Michigan State Suspends Football Coach Amid Sexual Harassment Investigation

From A Washington Post story by Wali Khan headlined “Michigan State suspends Mel Tucker amid sexual harassment investigation”:

Michigan State football coach Mel Tucker was suspended without pay Sunday, hours after USA Today revealed the school is investigating a sexual harassment claim made against him.

As outlined in a USA Today story published early Sunday morning, Brenda Tracy, a sexual assault prevention activist, accused Tucker of making sexually explicit comments and masturbating during a phone call as she sat frozen, unable to respond, in April 2022. According to a report submitted to the school by an external investigator, Tucker claimed their relationship was “mutually consensual and intimate,” the newspaper reported.

Michigan State played its first two games of the season with Tucker on the sideline. At a news conference Sunday afternoon, Michigan State Athletic Director Alan Haller said Tucker was not suspended after the July 25 submission of the external report because the investigative process was incomplete. A formal hearing, which is slated to determine whether Tucker violated the school’s policy banning sexual harassment, is scheduled for Oct. 5 and 6.

“The university’s objective has been and remains focused on conducting a fair, thorough and unbiased investigation,” Haller said. “This includes protecting confidentiality of the claimant and putting in place interim measures. The university’s formal conclusion of the investigation will occur once the hearing and final decision processes are complete.”

Haller said secondary coach Harlon Barnett would take over as interim head coach. Former Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio will aid him as an on-field assistant.

Now in his fourth season at Michigan State, Tucker signed a 10-year, $95 million contract extension in 2021. The Spartans sputtered to a 5-7 record last year but have opened this season with wins over Central Michigan and Richmond.

Tracy, a rape survivor, came to prominence thanks to her work educating athletes about sexual violence. According to USA Today, Tracy and Tucker became friends thanks to her advocacy work, including visits to speak with his team at Michigan State, but that relationship went in a different direction in the spring of 2022.

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

Tucker’s suspension comes as Title IX issues continue to loom large at Michigan State. Survivors of disgraced sports doctor Larry Nassar’s abuse served copies of a lawsuit to university trustees Friday, demanding the release of 6,000 documents related to Nassar.

The report of Tucker’s alleged transgressions drew support from Nassar survivors. Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly accuse Nassar, mentioned it on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, calling Tucker’s behavior “beyond disgusting” and saying she stood with Tracy.

At Sunday’s news conference, where just three questions were fielded, MSU President Teresa Woodruff said the actions taken by the school so far show it is taking Title IX violations seriously. The measures include mutual no-contact orders.

A university spokesperson said Sunday evening, ESPN reported, that while MSU learned in December of a complaint against Tucker, it was unaware of details, including an admission by Tucker of a sexual encounter, until Saturday night. The coach’s suspension was levied for “unprofessional behavior and not living up to the core values of the department and university,” the spokesperson said.

“This morning’s news might sound like the MSU of old — it was not. It is not because an independent, unbiased investigation is and continues to be conducted,” Woodruff said. “It is not the MSU of old because we maintain the confidence of the claimant and the respondent.”

Tracy’s complaint was filed in December. October’s hearing is slated to fall during the Spartans’ open date.

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