Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Report: MSU football coach Tucker under Title IX investigation for sexually harassing rape survivor

September 10, 2023
<p>Michigan State Football returned to Spartan Stadium for the spring game on Saturday, April 16, 2022. Head Coach Mel Tucker continued to stress the team’s efforts to become a “player-led” team.</p>

Michigan State Football returned to Spartan Stadium for the spring game on Saturday, April 16, 2022. Head Coach Mel Tucker continued to stress the team’s efforts to become a “player-led” team.

Photo by Chloe Trofatter | The State News

UPDATE: MSU suspended Tucker without pay on Sept. 10, 2023, pending the results of this investigation.

Content warning: This story contains description of sexual harassment.

Michigan State University head football coach Mel Tucker is the subject of an ongoing Title IX investigation, according to a report from USA Today published early Sunday morning.

Accusing Tucker of sexual harassment is Brenda Tracy, a rape survivor and advocate who worked with Tucker to educate his team on sexual violence. Her “Set the Expectation” campaign had MSU athletes pledge to obtain consent before engaging in sexual acts with another person, as well as discuss healthy sexual practices. 

But towards the end of their partnership, Tracy claims Tucker made a phone call that began with a sexually suggestive comment about her appearance and ended with Tucker masturbating on the line.

A section from the investigative report, obtained by USA Today, reads:

“(Tracy) ‘kind of froze’ in the moment at first. (She) thought to herself, ‘Oh my god, this is happening, and I can’t stop it, it’s going to happen whether I like it or not.’ (She) was trying to figure out what to do. It didn’t occur to (her) that she could hang up.”

"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," Tracy told the USA Today. "It's like he sought me out just to betray me."

In his filings, Tucker admits to masturbating on the call, but denies it was nonconsensual. Tucker, who has a 23-year marriage and two sons, claims he and Tracy had a mutual romantic connection even prior to the phone call, and that they frequently made flirtatious comments towards one another. He alleges Tracy wanted a “sugar daddy” who would regularly pay her money in exchange for sexual and romantic favors.

Tracy says the relationship was one-sided, and that she had to ward off sexual advances in the past.

In December 2022, eight months after the call, Tracy filed the Title IX report.

The investigation is complete, according to USA Today’s report. A hearing to evaluate the evidence and potentially make a finding of wrongdoing is set for October, during the football team’s by-week.

MSU did not comment on USA Today’s story. University spokespeople and the chair of MSU’s board did not return calls or texts from The State News seeking comment Sunday morning.

The accusations have already prompted reactions from other MSU figures.

Jack Lipton, chair of the faculty senate and faculty liaison to MSU’s board, said Sunday morning that “faculty will be watching” the university’s response, in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

"We all must adhere to the ideals and standards expected of any employee of MSU, even a fancy coach,” Lipton said in the post.

Rachel Denhollander, the first woman to publicly accuse disgraced ex-MSU doctor Larry Nassar of sexual assault, voiced support for Tracy in a post on X.

She called Tucker’s alleged conduct “absolutely disgusting,” especially given recent controversial university decisions, like the board’s continued refusal to release documents relating to MSU’s sheltering of Nassar to investigators.

These accusations thrust MSU once again into scrutiny over its handling of sexual misconduct.

Since Denhollander and hundreds of other women’s accusations against Nassar put MSU’s mishandling of the former doctor’s years-long sexual abuse into the national spotlight, three university presidents have resigned after issues with the Title IX investigatory process, faculty and student groups lost confidence in MSU’s board over its secrecy and issues with Title IX, and three MSU deans resigned in the last year over either issues with Title IX or issues with the university’s apathy to it.

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MSU’s major athletics programs have also had problems with sexual violence in the past.

In 2018, university counselors were accused of discouraging the victim of a gang rape from reporting the incident because the accused were on MSU’s basketball team.

And in much of 2017 through early 2020, MSU football was engulfed in a scandal concerning its handling of rape allegations against players and the recruitment of athletes with previous offenses. Those incidents, which occurred under Tucker’s predecessor, Mark Dantonio, prompted an outside investigation which largely cleared the coach of wrongdoing.

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