UPDATES: MSU coach Mel Tucker, Brenda Tracy respond to harassment allegations

Mel Tucker
Posted at 5:18 PM, Sep 10, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-11 20:54:09-04

(WXYZ) — Michigan State University announced Sunday that they have suspended head football coach Mel Tucker without pay amid a sexual harassment investigation.

“The university’s formal conclusion of the investigation will occur once the hearing and final decision processes are complete,” said Alan Haller, MSU's athletic director.

Haller confirmed that Harlon Barnett will act as interim head coach and Mark Dantonio will act as an associate head coach.

A report first published overnight by USA Today said Tucker is being investigated for allegations of sexual harassment; the accuser is reportedly Brenda Tracy, who is a rape survivor who works to educate athletes about sexual assault and harassment.

USA Today reports that a Title IX investigation is happening into a phone call on April 28, 2022, where Tracy alleges Tucker made sexual comments about her and then masturbated on the phone without her consent.

“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 said to USA Today. “It’s like he sought me out just to betray me.”

Tucker responded to those allegations in a statement sent on Monday afternoon. It reads, in full:

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 2 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.
Mel Tucker

Tracy responded to that statement in a Tweet Monday night that read:

Tucker is one of the highest-paid football coaches in college football, and signed a 10-year, $95 million contract with guaranteed money in 2021. He is owed the money even if fired for poor performance, but reports say the only way he wouldn't get the money is if he was convicted or a crime or engaged in conduct "in the University's reasonable judgment, would tend to bring public disrespect, contempt, or ridicule upon the University."

MSU says the Title IX investigation was completed in July. The university reportedly hired Rebecca Leitman Veidlinger, who is from Ann Arbor and specializes in Title IX investigations.

According to the university, a Title IX hearing is scheduled for Oct. 5-6.

USA Today reports Tracy had previously visited the university twice – once in August 2021 and again in April 2022 – to speak to the team about sexual misconduct.

“I decided to enroll in Michigan State and I was pretty happy for now and then I hear about another coach and another scenario where a woman’s voice has been silenced for so long," said Rosie Friedman, a MSU freshman.

This report comes just days after survivors of Dr. Larry Nasser asked the university's board of trustees to release thousands of documents about the scandal.

“I think they should’ve been clear about this in the beginning, it just raises so many questions like it’s basically just a repeat of history like they did with Larry Nasser," said Riley Roman, a MSU senior. "They weren't communicating that either.”

Nassar, a former doctor at the university and a doctor for USA Gymnastics, was convicted of sexually assaulting hundreds of girls and women. He was sentenced up to 175 years in prison.


If you or a loved one has experienced sexual assault, and you'd like to talk to someone, you can click here for available services and to learn more about Michigan's free and confidential 24/7 hotline.