'I wanted to be an Olympian, then I felt like trash': Fledge CEO details abuse by Robert Anderson

Jerry Norris
Posted at 10:16 AM, Jan 31, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-10 12:30:24-05

LANSING, Mich. — More than 1,000 people have accused the late University of Michigan doctor Robert Anderson of sexual abuse.

Jerry Norris is one of them. He is well known throughout mid-Michigan as the founder and CEO of the The Fledge.

A successful entrepreneur, Norris said, until now, almost no one knew of the sexual abuse he suffered from Dr. Anderson.

Raised in Lansing, Norris graduated from Eastern High School in 1984 with immense pride. After 11 years of training, he was set to wrestle at the University Michigan the following fall.

"It was very exciting. It was a dream come true. And a huge celebration for all of us," Norris said.

That would soon change.

"So the first thing that is like the biggest complaint against Dr. Anderson is that when you would go to get your physical, it was always bigger than the physical you've ever had," said Norris.

"You have this Dr. Anderson, who comes in, and he's doing more than what had happened to you before, you know? It's not the normal physical that we were used to. But you're going from a high school athlete to a D-1 athlete, and you're thinking, 'This how it should be. Maybe this is just different.' So you're trying to get used to it. He spends extra time down there, he recommends different types of exams."

Norris says Anderson's behavior wasn't a secret.

"You get back into the locker room. And everyone was like, 'How did you like your diddle?' It was a running joke among a lot of people, and a lot of wrestlers. To me, I look back at that, and that's part of the defense mechanism that we had. Everybody knew that this was happening but it was not as big as you might have thought it would be," he said.

Because he had previous medical conditions, Norris said, he didn't make too much of the longer examinations.

However, his belief in Dr. Anderson and the university changed after a visit to his athletic counselor. when he asked for help finding a job.

"He recommended that I go to Dr. Anderson, who was doing research on something and they were unclear what it was going to be," he said.

And so he went, to Anderson's office, not to the clinic.

"He pulls out this like big bar, to lock the door. So he has this bar that hooks in the floor, hooks under the doorknob, and nobody can open it. That's like the first thing he does before we start talking," he said.

Norris told him he was studying computer science, how he wanted to do research.

"I'm really excited to be talking about it. He's telling me that, you know, we're doing research on DNA and testicular cancer and all of this stuff," Norris said. "Then he says, 'Hey, if you want to start today, we can take a sample.' So he's my doctor that I've already pulled my pants down in front of, and I'm thinking, 'Okay, this is weird. What's the lock thing and why are we doing it here?' But my academic guy sent me to him and they wouldn’t do that to me."

"So I ended up pulling my pants down," he said, "and he wants to take a sample of my pubic hair. While he's doing that, he's like, 'Oh, you must be a really good wrestler,' and he's rubbing my thigh or kind of squeezing my thigh. Then he's trying to get going further, he wants a semen sample. That's when I said 'I don't feel comfortable, I think we should be doing this somewhere else.' And I got up and I left."

Most all accusations against Anderson began with unnecessary hernia and prostate exams that included genital fondling during routine physicals. Some victims have stories of further abuse.

Norris said he stopped going to wrestling practice after his experience in Anderson's office. He said he didn't know who to tell and was scared of retaliation from the university.

After taking his sophomore year off, Norris returned to UM to wrestle his junior year, however he refused to go to Anderson's office and quit ankle rehabilitation to avoid seeing him.

"I didn't want to get a testicle exam because my ankle hurts and that's what he did very, very often," said Norris. "My roommate had a broken back and wouldn't go to him."

Anderson was employed at the university from 1966 to 2003 and was the director of the university's Health Service and physician for multiple athletic teams, including football.

On May 11 of last year, WhilmerHale, a Washington, D.C., law firm, released an independent report of Anderson's abuse and university employees who could have stopped it.

The report mentions many instances of student athletes complaining to athletic personnel.

In one instance, a football player complained of sexual abuse to former coach Bo Schembechler and the report states Schembechler told him to, "toughen up."

"When I was in high school, I trusted my coach. If he told me to do something, I would do it. When the University of Michigan and the coaches and academic advisers said to do something, we did it," Norris said. "You know I I wanted to be an Olympian and I thought I had a chance. Then I felt like I was trash. I look back on it, and I have tons of regrets. Like, why didn't I say something?"

In a 2021 survey by the nonprofit Lauren's Kids, more than one in four current or former student athletes surveyed reported being sexually assaulted or harassed by someone in a position of power on campus.

Almost 40 percent of athletes said they felt pressured to not report because they were afraid of losing a scholarship or doubted the abuse was bad enough.

"This isn't really a big problem, but maybe it is?" said Norris. "I don't know, it's confusing, right? You get all of that and you get this locker room thing, right? I actually have a screenshot on my phone from the Detroit Free Press last week. One of the people underneath commented and said, 'Most 18 to 24 year old boys would not let this happen to them unless they wanted it to happen.' It's that mentality that keeps this possible."

Robert Anderson died in November of 2008. On January 19, 2022, 1,050 Anderson survivors, mostly men, settled with the University of Michigan for $490,000,000.

"We thank all survivors of abuse by the late Dr. Robert Anderson for coming forward to share their stories. We apologize for the pain they have suffered and are pleased to have reached a settlement with many of those survivors," the University of Michigan said in a statement issued in response to questions about Norris's story. "The university is going to extraordinary measures to put critical protections in place on top of earlier protections. We continue to work with the nationally recognized consulting firm of Guidepost solutions on additional measures."

Norris hopes that more people act on suspicions of impropriety. He said the payoff of being right is worth the embarrassment of being wrong.
"We have to have these conversations. This happens. It's going to continue to happen," said Norris. "We need to heal from things like this by getting to the root of it. We can't do that until there's awareness and talking about it. So I'm talking about it."

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