Sources: Michigan St.'s Tucker subject of sexual harassment investigation

September 10, 2023, 12:19 AM

Michigan State football coach Mel Tucker is the subject of an ongoing university sexual harassment investigation, sources with knowledge of the pending case confirmed to ESPN.

The sources did not confirm the complainant's identity or details about the allegations Saturday night. Sources said the investigation started months ago and remains open.

According to a USA Today report Sunday, the complaint was filed by Brenda Tracy, a prominent sexual assault prevention advocate, who claims Tucker sent her gifts, asked if she would date him if he wasn't married and masturbated without her consent during a phone call.

Tracy visited Michigan State in August 2021 and April 2022 to speak to the football team about preventing sexual misconduct, and she was named an honorary captain at the team's spring football game during that April visit. After the game, Tracy said Tucker called her multiple times, asked her repeatedly to meet him alone and "even suggested slipping into her hotel through a back door so no one would see him," according to the USA Today report.

Michigan State hired an outside Title IX attorney to investigate Tracy's complaint, which was filed in December, according to the USA Today report. In a March letter to the investigator, Tucker called their relationship "mutually consensual and intimate," according to USA Today. In statements to the investigator, Tucker acknowledged masturbating on the call but said the two had consensual phone sex, according to the report.

"Ms. Tracy's distortion of our mutually consensual and intimate relationship into allegations of sexual exploitation has really affected me," Tucker wrote in the March 22 letter to the investigator, according to the USA Today report. "I am not proud of my judgment and I am having difficulty forgiving myself for getting into this situation, but I did not engage in misconduct by any definition."

Tracy did not respond to messages from ESPN seeking comment. She told the investigator that Tucker's romantic interest was one-sided, according to the USA Today report.

ESPN filed a public records request with Michigan State on July 30, seeking documents related to any complaints alleging that Tucker violated the university's relationship violence and sexual misconduct policy.

The school's interim president refused the request, citing a passage in state law that exempts information that "would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of an individual's privacy."

"Under FOIA's privacy exemption, information is exempt if (1) it is personal in nature, and (2) disclosure would reveal little to nothing about the inner workings of the government. Information is personal in nature when it is intimate, embarrassing, private, or confidential," Michigan State wrote in its denial.

ESPN believes the denial is a violation of state open records law and has engaged a Michigan-based law firm to pursue potential litigation.

"As a matter of protocol, the university does not comment on potential investigations. Let me assure you that if any complaint came forward regarding a violation of the university's Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct policy, it would be thoroughly reviewed and followed up on by MSU's Office for Civil Rights," a spokeswoman for Michigan State said in a statement to ESPN on Saturday night. "Confidentiality is important to the culture around reporting incidents -- it's crucial in creating a safe environment for individuals to come forward. Our commitment to our campus community and the public is to ensure that every complaint or concern brought forward is taken seriously and, when warranted, that a thorough investigation takes place. When investigations do happen, they need the ability to be conducted in a thorough and confidential manner."

A request for comment from Neil Cornrich, Tucker's agent, was not immediately returned.

Tracy operates a nonprofit called Set The Expectation, which aims to prevent sexual violence and misconduct by working predominantly with men. She started speaking to football programs after publicly alleging in 2014 that she was raped by four men, including two Oregon State football players, in the late 1990s. According to the organization's website, Tracy has delivered her messages to thousands of players on more than 100 college campuses.

According to USA Today, a hearing to determine whether Tucker violated the school's sexual harassment policy is scheduled for Oct. 5 and 6.

Tucker is in his fourth season as Michigan State coach. He signed a contract extension in November 2021 worth roughly $95 million over 10 years, making him one of the highest-paid coaches in college sports. Tucker's contract says the school can fire him with cause "if the coach 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."

Michigan State is 2-0 after defeating Richmond 45-14 on Saturday.