Michigan State football coach Mel Tucker being investigated for alleged sexual harassment

Report: University conducting investigation into April 2022 incident
Published: Sep. 10, 2023 at 5:25 AM EDT
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EAST LANSING, Mich. (WILX) -- A Title IX investigation is being conducted by Michigan State University against one of its most prominent employees, Michigan State University head football coach Mel Tucker.

That’s according to a USA Today investigation published early Sunday morning.

The report accuses Tucker of having nonconsensual phone sex with a rape survivor who was at the time working with the MSU football program on relationship violence education. Brenda Tracy, who agreed to be identified by USA Today, says Tucker invited her to speak to student athletes about her experience 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 three times to speak to the MSU football team and to be recognized for her advocacy work, including being named an honorary captain for last year’s spring game. According to the organization’s website, Tracy has delivered her messages to thousands of players on more than 100 college campuses.

During that time, Tracy told USA Today that the two developed a friendship. Tracy alleges that during an April 28, 2022 phone call, Tucker had phone sex. Tracy says it wasn’t consensual and filed a complaint with the school in December 2022. Tucker disputed Tracy’s characterization to a Title IX investigator hired by MSU to look into the matter.

“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.”

Tracy also claimed during the time the two were working together, Tucker would call her frequently, send her gifts, and asked if she would date him if he wasn’t married. Tucker is married and has two sons.

Tracy said she declined Tucker’s request to meet him alone and that Tucker “even suggested slipping into her hotel through a back door so no one would see him,” according to the USA Today report.

Tucker declined to speak about the matter when contacted by a USA Today reporter Saturday. But in a March letter to a Title IX investigator, he said “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,” Tucker said.

A statement released by the university said the school does not comment on potential investigations.

“Let me assure you that if any complaint came forward regarding a violation of the university’s Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct policy, it would be thoroughly reviewed and followed up on by MSU’s Office for Civil Rights. Confidentiality is important to the culture around reporting incidents – it’s crucial in creating a safe environment for individuals to come forward,” said Michigan State University spokesperson Emily Guerrant. “Our commitment to our campus community and the public is to ensure that every complaint or concern brought forward is taken seriously and, when warranted, that a thorough investigation takes place. When investigations do happen, they need the ability to be conducted in a thorough and confidential manner.”

Michigan State University has a formal hearing scheduled for Oct. 5 and 6, during MSU football team’s bye week. The hearing will determine whether Tucker violated the school’s anti-sexual harassment policies and the federal Title IX law that bans sex discrimination in education.

Michigan State also reportedly denied a Freedom of Information Act request from ESPN for documents related to Tucker’s case. ESPN says MSU cited state law that exempts information that “would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of an individual’s privacy.” The cable sports network says it has hired a Michigan-based law firm to pursue potential litigation. It says MSU’s records denial request violates open records laws since the phone call Tucker allegedly made occurred while traveling for university business and involved a person he previously hired to speak to his team.

In 2021, Tucker signed a 10-year, $95 million contract extension, making him one of NCAA’s highest paid coaches. In the contract, it would allow MSU to fire Tucker without having to pay out the full contract if Tucker 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.

The USA Today report was published after Saturday’s 45-14 win by Michigan State over Richmond. MSU is now 2-0 in Tucker’s fourth season leading the Spartans.

The report also comes just over a day after survivors of former MSU athletics and USA Gymnastics physician Dr. Larry Nassar filed a lawsuit against the university for their refusal to release documents related to the case. Nassar is serving up to 175 years in prison after being accused of sexually assaulting hundreds of female athletes.

Rachael Denhollander, who was one of the first woman to accuse Nassar of abuse, posted on X, formally known as Twitter: “Coming on the heels of a lawsuit alleging that a PT has been sexually assaulting patients, and the Board’s refusal to release the Nassar documents, this is beyond disgusting. I stand with @brendatracy24.”

So far, none of the members of the Michigan State University Board of Trustees governing board, MSU interim President Teresa Woodruff, or MSU Athletic Director Allan Haller have spoken publicly about the allegations against Tucker or whether the embattled coach will return to the sidelines on Saturday versus Washington at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing.

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