Michigan State’s Mel Tucker denies sexual harassment allegations, calls intimate conversation ‘mutual’

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Suspended Michigan State coach Mel Tucker defended his conversation with Brenda Tracy in the face of sexual harassment allegations, saying in a Monday statement that the pair’s phone conversation in April 2022 was “an entirely mutual, private event between two adults living at opposite ends of the country.”

Tucker’s statement comes after the coach was suspended without pay by the university on Monday and after Tracy — a prominent rape survivor and activist — accused Tucker of making sexual comments and masturbating while on a phone call with her after the two had developed a professional relationship because of her advocacy work.

The coach called Tracy’s allegations “completely false” and said Tracy “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.”

Tracy’s allegations were released by USA Today on Saturday and follow a complaint she made to the school’s Title IX office in December. An outside Title IX attorney submitted her investigative report in July, university athletic director Alan Haller said, and Tucker is set for a hearing to determine whether he violated school policy on Oct. 5 and 6.

Tracy agreed to be identified by USA Today and shared 1,200 pages of case documents with the publication. Haller said publicly that he learned of the investigation in late December.

In his statement, Tucker called the upcoming hearing a “sham” and said he has no intention of allowing Tracy’s character assassination to go unaddressed.

Tucker argued that it was not until four months after the call that Tracy told anyone she was offended. During that time, he alleged that she gave him “every indication that everything was fine,” which included sending him a text on Father’s Day and repeatedly expressing a desire to return to the university, his statement said.

“Also contrary to her allegations, I never cancelled any presentation,” Tucker stated. “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.”

After meeting and bringing Tracy to campus in 2021, Tucker said he and Tracy developed a personal relationship “that grew into an intimate, adult relationship” which involved dozens of calls during the fall of 2021 and the winter of 2022, a period when Tucker had been estranged from his wife.

Tracy, who survived a gang rape by college football players in 1998, visits campuses to raise awareness about sexual assault through an activism platform named Set the Expectation. Michigan State named Tracy honorary captain for a spring game in 2022.

Tucker said Tracy encouraged the pair’s personal relationship by inviting and accepting gifts from the coach, including shoes, a $200 Venmo payment and a personal contribution to her non-profit.

According to Tucker, Tracy’s attorney told him that “it would take a lot of money to make” the allegations go away. Tucker stated that Tracy is twisting the story of their personal relationship “to revive her career and destroy my life, precipitated by her greed.”

Michigan State is known for its missteps in handling sexual abuse accusations against Larry Nassar, the disgraced former USA Gymnastics and campus physician. Nassar sexually abused over 300 female gymnasts; he pleaded guilty in 2018 to seven counts of criminal sexual conduct and was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison. Then-school president Lou Anna K. Simon resigned amid the scandal, but criminal charges against Simon were dismissed. Athletic director Mark Hollis also resigned during that period. It was never alleged Hollis had any knowledge of Nassar, but an ESPN report in 2018 described a pattern of sexual assault issues within MSU athletics.

Tucker said in his statement that the investigation has not been fair or unbiased, adding that he can only conclude that there is an ulterior motive designed to terminate his contract based on some other factor, “such as a desire to avoid any Nasser taint, or my race or gender.”

University interim president Teresa Woodruff defended the university during a Sunday news conference. She spoke of the processes of “the MSU of today” while acknowledging that Sunday’s news “might sound like the MSU of old.”

“It was not. It was not because an independent, unbiased investigation is and continues to be conducted,” Woodruff said, later adding, “It is not the MSU of old because we maintained the confidence of the claimant and the respondent while respecting and valuing the claimant’s and respondent’s rights to share their story. It is not because of the further action we take today.”

Tucker signed a 10-year, $95 million contract through the 2031 season in November 2021, making him one of college football’s highest-paid coaches. He is 19-14 as a head coach and has about $80 million remaining on his contract.

Defensive backs coach Harlon Barnett will lead the Spartans in Tucker’s absence. Former coach Mark Dantonio will serve as an associate coach. The Spartans are 2-0 this season.

(Photo: Nic Antaya / Getty Images)

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