UPDATE! MSU’s Termination Letter to Mel Tucker -INSIDE- Excuse me, are you listening? – Where there is smoke, there is fire

Photo of Mel Tucker

By Tammy Anthony Baker / CC BY-SA 4.0

Dear Readers,

Michigan State University (MSU) head football coach Mel Tucker has been placed on unpaid suspension amid allegations of sexual harassment against activist Brenda Tracy, a decision announced by MSU’s athletic director, Alan Haller, during a press conference on September 10, supported by the institution’s interim president, Teresa Woodruff.

When I first saw the reports, I was shocked and hurt. MSU has been in the news plenty recently. USA Today first broke the story on September 9, detailing Tracy’s account of Tucker allegedly making sexual comments and engaging in inappropriate behavior during a phone call with her. Tracy, a rape survivor and the founder of the nonprofit “Set The Expectation,” which advocates for the end of sexual violence, reported the incident to MSU’s Title IX office. Expressing her distress over the situation, Tracy told USA Today, “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 felt betrayed, as it appeared Tucker sought her out only to later traumatize her.

The ongoing investigation, initiated in December, has been documented in a report submitted in July. A formal hearing to evaluate these findings is scheduled for the week starting October 5, during the football program’s bye week. Tracy, who served as an honorary captain at Michigan State’s spring football game in 2022 and was photographed with Tucker, has been pivotal in urging athletes to stand against sexual violence, leveraging her platform built after her assault by four college football players in 1998.

Over the past twenty years, Tucker has built a robust career as a coach in both college football and the NFL. He took the reins as the head coach of Michigan State in 2020. During his sophomore season at the helm, he led the team to an impressive 11- 2 record, a performance that secured him a lucrative 10- year contract worth $95 million, placing him amongst the highest earning coaches in college football. Despite this victory, the subsequent year proved to be less fruitful, with the team ending the season with a less-than-ideal 5-7 record, compounded by significant defeats to arch-rivals Michigan and Ohio State.

Brenda Tracy, who has not only survived a harrowing sexual assault but also emerged as a potent advocate in the fight against sexual violence, has taken on a fresh battle — this time involving allegations of sexual harassment against Michigan State football head coach, Mel Tucker.

In 1998, Tracy experienced a brutal gang rape involving four college football players. She reported the incident immediately, but her pursuit of justice met a dead end when the District Attorney declined to prosecute, despite having confessions from the assailants and substantial evidence. Not only was her right to justice denied, but she also wasn’t informed about her rights as a victim, learning much later that her evidence had been destroyed prematurely.

Tracy navigated the aftermath of the trauma largely on her own, with her attackers facing minimal consequences. However, in 2014, she bravely decided to share her story publicly, transforming her personal tragedy into a powerful campaign against sexual violence.

Building upon her role as a mother and registered nurse, Tracy became a beacon of hope and a source of empowerment for many. Through determined advocacy, she has played a pivotal role in fostering legislative changes to protect victims’ rights. Her non-profit, “Set The Expectation,” mentoring men to be agents of change in their communities, aspiring to reshape societal attitudes towards sexual violence.

Tracy has accused Mel Tucker of sexual misconduct, claiming that during a phone call in April 2022, Tucker made unsolicited sexual remarks and engaged in masturbation. This incident reportedly occurred after Tracy started working with Tucker professionally, a collaboration initiated through a mutual connection in 2021, wherein she was even paid $10,000 by MSU to share her personal story with the team to foster a better understanding of the repercussions of sexual misconduct. While Tucker admitted to the act, he maintained that it was a consensual encounter, a claim that Tracy refutes, pointing to the deep emotional scars reopened by the alleged harassment.

Mel Tucker addressed Tracy’s claims in a statement where he clarified that the incident involved was a consensual, private event that occurred between two adults residing in different parts of the country. Find the full statement below:

Mel Tucker’s Response to Brenda Tracy’s False Allegations as of 9/11/23

“Brenda Tracy’s allegations of harassment are completely false. The proceedings initiated by Ms. Tracy are devoid of any semblance of fairness for any matter of this importance, and the University’s “hearing” scheduled for October 5-6 is so flawed that there is no other opportunity for the truth to come out. That is why I share some truth with you now.

