Michigan State University is currently embroiled in a controversy surrounding one of its most prominent employees, head football coach Mel Tucker. A recent USA Today investigation has revealed serious allegations against Tucker, accusing him of engaging in nonconsensual phone sex with a rape survivor who was working with the MSU football program on relationship violence education.
The Accusations: Brenda Tracy, who bravely agreed to be identified by USA Today, alleges that Tucker invited her to speak to student athletes about her traumatic experience of being raped by three Oregon State University players and a high school recruit 25 years ago. Tracy and her non-profit organization, Set the Expectation, had been invited to campus multiple times to speak to the MSU football team and to be recognized for her advocacy work. She was even named an honorary captain for last year’s spring game. Tracy’s powerful messages have reached thousands of players on more than 100 college campuses.
During her interactions with Tucker, Tracy claims that a friendship developed between them. However, she alleges that during an April 28, 2022 phone call, Tucker initiated nonconsensual phone sex. Tracy insists that she did not consent to this activity and filed a complaint with the school in December 2022. In response to Tracy’s complaint, Tucker disputed her characterization to a Title IX investigator hired by MSU to investigate the matter.
The Impact: For Tracy, this alleged betrayal has been deeply traumatic. She expressed her dismay, saying, “The idea that someone could know me and say they understand my trauma but then re-inflict that trauma on me is so disgusting to me, it’s hard for me to even wrap my mind around it.” She believes that Tucker purposefully sought her out to deceive and harm her.
Furthermore, Tracy claims that Tucker frequently called her, sent her gifts, and even asked if she would date him if he were not married. It’s important to note that Tucker is indeed married and has two sons. Tracy recounted that she declined Tucker’s request to meet him alone, and he even suggested sneaking into her hotel through a back door to avoid being seen.
Tucker’s Response: When contacted by a USA Today reporter on the matter, Tucker declined to comment. However, in a March letter to a Title IX investigator, he stated, “Ms. Tracy’s distortion of our mutually consensual and intimate relationship into allegations of sexual exploitation has really affected me.” Tucker admitted that he was not proud of his judgment but maintained that he did not engage in misconduct by any definition.
Michigan State University’s Stand: In response to the allegations and subsequent investigation, Michigan State University released a statement indicating that the school does not comment on potential investigations. They stressed the importance of maintaining confidentiality in reporting incidents, creating a safe environment for individuals to come forward. The university has a formal hearing scheduled for October 5 and 6, during the MSU football team’s bye week. This hearing will determine whether Tucker violated the school’s anti-sexual harassment policies and the federal Title IX law that prohibits sex discrimination in education.
Legal Battles: Michigan State University’s refusal to release documents related to Tucker’s case has already sparked legal action. ESPN reportedly made a Freedom of Information Act request, which MSU denied, citing state law that exempts information that “would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of an individual’s privacy.” ESPN has hired a Michigan-based law firm to pursue potential litigation, arguing that MSU’s records denial request violates open records laws. They point out that the alleged phone call Tucker made occurred while he was traveling for university business and involved a person he previously hired to speak to his team.
Tucker’s Contract and Future: In 2021, Mel Tucker signed a 10-year, $95 million contract extension, making him one of the highest-paid coaches in the NCAA. Notably, the contract includes a clause that would allow MSU to terminate Tucker’s employment without having to pay out the full contract if he is found to have engaged in “any conduct which constitutes moral turpitude or which, in the university’s reasonable judgment, would tend to bring public disrespect, contempt or ridicule” to the school.
Current Status: This controversy comes at a pivotal time for the Michigan State football program. The USA Today report emerged just after a resounding 45-14 victory by Michigan State over Richmond, leaving the team with a 2-0 record in Tucker’s fourth season leading the Spartans.
The allegations against Coach Mel Tucker and the subsequent investigations highlight the ongoing challenges universities face in addressing issues of sexual misconduct and the importance of creating safe environments for students, staff, and advocates like Brenda Tracy.
Additionally, it serves as a reminder of the broader cultural shift towards accountability and transparency, especially in institutions of higher education, in the wake of high-profile cases like that of former MSU athletics and USA Gymnastics physician Dr. Larry Nassar, who is serving a lengthy prison sentence for his sexual assault convictions. Survivors continue to seek justice and answers from their institutions, demanding transparency and accountability in addressing allegations of misconduct.