Suspended MSU Coach Calls Harassment Allegations False, Outside Scope of Title IX

Michigan State coach Mel Tucker yells during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Richmond, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023, in East Lansing, Mich. Michigan State won 45-14. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

By Associated Press

September 12, 2023

Suspended Michigan State football coach Mel Tucker said Monday that allegations of sexual harassment against him are “completely false” and the intimate phone call he had with activist and rape survivor Brenda Tracy is outside the scope of both Title IX and school policy.

In a two-page statement released by a Detroit law firm, Tucker sharply criticized Tracy for suggesting their relationship was anything but consensual and ripped the months-long investigation into his behavior as deeply flawed.

“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,” said Tucker, who is Black.

The university was fined $4.5 million four years ago by the Education Department for failing to adequately respond to sexual assault complaints against Larry Nassar, a campus sports doctor who molested elite gymnasts and other female athletes. The school has also settled lawsuits filed by Nassar victims for $500 million.

Michigan State athletic director Alan Haller suspended Tucker without pay Sunday, less than 24 hours after Tracy’s allegations became public in a USA Today report.

The university hired a Title IX attorney to investigate Tracy’s complaint and the investigation concluded July 25. A hearing is scheduled for the week of Oct. 5 to determine if Tucker violated the school’s sexual harassment and exploitation policy.

“The proceedings initiated by Ms. Tracy are devoid of any semblance of fairness for any matter of this importance,” Tucker said. “That is why I share some truth with you now.”

Tucker is in the third year of a $95 million, 10-year contract and if he is fired for cause, the school would not have to pay him what’s remaining on his deal.

The school may fire Tucker for cause if he “engages in any conduct which constitutes moral turpitude or which, in the University’s sole judgement, would tend to bring public disrespect, contempt or ridicule upon the university,” according to his contract. The school also was able to suspend Tucker, without pay, if he “materially breaches” his contract.

“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,” Tucker said. “Her twisting of our personal relationship months after it concluded is designed to revive her career and destroy my life, precipitated by her greed.”

Tracy became friends with Tucker over her advocacy work, but that relationship took a turn in April 2022 when Tucker masturbated during a phone call with her, according to USA Today.

Tucker acknowledged to investigators last spring that he masturbated during the phone call with Tracy, but insisted it was consensual “phone sex.”

“We developed a mutual friendship that grew into an intimate, adult relationship,” said the 51-year-old Tucker, who is married and has two children. “At this point, my wife and I had been estranged for a long time.”

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who has spoken about being raped decades earlier, also weighed on the case.

“As a survivor, I’m shocked. As a Spartan, I’m disappointed. As Governor, I want answers,” Whitmer said in a statement. “I know the pain that so many feel when allegations like this come to light because I live it too. It’s retraumatizing. MSU holds a special place in so many of our hearts — which is what makes this hurt more.

“We deserve to know when the university knew about these allegations and why they made the decisions they did. We need to ensure that one of our state’s flagship universities, one that carries so much weight around the world, is learning from the past and not recreating it.”

Tracy is known for her work with college teams, educating athletes about sexual violence. She has spoken to Michigan State’s football team multiple times. She has not returned multiple messages seeking additional comment, but responded on social media Monday night.

“Coach Tucker has been delaying and trying to stop the investigative process since the beginning. He can’t afford to go to a hearing that determines credibility of the participating parties. I believe this statement is his way of getting out of participating in the hearing,” she wrote.

“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,” Tucker said. “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.”

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