I helped bring Ms. Tracy to campus in the summer of 2021 because I support her mission of sexual misconduct prevention. This single presentation was her only paid engagement with the University. We developed a mutual friendship that grew into an intimate, adult relationship; at this point, my wife and I had been estranged for a long time. Ms. Tracy and I engaged in dozens of calls throughout fall 2021 and winter 2022, many of which she initiated and which occurred late at night. We both talked about all sorts of intimate, private matters. She told me that I could trust her, and I proceeded to do just that. I was absolutely unaware of the previous negative comments that she had made about iconic MSU coaches, then president Engler, MSU in general, and even her more recent criticism of Coach Harbaugh, that I learned about during this investigation.

The 1200 pages of investigation materials that Ms. Tracy released to the media contains a number of important facts that any fair-minded person would want to know in evaluating the situation. Even the investigator hired by the University found that we had a “personal relationship” and that we shared “deeply personal and private information with each other.” Ms. Tracy encouraged our personal relationship by inviting and accepting gifts from me. During the investigation, Ms. Tracy admitted requesting and accepting my gift of expensive athletic shoes, a $200 Venmo payment, and a personal contribution to her non-profit. Not only did she accept those gifts, but she had to provide me her shoe size and address to receive the shoes, and her Venmo ID to receive the money.

Yes, I did have a late-night intimate conversation with Ms. Tracy in April 2022. Again, as even Ms. Tracy’s statements to the investigator confirm, this conversation had nothing to do with the University and was outside of the scope of Title IX or any University policy. (By the way, while press reports have called this a “Title IX” investigation, that’s inaccurate. The University admitted there is no Title IX jurisdiction, so the investigation of my private life was relegated to an alleged policy violation.) While I am saddened by Ms. Tracy’s disclosure of the sensitive nature of this call, let me be perfectly clear—it was an entirely mutual, private event between two adults living at opposite ends of the country. She initiated the discussion that night, sent me a provocative picture of the two of us together, suggested what she may look like without clothes, and never once during the 36 minutes did she object in any manner, much less hang up the phone.

Following the call, it was not until four months later—only after Ms. Tracy’s next paid presentation was postponed and only after I complained to her that she and her assistant were spreading rumors about my marriage—that she ever told anyone (including her therapist, best friend or attorney) that she was offended by the call. In fact, she gave me every indication that everything was fine. She sent me a “Happy Father’s Day” text (two months after the call) and repeatedly expressed a desire to return to MSU, telling my assistants that she had a close relationship with me. Also contrary to her allegations, I never cancelled any presentation. Given a personnel change and scheduling challenges as football season approached, we merely postponed it until January 2023. She chose to file her complaint instead of proceeding with the training.

The investigation has not been fair or unbiased. I can only conclude that there is an ulterior motive designed to terminate my contract based on some other factor such as a desire to avoid any Nasser taint, or my race or gender.

The sham “hearing” scheduled for October 5-6 is ridiculously flawed and not designed to arrive at the truth. For example, in this zoom hearing: (1) neither Ms. Tracy nor any of her witnesses will be required to testify under oath or penalty of perjury; (2) we cannot present or offer any substantive evidence of innocence; and (3) there is no opening statement, closing argument or any opportunity to explain our case. This “hearing” process was obviously designed for student infractions—not to address personal, private acts between adults in which disclosure of the intimate details impact one’s reputation and career. I have no intention of allowing Ms. Tracy’s character assassination to go unaddressed.

Ms. Tracy’s attorney told us from the very beginning that I should not lose my job over her allegations, but that it would take a lot of money to make it go away. Her twisting of our personal relationship months after it concluded is designed to revive her career and destroy my life, precipitated by her greed. One of the most absurd allegations by Ms. Tracy is that if our relationship and associated facts went public, only she would be harmed, not me. As the world can see, quite the opposite is true.

I have been ripped from the Team that I love, without any meaningful opportunity to tell my side of the story other than this press release. I am incredibly proud of the outstanding group of men on the Team and my heart aches to be sidelined. I ask everyone to consider carefully the undisputed facts outlined and reserve judgment until the full truth comes out.”

As the community waits for the formal hearing, Tucker’s suspension has cast a shadow on the university and its celebrated football program, raising imperative questions about the conduct of individuals in positions of power. It’s a precarious time for all involved, with reputations and trust hanging in the balance.

Love people,

Rina Risper

P.S. If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual assault, the National Sexual Assault Hotline is 1-800-656-4673, which is available 24 hours a day.

Originally printed in the September 17, 2023 – September 30, 2023 Vol. 22 No. 18

UPDATE: On September 27, 2023 Mel Tucker received a termination letter that Michigan State University released:  Mel Tucker Termination Letter