UM’s Dr. Robert Anderson took semen samples. One man wants to know where they went

Kim Kozlowski | The Detroit News | 3:07 pm EDT August 8, 2021

Jonathan Vaughn, once a standout on the football field, is seeking answers, accountability and justice for himself and the hundreds who say they suffered sexual abuse by Dr. Robert Anderson at the University of Michigan.

As part of the abuse, Anderson had collected semen from him on multiple occasions when he was a student-athlete three decades ago playing for the Wolverines, saying he was doing research on creating "a perfect Black athlete," Vaughn said. 

Former University of Michigan and professional football player Jon Vaughn on Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021, after a meeting with Attorney General Dana Nessel and a team of investigators at Cadillac Place in Detroit.
Clarence Tabb Jr., The Detroit News

Vaughn, 51 is curious about what became of his specimens. Is there any chance, he wonders, he or other Anderson accusers unknowingly fathered a child?

"He made this offhand comment ... 'I am studying to see how to create a perfect Black athlete,'" Vaughn said. "I thought that was odd, but at that point in time, I am completely into the Michigan way and the Michigan Man. It's all about, we're different, we're better. Sperm samples and all that seemed logical to me."

On Thursday, Vaughn met with Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and a group of investigators to discuss his interactions with Anderson and what might have happened to specimens the now-deceased doctor collected from him and possibly an unknown number of others. Nessel's office confirmed to The Detroit News that the meeting took place.

Vaughn's fears are not implausible. Anderson researched male infertility and took an interest in andrology, the study of disorders of the male reproductive system. He also was linked to a reproductive medicine clinic during his career, investigative reports commissioned by UM show.

Anderson is accused of molesting students, athletes, pilots needing Federal Aviation Administration physicals and many others during his 35-year tenure while serving as head of UM's Health Service and team doctor for the UM Athletic Department from 1966-2003. He died in 2008. More than 850 people have come forward with accusations and have sued UM or indicated they intend to and are involved in mediation with the university.

Vaughn's meeting with Nessel came after he wrote a letter to 23andMe, a genetic testing company, and asked for assistance in answering questions he said he and some of Anderson's other accusers have about potential, unknown paternity linked to specimen donations years ago.

Dr. Robert E. Anderson
Robert Kalmbach, Bentley Historical Library

"We are interested in understanding the ‘fate’ of our semen samples and to identify any children who may be ours," Vaughn wrote to the company on July 15. "Further, we hope to quell our fear that our sperm may still be stored and/or for sale.

"We are interested to know if we have prodigy as a result of Dr. Anderson’s 'research.'"

Vaughn got a form letter response from 23andMe. He forwarded the letter to Nessel and landed the meeting. Representatives from 23andMe did not respond to Detroit News requests for comment. 

The company had not responded to his request as of Thursday afternoon, Vaughn said.

Vaughn said he left his meeting with Nessel and the investigators feeling optimistic. He added he hopes this was the first of many meetings with the state's top prosecutor.

"I feel like my voice was heard, and I feel like the attorney general and her office takes what we talked about very seriously," he said. "It's just a lot of hope."

Although Vaughn said he would not describe in detail what he and Nessel discussed, he did raise his concerns about the unknown fate of his DNA and that of others.

"Today’s meeting was a private conversation about ongoing allegations involving Dr. Anderson," Nessel spokeswoman Lynsey Mukomel said. "While it would not be appropriate for the department to discuss those allegations in detail, we remain committed to listening to survivors. Several questions surrounding Anderson's conduct at the university remain unanswered, and we have made clear that the board has the opportunity to assist in answering them if privilege is waived and a transparent investigation is requested."

Left: A 1971 ad in the Michigan Daily promoting Dr. Robert Anderson's "Sex and Marriage" class. Right: A 1975 story in the Michigan Daily highlights a semen donation program involving Anderson.
Michigan Daily Archive

'An interest in andrology'

Anderson's work at UM included treating students and athletes as a sports doctor. He also worked as a researcher, clinical instructor and lecturer in Michigan Medicine.

Anderson was first appointed as a part-time clinical instructor in Michigan Medicine departments starting in 1968, according to an investigative report about the doctor conducted for the university by the WilmerHale law firm. One of the appointments was to the Department of Surgery, Section of Urology. 

"This appointment primarily related to his work supervising the Urology Section's weekly male fertility clinic, where he provided clinical care and supervised residents and medical students who rotated through the clinic," the WilmerHale report said. "Dr. Anderson was not a urologist, but he took an interest in andrology, an area of medicine focused on male reproductive health."

The doctor's research at UM included male infertility and hypogonadism, when men's bodies do not produce enough testosterone, according to his personnel file.

By 1979, Anderson had a professional relationship with Ann Arbor Reproductive Medicine, located on Clark Road in Ypsilanti, according to the WilmerHale report. Although the report portrayed the institution as an "obstetrics and gynecology practice," numerous newspaper articles referred to the office as a fertility clinic. 

Anderson also maintained a solo practice in the same Clark Road building until at least 1982, the report said.

