Michigan State University’s head football coach Mel Tucker has been suspended without pay, athletic director Alan Haller said Sunday, after a rape survivor and sexual violence educator said he sexually harassed her after they’d worked together multiple times—a set of allegations reportedly denied by Tucker.
Tucker, 51, is the subject of an ongoing sexual harassment investigation by the university, ESPN and USA Today first reported Sunday—by Sunday evening, Haller confirmed Tucker has been suspended until the investigation is over.
Haller said Harlon Barnett, MSU’s secondary coach, will immediately take over as acting head coach.
USA Today obtained a Title IX complaint filed with the school in December that alleges Tucker made sexual comments about public speaker Brenda Tracy and masturbated during an April 2022 phone call.
Tracy told USA Today she sat frozen on the call for several minutes in shock while Tucker told her he was touching himself, but Tucker told the attorney hired by the university to investigate that the pair had phone sex as part of their “mutually consensual and intimate relationship.”
Tracy told the investigator that Tucker, who has been married for 20 years, spoke to her openly about his marriage struggles and made it clear on multiple occasions he had a romantic interest in her.
After the phone call, on which Tracy told USA Today it never occurred to her to hang up, Tucker canceled a planned appearance at the school by Tracy and she said she perceived several comments by the coach as threats to destroy her career if she spoke up.
Tucker filed her complaint eight months after the call—the coach reportedly told the investigator he was “absolutely shocked” and suggested Tracy may have falsely accused him of harassment for financial gain.
The independent investigator finished her work in July, USA Today reported, and a hearing to determine if Tucker violated Michigan State’s sexual harassment policy is scheduled for October 5 and 6, after which Haller said a permanent decision on Tucker’s employment will be made.
Neither Tucker, his agent, Tracy nor media representatives for Michigan State University immediately responded to Forbes’ requests for comment Sunday.
Tracy and Tucker had worked together since August of 2021, when Tracy told the story of her years-earlier gang rape by four athletes to members of the school’s football program and asked the Spartan players to stand against sexual violence. She has used her experience to launch an educational speaking program and has visited Michigan State athletes a total of three times in the last two years, according to USA Today. Tracy was named an honorary captain of the Michigan State football team for a spring 2022 game. Tucker and Tracy had not spoken since August of 2022, months after the phone call in question, before Tracy filed her complaint. Tucker in November of 2021 signed a 10-year, $95 million contract with Michigan State that made him one of the highest paid coaches in the sport. If he is found to have engaged in conduct that would “bring public disrespect, contempt or ridicule on the University,” he could be fired by the school and lose out on roughly $80 million, USA Today reported.
“It’s like he sought me out just to betray me,” Tracy told USA Today.
Tucker has said he is “not proud of my judgment” in getting involved with Tracy, but that he “did not engage in misconduct by any definition.” He has said Tracy agreed to have phone sex with him “one time,” USA Today‘s report says, and that the incident has taught him a valuable lesson. “I will never again allow myself to be duped by kindness,” he reportedly wrote in a letter to the investigator.
This is not the first sexual misconduct scandal at Michigan State. Leaders at the school have been slammed for failing to act on several reports of sexual abuse by Larry Nassar, former women’s national gymnastics team doctor and employee at the university, over almost two decades. Female athletes have said they started complaining about Nassar’s behavior to university employees as far back as 1997. He was fired in September of 2016. Michigan State was the subject of a lawsuit by Olympic gold medalist McKayla Maroney the next year, who said she was repeatedly molested by Nassar starting when she was 13 years old. In May of 2018, the university agreed to pay $425 million to 332 claimants—and $75 million to any future claimants—who said they were abused at the hands of Nassar. Nassar, now 60, was sentenced to 60 years in federal prison in 2017.
Michigan State football coach Mel Tucker accused of sexually harassing rape survivor (USA Today)
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