Michigan State University football coach Mel Tucker denies sexually harassing Brenda Tracy

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Michigan State University head football coach Mel Tucker doubled down Monday on his claim that he is innocent of any misconduct, the day after a USA TODAY investigation detailed sexual harassment allegations against him by prominent rape survivor and activist Brenda Tracy.

Tucker, whom the university suspended without pay Sunday pending resolution of the school’s Title IX case, said in an emailed statement that Tracy’s allegations are “completely false” and that the proceedings against him are “devoid of any semblance of fairness.”

“I have been ripped from the Team that I love, without any meaningful opportunity to tell my side of the story other than this press release,” Tucker’s statement says. “I ask everyone to consider carefully the undisputed facts outlined and reserve judgment until the full truth comes out.”

Tracy has accused Tucker of making sexual comments and masturbating without her consent during a phone call in April 2022. Late Monday, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer weighed in with a strongly worded statement about the case: “As a survivor, I’m shocked. As a Spartan, I’m disappointed. As Governor, I want answers.”

Investigation: Michigan State football coach Mel Tucker accused of sexually harassing rape survivor

Whitmer alluded to Michigan State’s history, which included failing to act for nearly two decades on complaints against Larry Nassar, the disgraced former U.S.A. Gymnastics and campus physician accused of sexually assaulting more than 300 female athletes under the guise of medical treatments.

Tucker also touched on that history, adding that he “can only conclude that there is an ulterior motive designed to terminate my contract based on some other factor such as a desire to avoid any Nasser (sic) taint, or my race or gender.”

In his statement, Tucker contradicts his prior statements to the outside attorney the college hired to investigate Tracy’s complaint, case documents Tracy provided to USA TODAY show.

Michigan State coach Mel Tucker is shown on the sideline during his team's game against Indiana, Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022, in East Lansing, Mich.
Michigan State coach Mel Tucker is shown on the sideline during his team's game against Indiana, Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022, in East Lansing, Mich.

For instance, Tucker said in the statement that he did not cancel Tracy’s planned July 2022 visit to campus to train his players and coaches about sexual violence prevention. He said he had merely postponed the visit until January 2023.

The investigation report shows that he said, “Yes, absolutely I did,” when the investigator, Rebecca Leitman Veidlinger, asked him if he had a role in canceling the visit.

He also told Veidlinger that he did not recall any discussions about inviting Tracy back to campus in January 2023 and that it wouldn’t make sense to bring her back then because many new players would not be on campus until the spring.

That cancelation was a key factor in the school's determination that its sexual harassment policy covered Tucker's alleged conduct, the investigation report shows. It had jurisdiction to investigate, it determined, because the matter affected Tracy's ongoing business relationship with the university.

Tracy issued her own statement in response to Tucker’s, calling it “more of the same DARVO (deny, attack, reverse victim and offender), deflection, victim blaming and lies that I've been dealing with now for months.” She said she believes his statement was an effort to back out of the hearing in the case, scheduled for Oct. 5 and 6.

“Coach Tucker has been delaying and trying to stop the investigative process since the beginning,” Tracy said. "He can’t afford to go to a hearing that determines credibility of the participating parties.”

Brenda Tracy, a sexual assault survivor and activist, waits on the Michigan Stadium field for the pregame coin toss, before an NCAA college football game between Michigan and Western Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018. Tracy accepted an offer from Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh to be an honorary captain for the season-opening game after she spoke to the team.

Tracy said she would be present for the hearing and would make herself available for cross-examination by Tucker’s attorney, Jennifer Belveal. Tracy invited him to do the same.

If the hearing officer determines Tucker violated the school’s sexual harassment policy and the school fires him for cause, he stands to lose out on the roughly $80 million remaining on the 10-year contract he signed with Michigan State in November 2021. He could also be fired for cause if he materially breaches the contract, which requires him to conduct himself “professionally and ethically, with integrity.” That could include making false statements to the investigator.

The governor joined a chorus of critics asking why the university acted only after the news media caught wind of the investigation.

“We deserve to know when the university knew about these allegations and why they made the decisions they did,” Whitmer said in her statement. “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.”

In an interview with the Lansing State Journal – part of the USA TODAY Network – on Monday, Michigan State Interim President Teresa Woodruff said that she and athletic director Alan Haller first learned that a complaint had been filed against Tucker by an outside vendor in December 2022 – the same month Tracy filed it. But Woodruff said she did not know the complainant was Tracy until July – the month Veidlinger completed her fact-finding investigation.

“We knew there was an outside complainant,” Woodruff said of what she and the board were told in December. “We knew it was not within the university. But we didn’t know the nature of the complaint itself.”

Woodruff said she and Haller had been unaware of the substance of Tracy’s allegations against Tucker until they read the USA TODAY investigation early Sunday morning. The story, she said, prompted their decision to suspend Tucker immediately without pay.

“It made it very difficult for Mr. Tucker to continue to conduct his work as a head coach because those allegations are now producing … widespread attention,” Woodruff said. “And that’s, that’s creating a lot of distraction and chaos within the university, which is certainly antithetical to the ability to lead young men and to run our programs.”

During a press conference Sunday announcing Tucker’s suspension, Woodruff also said Tucker was issued a no-contact order forbidding him from speaking to Tracy during the case. Tracy received a similar order. As an additional interim measure, Haller said he increased his oversight of Tucker and the football program.

Woodruff said the process, including the confidentiality of the complainant from the board and other university officials, followed the university's established protocols.

Kenny Jacoby is an investigative reporter for USA TODAY covering sexual harassment and violence and Title IX. Contact him by email at kjacoby@usatoday.com or follow him on X @kennyjacoby. Matt Mencarini is an investigative reporter for the Lansing State Journal. Reach him at 517-377-1026 or mjmencarini@lsj.com. Follow him on X @MattMencarini.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Mel Tucker statement: MSU coach denies harassment of Brenda Tracy