(CNN) — It was the snap of the doctor’s glove that spooked him right out of the exam room.
Chuck Christian is a large fellow, a 6-foot-4 former tight end for one of the most decorated college football programs in the country. He doesn’t come off as squeamish.READ MORE: Michigan Congressman: Federal Virus Aid Wasn't For Elected Officials
Yet about 15 years ago, when a physician prepared to perform a prostate exam after Christian discovered blood in his semen, the big man simply walked out of the office. He harkened back decades to his days as a Michigan Wolverine, when team Dr. Robert Anderson allegedly performed unwarranted prostate checks on athletes.
“Nobody’s going to do that again,” he thought as he escaped the urology clinic. “That’s why I didn’t go get the exam because of my fear of these digital exams that Dr. Anderson used to give me.”
Today, Christian, 60, has stage 4 prostate cancer that has spread to his spine, tailbone, hips, ribs and shoulders.
Doctors told him in 2016 he had three years to live, but he just passed the four-year mark, he said, explaining that he opted for alternative treatments over chemotherapy and radiation.
The married father of three wishes he would’ve realized sooner that his fear of doctors stemmed from the trauma he says he suffered as a University of Michigan student-athlete in Anderson’s exam room. He’s speaking up so other former athletes don’t make the mistake he made, of waiting too long to get checked.
No one should be ashamed of being a victim, he said.
“I want to help all the student-athletes that have been through what I went through,” Christian told CNN. “Do not let any doctor or trainer do to you what they did to us, because it’s wrong and it’s illegal.”
A Washington, DC law firm, tapped by the University of Michigan, is investigating Anderson, who died in 2008. The school is urging victims to call its university compliance hotline with any reports of abuse.
“Every person in our community should expect to feel safe and supported,” university President Mark Schlissel said earlier this year. “The allegations that were reported are disturbing and very serious.”
Christian’s attorney, Michael Wright, represents 125 former student-athletes, and he expects the number to grow. He knows other attorneys representing more alleged victims, he said.
Wright’s clients are not at this point suing the university. He “wants (former athletes) to be part of the process of holding the University of Michigan accountable,” and he’s trusting university leaders, for now, to act in good faith, he said.
‘You feel violated?’
When Christian first went to see Anderson before the 1977 season, he’d had physical exams before. In high school, the unpleasant part was being asked to turn his head and cough.
“Dr. Anderson did that, but then he tacked on some other stuff as well,” he said. “He snapped on a glove and penetrated me. It was the most pain I’d ever felt, and I screamed like a baby.”
A friend, another freshman, was in the waiting room when Christian walked out, he recounted. Christian asked his pal whether Anderson had done the same thing to him, he said, and his friend confirmed he had.
“You feel violated?” his buddy asked.
“Oh my God, do I ever,” Christian replied.
Senior players later told them that that’s how physical exams went with Anderson, leaving Christian to think, “Maybe this is just normal. This is big-time college football, so maybe there’s more involved in a physical.”
He endured four such exams — one before each football season — but once he graduated in 1981, he decided he was done with the medical profession and “avoided doctors like the plague,” he said during a phone interview from his Randolph, Massachusetts, home.
If he was sick, he toughed it out. When he broke his finger playing basketball, he crafted a splint out of a popsicle stick.
It was around 2004 when he visited a urologist who told him he needed to conduct a digital exam. It sounded high-tech, and Christian agreed — until the glove came out.
“I heard it snap and was like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa! What are you doing?'” he said.
The doctor explained the prostate exam procedure, and Christian bounced. He hadn’t drawn the link to the trauma from his college days.
He didn’t return to the urologist until LaDonna, his wife of 39 years and a nursing instructor at Simmons University, grew concerned that he was getting up eight to 10 times a night to urinate. That was more than a decade later.
The doctor told Christian during the 2016 visit he wanted to conduct a prostate exam, but Christian declined. The doctor reached out to LaDonna, who explained to her husband that this wasn’t a matter of discomfort, but rather, life and death.
“I had to fight back the fear of my previous experiences,” he said.
The doctor reported Christian’s prostate was enlarged and hardened. Each snip from a subsequent biopsy showed advanced cancer. It was too late to operate.
There’s no question, Christian said, that his experience with Anderson colored his perception of the medical profession and kept him away all those years. The sound of the glove snapping on the doctor’s wrist was a trigger, he realized.
“My brain went back to Dr. Anderson, and I was like, ‘Oh no, I’m not going to do that,'” he said. “I realized that I really had a fear of doctors because of that experience.”
