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Former Michigan player opens up about the sexual abuse behind his sit-in protest

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Today marks one week since former NFL player and standout running back for the University of Michigan Jon Vaughn started a sit-in protest outside the home of the university president. He says he's taking a stand against what he called, quote...

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JON VAUGHN: The greatest sexual abuse, rape and cover-up in the history of sports.

CHANG: And we should warn you that this discussion gets into details of those allegations. Vaughn says he was sexually abused by former University of Michigan doctor Robert Anderson, who died in 2008. In 2020, after initial reports surfaced, the university received more than 2,100 complaints against Anderson. I spoke to Jon Vaughn earlier today as his sit-in continued in Ann Arbor.

I know that you have said you no longer want to be a John Doe in this case. Can you explain for us why you ultimately decided to come forward publicly?

VAUGHN: Well, once I found out about what was going on, I needed to make sure that I controlled my narrative. I was like, I am not a John Doe. You know, I am Jon Vaughn. If you could say my name when you recruited me as a student-athlete...

CHANG: Yeah.

VAUGHN: ...Well, you can damn sure say my name now.

CHANG: Well, as we mentioned, you're waiting to have a face-to-face conversation with the university president, Mark Schlissel. What specifically are you calling on him to do here?

VAUGHN: Well, at this point, I've been here since Friday evening at 7 p.m., and the only people that the university has sent to talk to me is the university police or the Ann Arbor police. I'm not calling for a meeting anymore. I'm calling for his resignation.

CHANG: I'm wondering what you make of the statement that the university has issued in response to all of this. It issued a statement of sympathy for, quote, "all survivors of the late Dr. Robert Anderson's abuse." And then it went on to say that the school is working to make the campus safer, but that it cannot share more due to the confidential mediation process that's going on now between many of Dr. Anderson's accusers and the university. What did you make of that statement?

VAUGHN: A hundred percent of that statement is a lie. That statement was another example of how the president and the administration of this university ignores the safety of its students.

CHANG: I know that another sexual abuse survivor, Trinea Gonczar, has joined you in solidarity this week. She was abused by the former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, which, of course, was another horrible scandal that rocked the state of Michigan and beyond. And I'm just struck that Anderson has actually had many more accusers than Nassar. And I'm wondering, how do you feel about the attention that Anderson's case is getting compared to all of the attention that Nassar's case has gotten?

VAUGHN: Well, they're all basically one case because Larry Nassar did his student training here at the University of Michigan in 1985. There were so many similarities to Anderson and Nassar. So really, it's no coincidence that the epicenter of the largest sexual abuse, rape and cover-ups in sport are literally miles away from each other. But I think there's been a stigma of mainly African American males that the general population can't believe could be rape victims. But in our case, everything that happened to us was under the guise of medicine. I should have never had my first prostate exam at 18, and I should have never had 49 more before I left at the age of 20.

CHANG: What would you like to say to any men or boys of color out there who believe that they have been sexually abused, who were sexually assaulted? What would you like to say to them about coming forward?

VAUGHN: One, you are not alone. Two, continue to search to have somebody believe you. As a victim of sexual assault, it was like being on an ever-shrinking island. And once I was able to get the courage to speak my truth, that island started to get bigger, and my internal strength started to grow. And no longer can sexual assault and mental health be taboo things that the African American or ethnic community not discuss.

CHANG: That is Jon Vaughn, a week into his protest over the University of Michigan's handling of sexual abuse allegations on campus. Thank you so much, Jon.

VAUGHN: Thank you. You're not just hearing my voice. You're hearing hundreds of voices.

CHANG: And in response to Vaughn's claim that the University of Michigan's previous statement responding to this case was a lie, the university sent us the same statement expressing sympathy for Anderson's survivors. And it said that it cannot say more as confidential mediation continues. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.