘brave little Vermont’ and that we are all moving here because of them.

    Class domination/vested interests are the major obstacles to improving life here. The oppressive optimism of the affluent white people who look to control every aspect of social life and completely dispossess the working class and poor rendering them as little more than surf and inmates in their bullshit schemes that more to do with transferring wealth to the upper classes than solving problems.

    1. zam

      The previous comment and description of Vermont and Vermonters is succinct and accurate and exactly the reason why Vermont has given birth to generations of traumatized children. No wonder why such a proud-without-cause state like Vermont is plagued by social ills.

      Kurn Hattin Homes for Children in Westminster Vermont is still getting off scott free for decades of alleged and documented child assaults through as recently as 2019. The childhood sexual abuse victims of the St Joseph’s Orphanage in Burlington Vermont are still engaged in their heartbreaking public 30-year Ulyssean oddessy to seek Justice in Vermont and are still getting jerked around by apathetic incompetent virtue-signaling vermont senators, politicians, judiciary , DCF, AOE, BSE, law enforcement, and worst of all — silently complicit Vermonters.


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