‘They were powerless’
The problem at Michigan was systemic, Wright said. After representing 150 Ohio State University athletes in their lawsuit involving the now-deceased Dr. Richard Strauss, he finds the Michigan case “very eerily similar to Dr. Strauss.”READ MORE: GM Issues 2nd Bolt Recall; Faulty Batteries Can Cause Fires
That doctors like Strauss and Anderson allegedly victimized the “biggest, strongest, meanest, toughest men in America” shows that the sexual abuse wasn’t about sex, Wright said.
“It’s about control. It’s about power,” he said.
The men were reluctant to come forward not only because of society’s expectations, he said, but also because they feared it would affect their abilities to play the sports they loved.
“They were powerless because they wanted to suit up every day,” the lawyer said.
At a news conference in February, three former wrestlers, including 2008 Olympian Andy Hrovat, shared their stories of alleged abuse at the hands of Anderson, who was employed by the university from 1968 to 2003.
Tad Deluca, who wrestled at Michigan from 1972 to 1976, recalled receiving penis, hernia and prostate exams for a dislocated elbow, and students knew the team physician as “Dr. Drop Your Drawers Anderson.” Deluca complained to his coach, he said, and lost his scholarship for his efforts.
Hrovat, an All-American who graduated in 2002, recalled teammates warning him exams with Anderson “were going to get weird.”
“To have to go into a room knowing that you’re going to encounter this is just, to me, horrific,” Hrovat said. “That’s why it’s always been in the back of my mind that this wasn’t right.”
Anderson directed the school’s University Health Service before becoming the wrestling, football, hockey and track teams’ doctor.
Campus police opened an investigation in July 2018 after a former athlete wrote athletic director Warde Manuel about abuse experienced in the 1970s. Investigators identified ex-patients who recounted Anderson’s alleged misconduct and unnecessary exams — most of them in the 1970s, though one account came from the 1990s, the university said.
The statute of limitations has passed on the allegations, so no criminal charges can be brought, the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office said in February.
Overcoming the fear
Christian has a message for athletes who left Michigan or other schools with traumatic scars.
“Don’t allow that to be the thing that stops us from seeking medical help. I don’t want to see anymore people dying over this craziness, being afraid of seeing doctors,” he said. “The most important thing is to tell it, and there’s no shame in it. Predators thrive on the shame of their victims.”
He wishes someone could’ve reasoned with him earlier. A friend recently confided that he, too, had prostate troubles but doctors caught them early and were able to take care of it with a simple procedure.
“You’ve got to look at the bigger picture, and you’ve got to try to control the fear of that trauma in order to be around for your family and your kids and your wife,” he said. “Sometimes talking through it with somebody can help you break through that barrier. I wish I would’ve talked to someone.”
He’s received dozens of texts, emails and phone calls from former Michigan athletes thanking him for coming forward. Some share their own experiences, and he welcomes the “therapeutic crying sessions” he’s been having.
“In the last two days, I’ve cried more than I’ve ever cried in my life,” he said during last week’s phone interview.
Before Christian’s 2016 diagnosis, here was a man in his 50s not just playing basketball with 20-somethings, but talking mad trash.
“Son, I got kids bigger than you,” he’d say after draining a jumper in an opponent’s face.
He tried a round of chemotherapy, but it reduced him to a shadow of that man. It felt as if someone had bound him in plastic wrap, stuck him in a sauna, sat a gorilla on his chest and told him to breathe, he recalled.
His brain turned to mush. He’d get lost driving to familiar destinations and need to pull out his GPS. He’d forget what side of the car his gas tank was on — sometimes more than once at the same gas station.
“It was the most brutal thing I’ve ever been through in my life,” said the man who spent four years smashing into 250-pound linemen.
‘Bad apple’ can’t spoil memories, he says
Now, he has good days and bad.
“Right now, I feel good. Maybe a few weeks ago, I didn’t know if I’d make it another week I was in so much pain,” he said, explaining he was suffering so badly that LaDonna had to help him go to the bathroom.
Heavy narcotics, including OxyContin and morphine, had him “in Lala Land,” so he’s tapered back the medication.
“I’m trying not to get addicted to all that,” he said.
His goal now is to embolden others. He’s not trying to sink his alma mater, he said. He remembers what happened to famed Penn State football coach Joe Paterno after the Jerry Sandusky abuse. He bristles at comparisons to Michigan’s legendary Bo Schembechler, for whom he played, saying he’s not to blame.
Christian’s years in Ann Arbor — where he made wonderful friends and played and studied under top-notch coaches and professors — were the best time of his life, and he won’t let the memories be tainted by “one guy who was the bad apple,” he said.
He is disappointed, however, that the doctor isn’t here to face his alleged victims — and justice.
“I wish he was around to see the damage that he’s done and to see how many people he’s hurt and to realize how selfish what he did was,” Christian said. “I would love to see him in handcuffs going to jail.”MORE NEWS: Michigan Reports 1,295 New COVID-19 Cases, 21 Deaths
The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2020 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.