First female athlete publicly accuses former U-M doctor of sexual assault

Former tennis player details her sexual assault by U-M doctor (6:23)

Cathy Kalahar, a freshman tennis player for the Wolverines in 1973, is the first woman to publicly accuse Dr. Robert Anderson of sexual assault. (6:23)

A woman who played tennis for Michigan in the 1970s is the first female athlete to publicly say she was sexually abused by former Wolverines team doctor Robert Anderson.

Cathy Kalahar says she was sexually assaulted by a team doctor during a physical exam in 1973. When she told a psychological counselor at the University Health Service months later about her experience in the exam room, Kalahar says the counselor immediately dismissed her complaints as untrue and a "sexual fantasy."

Kalahar says she erased the names of those medical professionals from her memory for most of her adult life. She told others, including a therapist and her husband, about her traumatic early days in college and the doctor whose name she had blocked in her mind. Earlier this year, Kalahar read about the burgeoning claims of sexual assault made against Anderson, who died in 2008, and realized she wasn't alone. She says she is convinced that it was Anderson who abused her as well.

"I really don't have a lot of memories about his physical appearance because I was so shocked about what happened I started looking at the wall to try to put myself in a different space because of what he was doing," Kalahar says. "... I'm very confident that it was him because of the level of his rudeness and what I've read in the other reports. It fits what happened to other people in terms of his, I would have to say, cruelty."

Anderson worked at the University of Michigan in a variety of roles from 1967 through 2003, including as a team physician in the athletic department. He died in 2008, but a letter sent to current athletic director Warde Manuel in 2018 prompted an investigation that eventually led to revelations of a long pattern of alleged sexual abuse.

More than 400 patients have come forward about the doctor's conduct since late February, when allegations against him were first made public in the Detroit News. Several men, most of them former athletes who competed for Michigan, have come forward to identify themselves as survivors of Anderson's sexual abuse. Kalahar is the first woman to publicly share her story.

Michigan started its first varsity women's sports programs in 1973. Kalahar arrived on campus to begin her freshman year that fall. She was a strong tennis player at her high school in the small town of Midland, Michigan, and she came to college with the intention of continuing to play. After making the team in September, she was directed to complete an athletic department-mandated physical exam.

Kalahar says she remembers going to the campus health center after business hours along with several of her new teammates. She says once she was in the exam room by herself, she recalls Anderson entering abruptly and beginning the initial steps of a physical exam.

After checking her heart with a stethoscope, Kalahar says, Anderson squeezed her breasts and commented on how large they were. She says Anderson told her that men would not like her because her breasts were too large and suggested that she should have them "cut down."

She says Anderson suggested that if she were not interested in a breast reduction procedure, she should consider becoming a lesbian because men didn't like breasts as large as hers, and a woman might be more compassionate.

"I was in disbelief," Kalahar says. "I'm being suggested to me that I'm a lesbian, [that] I'm unattractive to males, I should be considering a woman. I hadn't even thought about being with a woman sexually or as a lover. That was not on my radar. And it's very upsetting to me as an 18-year-old to have that suggested to me by what I felt was a total stranger."

Later in the exam, Kalahar says Anderson inserted his ungloved fingers into her vagina without any explanation. Kalahar says she had a proper gynecological exam, with her mother supervising, at a local doctor's office during her high school years. She says what Anderson did to her during her first month at Michigan was different. Kalahar says she knew immediately that something was wrong but was too shocked to say anything.

"I wanted to melt into the wall," she says. "I wanted out of the room immediately, but I didn't know how to make that happen."

Kalahar says that before ending the exam, Anderson gave her a business card with contact information for a female campus psychology counselor. He told her that she should speak to the counselor to figure out if she wanted to become a lesbian or have her breasts reduced.

She says she discussed Anderson's conduct as "creepy" with a few of her teammates on their walk home from the physical exam but did not go into further detail. Kalahar says her teammates also thought he was creepy. Attempts made by ESPN to reach those teammates were unsuccessful.

Kalahar says she tried to stay away from the University Health Service building after her physical exam, including sometimes changing her walking route to class to avoid passing it. She said most of her freshman year was marred by a combination of confusion, anxiety and growing depression. After several months, she decided to visit the female counselor Anderson recommended to her so she could tell someone what happened to her.

She says she described to the counselor what Anderson did and said to her during her physical exam. The counselor, Kalahar says, told her that those things didn't actually occur and that this was part of a sexual fantasy that Kalahar wanted to happen. Kalahar says she pushed back and told the counselor that she was telling the truth, but the counselor persisted in not believing her.

"As much as I was shocked by the doctor, now I'm more shocked by the follow-up therapist," Kalahar says. "So for me, it was a second wound, which in some ways was worse than the first."

