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Tucker denies claims, calls MSU hearing ‘a sham’

Suspended Michigan State head football coach Mel Tucker adamantly denied claims that he sexually harassed Brenda Tracy, a sexual assault awareness speaker, in a statement Monday and called an upcoming hearing about the claims “a sham.”

Tucker, in a statement issued Monday through his attorney Jennifer Belveal, said he developed an “intimate, adult relationship” with Tracy and that her claims that he harassed her are “completely false.” He said an upcoming hearing to assess whether he violated university policy is “ridiculously flawed and not designed to arrive at the truth.”

Michigan State athletic director Alan Haller suspended Tucker without pay Sunday night after details of the claims against the coach were made public in a story written by USA Today. Tracy, who operates a nonprofit company that tries to raise awareness about sexual misconduct, especially among college athletes, told university investigators that Tucker sent her gifts, asked if she would date him if he wasn’t married and masturbated while on the phone with her without her consent, according to details reported by USA Today on Sunday.

“While I am saddened by Ms. Tracy’s disclosure of the sensitive nature of this call, let me be perfectly clear — it was an entirely mutual, private event between two adults living at the opposite ends of the country,” Tucker’s statement reads. “She initiated the discussion that night, sent me a provocative picture of the two of us together, suggested what she may look like without clothes, and never once during the 36 minutes did she object in any manner, much less hang up the phone.”

Hours later, Tracy posted a response on social media, referring to an acronym, DARVO, that stands for “deny, attack and reverse victim and offender.”

“This is just more of the same DARVO, deflection, victim blaming and lies that I’ve been dealing with now for months. Coach Tucker has been delaying and trying to stop the investigative process since the beginning. He can’t afford to go to a hearing that determines credibility of the participating parties,” she wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “I believe this statement is his way of getting out of participating in the hearing. October 5th and 6th I will be present for the hearing and make myself available for cross examination by his attorney Jennifer Belveal. I invite him to do the same.”

Haller said he and other university officials have known about the claims since last December, when Tracy filed a formal complaint to the school’s Office for Civil Rights. He said an independent investigator who was hired by the school interviewed both parties and submitted a report in late July, recommending that the school hold a hearing to determine whether Tucker violated the university’s sexual misconduct policy. The hearing is scheduled to begin Oct. 5.

Tucker hired Tracy to speak to the Spartans football team about sexual assault awareness in August 2021. She also attended the team’s 2022 spring game and was named its honorary captain. Tracy, who did not respond to requests for comment from ESPN, told USA Today that she developed a friendly but professional relationship with Tucker after her first speaking engagement with the team. According to the story, she told investigators that “Tucker’s romantic interest in her was entirely one-sided.”

Tucker said in his statement Monday that they developed a mutually intimate relationship, and that Tracy at times encouraged the relationship by “inviting and accepting gifts from me.”

Tucker said in his statement that Tracy did not object during the April 2022 phone call when he masturbated and that she did not cut off her relationship with him or the football program afterward. He said she raised objections to the call only after a presentation she was scheduled to give to the team in the summer of 2022 was postponed. Tucker contends he never canceled Tracy’s visit but postponed it to January.

“She chose to file her complaint instead of proceeding with the training,” his statement reads.

Tucker took issue with the upcoming hearing, saying it’s designed for infractions involving students and prevents him the chance to present evidence or make substantial arguments that would show his innocence. The hearing is being conducted as part of the university’s relationship violence and sexual misconduct policy, which applies to students and employees.

He said MSU’s overall investigation “has not been fair or unbiased” and theorized that the university’s actions could be motivated by its connection to Larry Nassar, the sports physician who worked at Michigan State and USA Gymnastics and was convicted of sexually assaulting numerous athletes.

“I 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 [Nassar] taint, or my race or gender,” Tucker, who is Black, said in the statement.

In November 2021, Tucker agreed to a 10-year, $95 million contract with Michigan State, which secured the coach after interest in him had emerged from several prominent programs. Tucker led MSU to an 11-2 record and a No. 10 AP finish that season. He is 20-14 overall as MSU’s coach.

Haller on Sunday named secondary coach Harlon Barnett as Michigan State’s acting head coach. Former MSU coach Mark Dantonio has returned to the program as an associate coach and will assist Barnett. Michigan State hosts No. 8 Washington on Saturday at Spartan Stadium.

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