Michigan State University Head Football Coach Mel Tucker Accused Of Sexual Harassment
Michigan State’s football coach, Mel Tucker, is at the center of an investigation surrounding his relationship with anti-rape activist Brenda Tracy.
As USA Today reports, Tucker is being accused by Tracy of making unwanted sexual comments toward her and masturbating on the phone without Tracy’s consent. The two were introduced to each other in 2021 by way of a mutual friend, and at first, the relationship was good.
Tucker invited Tracy to speak to his team about the importance of consent as a continuum and not a fixed point, a conversation that Tucker characterized as one that made Tracy a “hit” for his players.
Tucker is one of the highest-paid coaches in the nation. His $80 million contract is fully guaranteed except in the case that he brings dishonor to the university or has committed a crime.
Tracy has filed a Title IX complaint with Michigan State University, who following the Larry Nassar scandal, has been trying to rehabilitate its public image.
Tracy discussed her feelings about what she alleges Tucker did to her on a call on April 28, 2022,.
“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 USA Today. “It’s like he sought me out just to betray me.”
Tucker acknowledged that he did masturbate on that phone call, but he alleges that it was a consensual act, claiming that the pair were engaged in phone sex.
In Tucker’s letter to the 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. I am not proud of my judgment and I am having difficulty forgiving myself for getting into this situation, but I did not engage in misconduct by any definition.”
The case has potentially broad implications for how the university is seen following its highly-publicized failure to hold sports doctor Larry Nassar accountable for his years of sexual assault on female gymnasts.
Jennifer Gomez, a professor at Boston University who researches effects of interpersonal trauma and violence, told USA Today, “This goes beyond coach Tucker and Brenda Tracy. What happens here has the potential to be very healing or very harmful for lots and lots and lots of other people.”
A hearing has been scheduled in October, but the Title IX investigation has already uncovered several inconsistencies in Tucker’s account, including the reason that he cancelled Tracy’s July 25 in-person training for his team not lining up with timelines.
In addition, Tucker also did not identify any witnesses that agreed with Tucker’s version of events, which includes his associate whom he promised would speak on condition of anonymity. Tucker also made an allegation that ESPN investigative reporter Paula Lavigne was looking into the truthfulness of Tracy’s account of the gang rape that is the center of her public facing work.
Lavigne denied this allegation via a statement she gave to USA Today: “Neither (Tracy’s) organization nor Tracy is or has been the target of any investigative reporting.”
Lavigne added. “I’m perplexed that Mel Tucker would respond to a complaint of sexual harassment by involving me or ESPN.”
Following the earlier reports from USA Today, ESPN reports that Tucker has been suspended without pay by Michigan State University while the university investigates. Interim University President Teresa Woodruff supported the decision in a press conference alongside Athletic Director Alan Haller.
University officials indicated that they were unaware of the specifics of the allegations against Tucker until the allegations from Tracy were made public via reports from ESPN and USA Today.
A university spokeswoman told ESPN that the suspension was for “unprofessional behavior and not living up to the core values of the department and university.” Michigan State’s policy for investigating sexual misconduct dictates that supervisors be made aware of ongoing complaints, but not the details associated with said complaints.
According to ESPN‘s reporting, this is done to assure that the investigation maintains its integrity. However, any decision on Tucker’s contract will be made following a scheduled October hearing.