Who is Brenda Tracy? Sexual assault advocate accuses Mel Tucker of harassment

Brenda Tracy, a rape survivor who has made informing athletes about sexual misconduct her life’s work, is accusing Michigan State football head coach Mel Tucker of sexual misconduct in April 2022.

USA Today investigation published early Sunday morning found Tracy filed a complaint with the university's Title IX office, claiming Tucker made sexual comments towards her and masturbated while on the phone with her, reopening her wounds as a sexual assault survivor. Tucker acknowledged the phone call and said he did masturbate, but claimed it was consensual phone sex.

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How Tucker and Tracy met

Tracy and Tucker started working together after the coach moved from Colorado to East Lansing. In 2021, prior to his second season with MSU, Tucker met Tracy through a mutual connection and MSU paid Tracy $10,000 to share her personal story with the team.

Tracy told MSU players about her story as a mother of two that was gang raped by four college football players and challenged the “good men” in the room to educate themselves on correct behavior and call out their teammates for bad behavior. Tucker had his players sign Tracy's pledge, an agreement to be accountable in areas of consent and repercussions for violent actions.

Tucker was highly complimentary of Tracy on social media after her visit, setting it up for visits in the future.

Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker, right, hands back a signed football for fans on Saturday, April 16, 2022, during the spring game at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing. At left is honorary captain Brenda Tracy, sexual violence prevention educator.
Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker, right, hands back a signed football for fans on Saturday, April 16, 2022, during the spring game at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing. At left is honorary captain Brenda Tracy, sexual violence prevention educator.

Tracy's history

On its surface, Tracy's trip to MSU was nothing out of the ordinary. It was the type of talk that she had turned into a profession since publicly coming forward about her assault in 2014, 16 years after it happened in 1998. Tracy was gang raped by four football players, according to her report, but prosecutors ultimately decided not to try the case.

She became an activist against sexual assault, aiming to prevent misconduct on college campuses and with athletes. Tracy criticized Michigan State's Title IX department in 2018 over mishandling records on an investigation into a gang rape accusation against former Michigan State basketball players in 2015 on top of the Larry Nassar scandal.

"They are sending a very clear message — don’t report and don’t sue us,” said Tracy in 2018. “I don’t know how anyone on campus would trust the university enough to go to their counseling center or to report an assault. They would just think the university is going to out them. It’s horrible. It goes to exactly why MSU is in trouble in the first place. It shows their culture exactly.”

"It takes a village to create a campus culture where Nassar's crimes, accusations against football players and cries for help from students are ignored and covered up," Tracy told the Free Press in 2018. "It's never just in a vacuum."

Brenda Tracy on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023 in Oregon.
Brenda Tracy on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023 in Oregon.

Tracy pushed to change NCAA bylaws for athlete governance directly, gaining attention at first by generating 150,000 signatures for a petition for the NCAA to ban athletes who commit sexual violence from playing again. The petition got the attention of the NCAA Board of Governors but eventually did not lead to any concrete changes. During that time, she continued to speak out against MSU's handling of cases, as well as other universities involved in Title IX scandals like Baylor.

But Tracy wouldn’t take no for an answer and pushed to fight for the change on her own. Tracy began traveling the country to advocate for new legislation and started her own non-profit organization called Set The Expectation.

Set The Expectation put Tracy in college football locker rooms as a main speaker, where she challenged men to join the fight to end sexual violence. Tracy worked to lower the amount of sexual crimes committed by athletes given the disproportionate amount of sexual crimes committed by athletes compared to regular students. Tracy has spoken or worked with dozens of teams from Power Five conferences over the last five years, including Michigan State.

Lawmakers, schools and the Big Sky Conference have started to add Tracy's rule, a series of policies for stricter policies against sexual misconduct on campus, to their team and campus rules. It builds off of a 2015 SEC policy of similar punishments against repeat offenders.

What we know about Tucker and Tracy's relationship

Set the Expectation is how Tracy and Tucker first met and continued to talk to set up more speaking visits in the future after the 2021 visit. Two more visits to East Lansing were planned, one in April 2022 for the spring game where Tracy’s organization would be honored on the jumbotron and one in July later that year. The second visit never came, however. Tracy alleges the phone call with Tucker is what led to the second visit being canceled.

According to the USA Today article, both Tucker and Tracy would later tell Title IX investigators they "hit it off" immediately and shared a love of Jordan sneakers, which Tucker had a wall of in his office.

Tracy's phone bills show that Tucker and Tracy spoke on the phone at least 27 times – an average of once every two weeks for a half hour. Many of the phone calls happened at night because of their work schedules, both said. They spoke most often in the fall of 2021, when Tucker was leading MSU to an 11-2 record.

Around this time, Tucker said he became romantically interested and said they talked openly about it. Tucker said they made flirtatious comments about each other's looks and bodies. Meanwhile, Tracy said Tucker's romantic interest was one-sided.

Tucker also sent her two gifts – a pair of Jordans and $200 in cash through Venmo – and donated $2,500 to her nonprofit.

After the spring game in which Tracy attended, phone records show Tucker called her four times and allegedly asked her to meet him alone, without her assistant, to which she said no.

What's next

The final Title IX hearing between Tracy and Michigan State will be held in October to find if Tucker is in violation of school rules and his contract.

At this time, we don't know if Tucker will continue coaching leading up to the hearing.

This article originally appeared on Aberdeen News: Who is Brenda Tracy? Rape survivor accuses Mel Tucker of harassment