"At his Clark Road office Dr. Anderson focused on general internal medicine, sports physicals, FAA physical examinations, and fertility and male reproductive health," the report said. "He saw adults from the community as well as university student athletes, who his office manager understood were referred by UHS or the athletic department."

The university acquired the practice in 1995 from Anderson as part of an initiative to expand Michigan Medicine's primary care network, investigators found. There was little documentation of the acquisition, but people investigators interviewed said they did not recall learning of any complaints against Anderson during the acquisition process. 

Studies by Anderson related to sperm were documented in the WilmerHale report. A medical student in 1979 saw a flyer on a medical school bulletin board that Anderson was seeking paid participants for a study on sperm motility, or how well sperm moves through the female reproductive system. The student was enrolled in the study after completing medical history documents and went to UHS for a medical exam with Anderson.

"During the visit, Dr. Anderson performed a genital examination and spent an 'inordinate amount of time' massaging the patient’s testicles," the report said. "At the conclusion of the examination, Dr. Anderson alluded to other ways the student could earn money 'more on a personal level,' which the student interpreted as a sexual solicitation. The student declined the offer."

Another part of the report noted that a Michigan Medicine faculty member "heard from a former patient of Dr. Anderson’s that, during a medical appointment, Dr. Anderson asked whether the patient wanted help collecting a sperm sample and reached for his groin."

In response to questions about Vaughn's concerns, UM spokesman Rick Fitzgerald referred The News to the WilmerHale report.

Richard Goldman (left), a University of Michigan student sports announcer in the 1980s, shares a moment with Jon Vaughn, a former UM athlete, after speaking to the news media about sexual abuse by former university Dr. Robert Anderson during a press conference in Ann Arbor on June 16, 2021.
Max Ortiz, The Detroit News

'The Michigan way'

Vaughn, who played football for UM from 1988-91 before going on to play professionally for the Seattle Seahawks, New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs, said he had a different experience.

Vaughn said he saw Anderson for the first time in August 1988 when he was a freshman running back.

Vaughn claims he was sexually abused by Anderson during that visit when the doctor allegedly gave him an unnecessary testicular and prostate exam, and that he was assaulted on 45 other occasions by the doctor during his time at the university.

He also says Anderson collected semen specimens from him on at least four different occasions.

The first time occurred during the fall of his freshman year before UM played Michigan State University. He went to see Anderson before the game because he had discomfort and discharge in his penis. Vaughn contends Anderson had him provide a semen sample in front of him.

The doctor touched him and collected the specimen in a cup, Vaughn said.

"He said he was the one to take the sample so it's done correctly," he said.

Anderson also gave him a testicular and prostate exam before he went to practice, Vaughn said, adding he got antibiotics the next day but never got a diagnosis or documentation.

Vaughn said he remembers Anderson talking about an andrology study and he had no idea what andrology was.

Anderson, Vaughn said, took three more samples during his career at UM.

"My mindset going in to see Dr. Anderson was, 'Get it over with,' and make sure I can practice or play," Vaughn said. "Coming to Michigan, I was under the impression that this is the best medical treatment in the world. So everything was going to be at another level than what you experienced in high school."

Anderson, sponsored by University Health Service, ran an artificial insemination program that paid $15 to male participants, according to a story published in The Michigan Daily in 1975. The article reported Anderson worked with local gynecologists to compile a pool of prospective donors.

Vaughn said he was never paid for his specimen samples. UM did not directly respond to a question about whether an andrology study conducted by Anderson existed, was ever sanctioned by the university or published. 

Vaughn lives in the Dallas area, but he has been spending time in Michigan since the allegations about Anderson emerged in 2020. He has participated in press conferences highlighting legislative efforts to lift Michigan's statute of limitations for Anderson accusers and accusers speaking about what they told the late UM coach Bo Schembechler about Anderson. 

Vaughn first spoke publicly about Anderson's alleged abuse in July 2020. He said he  has since been writing the book "to tell the whole truth about this atrocity."

As he writes, Vaughn remains concerned about the aftermath of Anderson's so-called andrology study and the unknown surrounding the doctor's use of his semen. 

Former University of Michigan football player Jon Vaughn said Thursday he left his meeting with state Attorney General Dana Nessel and investigators feeling optimistic they are taking seriously his concerns about Dr. Robert Anderson's sexual abuse and collection of semen samples. on Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021 after a meeting with Attorney General Dana Nessel and a team of investigators at Cadillac Place in Detroit.
Clarence Tabb Jr., The Detroit News

There appears to be no paper trail. Many of the medical records for Anderson's former patients were destroyed a decade after they were created, according to the WilmerHale report. Only records created after 1995 through his work at Michigan Medicine exist, and "they did not provide material information with respect to any potential misconduct," investigators found.

Vaughn believes UM has his medical records, and he has tried to get them but has been unsuccessful.

UM's Fitzgerald said he was not able to discuss the status of an individual's medical records.

"I am on a quest to find out the entire truth," Vaughn said.

Staff Writer Carol Thompson contributed.

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