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Nassar survivors: MSU failed again with Mel Tucker sexual harassment probe

Michigan State University football coach Mel Tucker is the subject of a Title IX investigation into allegations he sexually harassed a rape survivor and activist. Tucker says the activity was consensual. (Photo courtesy MSU)
  • MSU football coach Mel Tucker is suspended without pay, months into a Title IX investigation into sexual misconduct
  • The university has endured a series of scandals over its handling of misconduct
  • Some are outraged Tucker continued to coach amid yearlong investigation: ‘Has anything changed?'

Sept. 18: Michigan State to Mel Tucker: We will fire you for ‘moral turpitude’
Sept. 11: Mel Tucker calls MSU sexual harassment probe a ‘sham’ excuse to fire him

Michigan State University suspended head football coach Mel Tucker without pay on Sunday, several months after administrators learned of allegations that he sexually harassed a rape survivor.

The 5 p.m. announcement came the same day USA Today published an article detailing a yearlong Title IX investigation against Tucker — and subsequent criticism of MSU from survivors of Dr. Larry Nassar, a former university physician convicted of raping patients for decades. 

Tucker, who is married, is accused of masturbating during a 2022 phone call with Brenda Tracy, an advocate he invited to campus to speak to his players about sexual consent. 

How to get help

To report sexual assault, phone 1-800-656-4673 or go online 

For resources on sexual harassment, go online at

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He said the action was consensual phone sex, but Tracy filed a complaint in December 2022 in which she said the act was unwanted. A lawyer hired by MSU completed her investigation in July. A hearing is set for Oct. 5 and Oct. 6, a week when the football team is not playing.


During a media event, interim President Teresa Woodruff said “the MSU of today is creating a culture that is welcoming, supportive and caring,”

The comments fell on deaf ears of those questioning why the university did not act sooner. The university’s own policies would have allowed administrators to suspend Tucker without pay “following the filing of (a) formal complaint."

“Honestly my first thought was ‘in the MSU of today,’ we need to do better,” said Danielle Moore, a Nassar survivor and founding member of the Army of Survivors, an advocacy group aimed to end sexual assault against young athletes.

“I feel like they are saving face with some of those comments.”

(Editor's note: The Army of Survivors group was founded by the relative of a Bridge Michigan employee who did not have any role in editing or reporting this story.)

MSU officials said they took the action Sunday because of “new developments” but they did not elaborate. Athletic Director Alan Haller said the university had already taken some preliminary steps including not allowing Tucker to have contact with Tracy.

“Although the investigation was complete, there was an ongoing process to be played out,” Haller said.

In a statement, MSU Board of Trustees Chair Rema Vassar said “we remain committed to a thorough investigation of this matter and to the continued progress needed at MSU for a safer and more supportive university.” 

No benefit of doubt?

For many, the actions against Tucker were too late and promoted additional questions about the university’s handling of sexual misconduct.

“For you to say that you've changed, as the president, as the athletic director, obviously, that has not happened,” Azzam Elder, a lawyer representing a group of Nassar survivors, told Bridge.

“So as far as I'm concerned, there should be absolutely no benefit of doubt given to leadership anymore at Michigan State University.”

USA Today’s report came two days after sexual assault survivors once again called on the university’s board to release 6,000 documents related to Nassar.

“Coming on the heels of a lawsuit alleging that a PT has been sexually assaulting patients, and the Board's refusal to release the Nassar documents, this is beyond disgusting.,” Rachael Denhollander, a Nassar survivor, posted as she noted her support for Tracy Sunday morning. 

The Lansing State Journal reported last month that a MSU physical therapist assistant is accused of sexually assaulting a patient in early 2021. According to the lawsuit, the female patient sought treatment for a leg condition, but the provider repeatedly touched her pubic area and breasts. 

In 2019, after Nassar was convicted and imprisoned, the federal government fined the university $4.5 million for failing to respond to sexual assault complaints.  The university has faced a litany of complaints about its handling of Title IX cases — including the firing of a business dean on claims he didn’t report sexual misconduct — that led to the resignations of three university presidents.

For nearly two decades Michigan State University leaders failed to take action on sexual assault complaints regarding Larry Nassar and that coverup continues today,”  former Michigan Chamber of Commerce CEO Rich Studley said in a social media post on Sunday

Has anything changed at MSU!?”

Tucker is also alleged to have FaceTimed Tracy while he was shirtless, complimented her body, repeatedly invited himself to her hotel room, and sent her an expensive pair of sneakers, $200 in cash and a $2,500 gift to her nonprofit, according to USA Today.

Tucker, who makes $9.5 million per season, told the Title IX investigator he had a romantic connection with Tracy and she was looking for a "sugar daddy," according to USA Today.

“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,” he wrote in a March letter to the investigator, according to USA Today.

Tracy was invited to MSU after criticizing the university’s handling of the Nassar scandal, as well as a separate Title IX investigation into sexual assault.

She became an advocate after she was gang raped by members of a football team in 1998. She told USA Today she was re-traumatized during a phone call on April 22, 2022, when Tucker made sexual comments and masturbated.

“The idea that someone could know me and say they understand my trauma but then re-inflict that trauma on me is so disgusting to me, it’s hard for me to even wrap my mind around it,” USA Today quoted Tracy as saying. “It’s like he sought me out just to betray me.”

Moore, the Nassar survivor, noted that Tucker has a 10-year contract for $95 million, and said the “power differential, somebody going up against him, is honestly kind of terrifying when I think about it.”

'We haven't learned’

Angie Povilaitis, a former assistant attorney general and lead prosecutor against Nassar, said in a post Sunday that Tracy “is one of the fiercest survivors I know.”

There is something wrong with a leader & program who then uses that relationship for inappropriate, predatory & selfish behavior,” she wrote on social media.

“Ultimately I am sad and disgusted. After years of sexual assault scandals, after tireless work by so many trying to bring MSU forward to do better, this happens & is where we are.”

Ingham County Circuit Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, who presided over the Nassar case, told Bridge the university needs to put education, transparency and safeguards in place.

“We haven’t learned because they haven’t used the bad things that have happened as a teachable moment,” she said.

She said the university needs to provide education that clearly outlines what is considered sexual assault, what happens when a report is made and what consequences exist if someone is found to have engaged inappropriate conduct. 

Aquilina called for “fresh eyes in every single department,” to help assess what needs to change and said she plans to apply for the university president position. 

Woodruff last month announced she would not seek the permanent post.

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