It was not rare in the 1970s for a psychologist to respond to claims of sexual assault by saying they were a fantasy, according to Dr. Jaine Darwin, a lecturer at Harvard Medical School and a clinical supervisor for the Victims of Violence program at Cambridge Health Alliance. Darwin said that way of thinking was just starting to "collapse" in certain places in the mid-1970s, around the time Kalahar says she spoke to the female therapist.

"Unfortunately, it was very common," Darwin said. "Women tended to not be believed."

Kalahar doesn't recall the name of the counselor she saw and doesn't have any medical records from that time. Darwin, who also has a private psychotherapy practice, said it is "not the least bit unusual" for victims to remember some specific details about a sexual assault while blocking out others, such as names and faces.

Decades before any public accusations were made against Anderson, though, Kalahar told a different therapist what happened to her. That therapist confirmed to ESPN that Kalahar told him in the 1980s that she was sexually assaulted during a physical exam at Michigan and that a campus psychologist did not believe her.

Kalahar isn't the only woman to claim that Anderson abused her. A former volleyball player and another woman anonymously filed claims in federal court in April that included details similar to those in Kalahar's story. Kalahar's attorney, Parker Stinar, said his firm represents more than 115 clients in the Anderson case, and roughly 10% of them are women.

"I think there's a component that since the majority of the stories have been on behalf of male athletes, that women may be fearful or concerned about coming forward," Stinar said.

More than 70 plaintiffs have filed lawsuits this year that argue that the university's negligence allowed Anderson to continue his sexual abuse for decades after he was reported to authorities on campus. Stinar, who works for the Wahlberg, Woodruff, Nimmo & Sloane law firm in Denver, has not yet filed lawsuits on behalf of any of his clients. He and his firm are hoping to reach an out-of-court settlement with the university but remain open to filing suit if that fails.

"All of our clients want change," Stinar said. "Whether it's how physical exams take place in athletics or just in general with physical examinations. It's also that voices of victims are no longer ignored, where it requires a hundred voices before action is taken. That one voice should be enough to prompt an investigation."

Stinar said the university failed its students by ignoring warnings raised by former athletes. Kalahar says she spoke with the psychology counselor in 1974. Former Michigan wrestler Tad Deluca says he reported Anderson's conduct to coach Bill Johannesen and to then-athletic director Don Canham in 1975. An anonymous track athlete said in a lawsuit that he reported Anderson to former track coaches Jack Harvey and Ron Warhurst. Two former football players said in a lawsuit that current head athletic trainer Paul Schmidt and another employee identified only as "Murph" cracked jokes about players' having to "go back there to Dr. A to drop [their] drawers."

All of the former athletes say their complaints about Anderson were not taken seriously. Canham died in 2005. Johannesen denied that he ignored complaints about Anderson when interviewed by The Associated Press earlier this year. An attorney representing Warhurst and Harvey told ESPN that the two track coaches say they were never told about Anderson's abuse. Schmidt did not return calls requesting comment but told a police detective that he was in the room while Anderson treated patients on many occasions and never saw anything troubling. Schmidt remains employed by the school.

The university has hired two law firms to assist with the Anderson case in different capacities. The Jones Day firm is defending the school in court. The WilmerHale firm was hired to conduct a "vigorous and independent" investigation into all allegations related to Anderson.

Kalahar says she spoke to representatives from WilmerHale this spring, when she called a hotline set up by the university to receive information about Anderson. Kalahar said she initially told the representative on the phone that she was not 100 percent certain that it was Anderson who abused her. Kalahar says the woman she spoke to from WilmerHale believed her account and confirmed for her that it was Anderson.

A spokeswoman from WilmerHale told ESPN that she could not answer any questions due to the ongoing investigation. A university spokesman also declined to answer questions but added that the university hotline had received calls about Anderson from 383 individuals as of early July.

WilmerHale's contract with the university says the firm will produce a report that will be shared with the public at the same time that it is shared with the university. The report is expected to be finalized sometime this fall.

The university announced in April that it was developing a plan to address claims against Anderson outside of the court system. Stinar and several other attorneys working the case say they have not yet received details on what that plan might entail.

Kalahar says coming forward to share her story is "one of the most unpleasant things I've done in my life." She says she decided to revisit her decades-old trauma because she wants to support other victims, either by encouraging them to speak up or by being a public face for others those are coping privately.

"There's power in speaking up and stopping people," she says. "I don't believe that sexual assault is appropriate in our society, and the only way it will stop is when people get the courage to speak up about it and tell their stories. ... I think, for me, I'm taking back a power. It's a full circle, what I feel."

ESPN investigative producer Greg Amante contributed to this story.