Mel Tucker calls MSU sexual harassment probe a ‘sham’ excuse to fire him
- MSU football coach Mel Tucker calls allegation of sexual misconduct ‘completely false’
- He suggested the school wants him out because of the Larry Nasser ‘taint’ or perhaps due to his race or gender
- MSU Interim President Teresa Woodruff said she did not learn the details of the allegation until Sunday morning
In his first public comments since being suspended on Sunday over sexual misconduct allegations, Michigan State University football coach Mel Tucker on Monday called the allegations “completely false” and accused the university of pushing an unfair, biased process designed to get him fired.
In a lengthy statement, Tucker said his accuser — rape survivor and sexual consent advocate Brenda Tracy — willingly participated in a phone conversation last year in which he acknowledged masturbating, an incident at the heart of MSU’s sexual harassment investigation.
While Tracy alleged the encounter was unwanted, Tucker described the phone call as a “mutual, private event” after a friendship between the pair “grew into an intimate, adult relationship” after Tucker and his wife “had been estranged for a long time.”
He called a formal university hearing on Tracy’s complaint, scheduled for early October, a “sham” that is “not designed to arrive at the truth.” The university’s actions, he wrote, have led him to believe “there is an ulterior motive designed to terminate my contract based on some other factor such as a desire to avoid any (Larry) Nasser (sic) taint, or my race or gender.”
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Tucker’s public statement arrived less than 24 hours after the university announced it was suspending him without pay, which itself came just hours after a USA Today report revealing the complaint Tracy filed against him last December and the university’s subsequent internal investigation.
Tracy responded Monday evening with a statement of her own on X, formerly Twitter, accusing Tucker of victim blaming, lying and deflecting from his own actions, which “I’ve been dealing with now for months.”
She said Tucker has sought to delay the MSU investigation from the start and believed his remarks disparaging the university's investigation are “his way of getting out of participating.”
She said she would be at the October hearing and will “make myself available for cross examination by his attorney Jennifer Belveal. I invite him to do the same.”
Tucker is in his fourth year as MSU’s football coach, working under a guaranteed 10-year, $95 million contract extension. Under the deal, the university can terminate Tucker’s contract without a payout if he “engages in any conduct which constitutes moral turpitude or which, in the University's reasonable judgment, would tend to bring public disrespect, contempt, or ridicule upon the University.”
Tucker’s statement suggests he and his attorney will take the position that while his relationship with Tracy began in the course of his job duties — she was initially brought to the campus to talk with his players about issues surrounding sexual misconduct — it had evolved into a private relationship between two consenting adults that was separate from the university and his job responsibilities.
Tucker is set to face a university hearing on Oct. 5 and 6, a week MSU does not have a football game scheduled. The university said Monday that timing was worked out among Tucker, Tracy and the school.
In her complaint, according to the USA Today report, Tracy called the phone encounter involving the sex act unwanted, saying she froze after being stunned by what Tucker was doing. She cast Tucker’s romantic feelings as one-sided. Tucker, though, described the phone incident as “an entirely mutual, private event between two adults.”
MSU’s decision to suspend Tucker prompted widespread questions about why university officials didn’t act sooner, given that Tracy first reported the incident more than eight months earlier and an independent investigator issued a report on the incident in late July.
In a statement Monday evening, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, an MSU graduate, echoed those questions.
“We deserve to know when the university knew about these allegations and why they made the decisions they did,” Whitmer said. “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.”
University officials said Sunday and Monday that while they knew a complaint had been filed against the coach, they did not learn of the details until the bombshell story was published this weekend.
University spokesperson Dan Olsen told Bridge Michigan on Monday that Woodruff, Athletic Director Alan Haller and the school’s board of trustees were notified in late December of a complaint against Tucker that was about “harassment.”
"We knew there was an outside complainant," Interim MSU President Teresa Woodruff told the Lansing State Journal on Monday. "We knew it was not within the university. But we didn't know the nature of the complaint itself."
Woodruff told the newspaper MSU leaders did not even know the claimant’s name when it was first filed. She only learned it was Tracy in late July.
Around the same time, an independent investigator hired to probe Tracy’s allegations completed a 106-page report into the case, according to USA Today. But Olsen said Woodruff and the athletic director have not seen that report, in keeping with a practice designed to protect the confidentiality of sexual misconduct investigations while they are pending.
In a campus email Monday, Woodruff said “new developments before the hearing, including details of acknowledged behavior” were the reason for the suspension on Sunday.
Experts in Title IX, the federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in education, say it’s not uncommon for top university officials to not know the details of complaints while an investigation is pending. That confidentiality is designed to protect both the complainant and the accused, and ensure a thorough investigation.
Elizabeth Abdnour, a former investigator at MSU and a lawyer focused on Title IX and employment cases, told Bridge it’s possible that MSU decided not to loop in top leaders because of its history with Larry Nassar. The sports doctor sexually abused young girls and women under the guise of medical treatment, and MSU leaders face harsh accusations that they covered up or minimized the allegations for years.
But Abdnour also noted that even if Woodruff and Haller didn’t know the details of the report, someone did.
Among the questions raised by the case, she said, are: Who was making the decisions about Tucker as the investigation progressed? When the report was written, who reviewed it and what determinations did they make?
Cari Simon, a Title IX attorney at The Fierberg National Law Group, said she wondered why the university waited until Sunday to suspend Tucker.
“If they could have done it today,” she said of Tucker’s Sunday suspension, “They could have done it before.”
Simon also questioned the wisdom of keeping top university officials in the dark about a complaint against one of the university’s highest-paid and most prominent employees.
Still, she credited MSU for conducting what appears to be a thorough investigation. Universities are obligated to act as soon as they receive a report of sexual harassment, Simon said, and “that obligation typically looks like a lot of what they’ve done.”
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