Content warning: This story contains depictions of graphic alleged sexual harassment.
Suspended Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker issued a scathing rebuttal of accusations of sexual harassment levied against him while suggesting that they were issued as part of an "ulterior motive" to terminate his contract with the university.
Tucker issued his statement Monday afternoon through his attorney Jennifer Belveal, a day after MSU announced that he would be suspended without pay. Tucker was suspended following an accusation that he masturbated during a phone call with Brenda Tracy, an anti-rape activist who works with organizations on sexual assault education and did so with MSU's football team under Tucker's watch.
"Brenda Tracy’s allegations of harassment are completely false," Tucker wrote. "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."
MSU's handling of situation draws ire of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, meanwhile, criticized Michigan State for its handling of the situation that saw it suspend Tucker months after an investigation ensued and only after it became public. Whitmer is an MSU alum.
Inbox: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issues a statement on the sexual harassment investigation into MSU Football coach Mel Tucker. pic.twitter.com/UnKPan3SQq
— Simon D. Schuster (@Simon_Schuster) September 11, 2023
“As a survivor, I’m shocked. As a Spartan, I’m disappointed. As Governor, I want answers. …
“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.
"Spartans, survivors and Michiganders — we deserve better."
Tucker says relationship with Tracy was mutual
Tucker acknowledged the existence of the phone call in question in his statement while writing that it took place as part of a "mutual friendship that grew into an intimate, adult relationship.”
"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 wrote. "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."
Tracy filed a complaint with MSU in December, initiating a Title IX investigation into Tucker. Citing that investigation, USA Today reported the alleged details of the April 26, 2022 phone call in a story published late Saturday.
"In her interview, [Tracy] became extremely tearful, to the point of sobbing, describing this portion of the parties’ encounter,” a report from Michigan State obtained by USA Today said. “[Tracy] could hear [Tucker] masturbating, including ‘every stroke.’ She could hear the noise of some kind of lubrication being used. [Tracy] said it was ‘so loud and gross.’ She could hear [Tucker] ‘moaning and groaning.’ [Tracy] ‘kind of froze’ in the moment at first.
"[Tracy] thought to herself, ‘Oh my god, this is happening and I can’t stop it, it’s going to happen whether I like it or not.’ [Tracy] was trying to figure out what to do. It didn’t occur to [Tracy] that she could hang up. [Tracy] kept thinking over and over that she has to say something and that she can’t let this happen again, referring to her prior experience of being a victim/survivor of sexual assault.”
Tucker defended the phone call as part of a "mutually consensual and intimate relationship" in a March letter to the Title IX investigator. In his statement Monday, Tucker detailed what he described as an ongoing personal relationship with Tracy.
"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," Tucker wrote. ... "Ms. Tracy encouraged our personal relationship by inviting and accepting gifts from me.”
Tucker wrote that those gifts included a donation to her non-profit and "expensive athletic shoes" for which she provided her shoe size and a mailing address.
Tucker further defended his account of his relationship with Tracy, writing that it took place after he and his wife “had been estranged for a long time.” Tucker, 51, is married, with children.
A Title IX hearing regarding the issue has reportedly been scheduled for Oct. 5-6, during Michigan State's bye week. Tucker is in his fourth year as Michigan State's head coach and the second year of a 10-year, $95 million contract that makes him one of college football's highest-paid coaches.
MSU rewarded Tucker with the contract during an 11-2 campaign in 2021 that saw the Spartans win the Peach Bowl. Tucker's Spartans went 5-7 last season in the first year of his new deal. He has $77 million remaining on the contract that's guaranteed unless he's dismissed with cause.
Tucker's contract states that he can be fired with cause if he "engaged in any conduct which constitutes moral turpitude or, which in the university's reasonable judgment, would tend to bring public disrespect, contempt or ridicule."
Tucker suggested in his Monday statement that there's an "ulterior motive" at play as a motivating factor for the investigation.
"The investigation has not been fair or unbiased," Tucker wrote. "I can only conclude that their is an ulterior motive designed to terminate my contract based on some other factor such as a desire to avoid [Larry] Nasser taint, or my race or gender."
Tracy addressed the allegations in a statement on Tuesday night. She did provide consent to USA Today to publish details of the Title IX investigation. A statement released Tuesday by Tracy's attorney said Tracy had no intention to make her allegations public until she discovered that "local media" had discovered them. Her name, she said, was leaked without her consent.
"From the moment of filing my formal complaint against Coach Tucker in December 2022, my focus has been to navigate and complete the school process without the involvement of the public and the media," she said in a statement, in part. "Given the high-profile nature of the case and the history of MSU as it pertains to other survivors of sexual misconduct, I entered the process hopeful but also with a healthy amount of skepticism.
"As the investigation moved forward, the behavior and statements made by Coach tucker and his lawyer Jennifer Belveal made it very evident to me that I was going to need to defend and protect myself. I voluntarily shared documents with USA Today so that my story could be written and published after the conclusion of the school process, but also just in case my name leaked — which it did. I did not want to publish my story in the early morning hours last weekend, but I had no choice because someone outed me to the media.
"I am angry that my right to confidentiality has been violated and I hope that those responsible are held accountable. It is unacceptable that survivors must endure continued violations of our agency and autonomy in an attempt to seek justice and accountability for the harm done to us."