For more than a week, a former college footballer has been camping in a pop-up tent outside the historic 22-room residence of the President of the University of Michigan.
Jon Vaughn, a Michigan Wolverines star in 1988 and 1989, is among hundreds of former college students who say they were sexually assaulted by the school’s former sports doctor.
And Vaughn said he intends to stay in his little tent, and right there on campus, until President Mark Schlissel and the school regents come out and explain in person why the college failed to 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 started as a one-man protest against the college Vaughn believes he failed has become a rallying point for other Anderson victims, some of whom have come from as far away as Boston to thank him and show solidarity while waiting with him for Schlissel to arrive.
Some days, Vaughn said, he was joined by dozens of other men like him, men who were abused and exploited by Anderson, men who came to watch and demand respect. He said some of the female athletes who were raped by Dr Larry Nassar of Michigan State University have also stopped.
One of them was Trinea Gonczar, who was a young gymnast when Nassar began to abuse her and whose testimony helped send her to jail, Vaughn said.
“Nassar and Anderson’s methods were virtually identical: abuse under the guise of medical treatment,” said Parker Stinar, counsel for some of the men suing Michigan for damages.
Schlissel has so far ignored it, Vaughn said.
“Several mornings we saw him leave for work,” he said. “He’s trying not to look at us. So zero contact for the moment. Most of our contact has been with the university police.
They were “very cordial,” he said.
When NBC News contacted 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 are also working towards fair compensation for Anderson’s survivors through the ongoing confidential and court-supervised mediation process,” the statement said. “Out of respect for this process, there is nothing more that we can share.”
This echoed remarks Schlissel and the Board of Regents made in a joint statement this year which said, in part: “We are committed to resolving their claims and continuing the process of confidential court-guided mediation.”
In July, the university announced that it was making “in-depth reviews” of the way it handles cases of sexual misconduct and that it was creating a new office for equity, civil rights and title. IX to deal with such cases.
John Sellek, a spokesperson for survivors, said Vaughn took it upon himself to organize a public protest against a university which so far has apologized for not overpowering Anderson, who died in 2008, but failed has still not reached an agreement with the 850 predominantly male accusers with whom he has been in mediation for the past year.
“This is how he chose to raise awareness,” Sellek said of Vaughn. “I think it works.”
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 to sue college who has not done so anonymously as 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 didn’t understand, during his time as a young running back, that the unnecessary testicular and rectal exams Anderson insisted on were a violation.
“I just thought that was normal for taking an exam in Michigan to play on their football team,” Vaughn told The Undefeated website earlier. “That’s how I was told. It was a feeling of relief that the first step on the journey to becoming a Michigan man was over. “
But the experience left him with a lifelong aversion to being examined by doctors. And three decades passed before Vaughn realized that he, like so many others, had been a victim. The catalyst, he said, was a news article about the Anderson scandal.
“I went through a multitude of emotions after reading this,” 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 struck up a friendship with whistleblower Tad DeLuca, who claims he was kicked from the wrestling team in 1975 after s’ complaining to his coaches about what Anderson was doing.
“Tad came to support us,” Vaughn said. “So so many students who weren’t even alive when all of this was going on.”
Some of them weren’t even aware of what Anderson had done.
“Some of them learned it for the first time from me,” he said. “I have also heard heartbreaking stories from them, which tell me that the university still does not understand sexual assault. I spoke to an inspiring young woman who said she was more worried about being raped on campus than choosing a major. “
Vaughn said supporters came with food and drink and he was allowed to use the student union for bathroom breaks. He said sleeping in the tent had been difficult, especially for his back pain.
“We were trained to thrive in a sport of organized chaos,” Vaughn said. “We have learned to block the pain. Mentally, you are just going through.
The Anderson case echoes the ongoing scandal of Dr Richard Strauss at Ohio State University, Michigan’s Big 10 rival, where hundreds of men accused the university of failing to protect them from ‘a predatory doctor.
Much like in Michigan, an independent investigation concluded that coaches and administrators in the state of Ohio had known for decades that Strauss sexually abused young men, but failed to stop him. And this weekend, some of Strauss’ victims are planning to travel to Ann Arbor to show solidarity with Vaughn and the Anderson victims.
“I think these men suffered the same kind of abuse that we suffered as athletes at OSU,” said former Ohio State wrestler Rocky Ratliff, who is also an attorney representing the OSU. dozens of other Strauss victims. “I am deeply saddened and disgusted by the rhetoric I hear coming from the University of Michigan.”