Content warning: This story addresses allegations of sexual harassment and may be difficult to read and emotionally upsetting.
Michigan State suspended Mel Tucker on Sunday, less than one day after sexual harassment allegations against the football coach became public in a USA Today article.
The article revealed Tucker had been under investigation by the university, a fact that athletic director Alan Haller later confirmed in a news conference. According to USA Today, Brenda Tracy, a rape survivor and prominent activist, accused Tucker of making sexual comments and masturbating while on a phone call with her in April 2022 after the two had developed a professional relationship because of her advocacy work.
Tracy filed a complaint against Tucker with the school’s Title IX office in December, and MSU hired an outside Title IX attorney to investigate. The attorney submitted her report on July 25, according to Haller, and Tucker is set for a hearing to determine whether he violated school policy.
Details around MSU’s investigation and the timing of Tucker’s suspension are murky and left many asking why the university didn’t publicly disclose the probe earlier. Here’s everything we know about the situation:
August 2021: Brenda Tracy visits Michigan State for first time
Tracy visits Michigan State in August 2021 to speak to the football team and share her story of being gang-raped at age 24. Tracy and Tucker first meet during her visit after being introduced by a mutual acquaintance, according to USA Today.
Tracy visits campuses to raise awareness about sexual assault through an activism platform named Set the Expectation.
April 16, 2022: Brenda Tracy is an honorary captain
Tracy and Tucker stay in touch following her visit in 2021. She returns to Michigan State as an honorary captain for a spring game on April 16, 2022.
— Michigan State Football (@MSU_Football) April 13, 2022
April 28, 2022: The phone call
Tucker calls Tracy in the early hours of April 28, according to USA Today. The outlet reports that Tucker said he became aroused when Tracy made a comment about her appearance and needing to go to the gym, before discussing having phone sex. Tucker alleges Tracy said they should have phone sex once, but Tracy denies his account of the phone call.
According to Tracy, Tucker sent her a photo of them together at the spring game, made a comment about her body and then began masturbating. Tracy was uncomfortable during the phone call and cried after the call ended, per USA Today. Tucker would later say that the call was “an entirely mutual, private event between two adults living at opposite ends of the country.”
Three months pass before Tucker and Tracy speak again. Tracy says Tucker canceled her in-person training with MSU three days before it was to take place on July 25. A staffer tells her the cancellation was due to a scheduling conflict. Eventually, Tracy and Tucker speak on the phone and, according to Tracy, Tucker accuses her of gossiping about his marriage and says he can’t trust her. However, Tucker tells investigators that Tracy apologized for discussing his marriage with her assistant, and he accepted the apology. They never speak again, according to USA Today.
December 2022: Brenda Tracy files complaint against Tucker
Tracy files a complaint with Michigan State’s Title IX office in December and the university hires Title IX attorney Rebecca Leitman Veidlinger to investigate.
Veidlinger starts her investigation in January and begins interviewing Tracy and six people Tracy identifies as witnesses. Tucker doesn’t agree to be interviewed until March, per USA Today.
July 25, 2023: Title IX attorney submits her report
Veidlinger submits her 106-page investigation report to the involved parties on July 25 and refers the case for a hearing to determine if Tucker violated the school’s sexual misconduct policy. Veidlinger, according to case documents shared with USA Today, does find that both parties have deleted text messages with each other.
That hearing is scheduled for Oct. 5 and 6 — when the football team has a bye week.
Sept. 9, 2023: The investigation becomes public knowledge
ESPN publishes a story that Tucker is at the center of an investigation. Shortly thereafter, USA Today publishes its story on allegations of Tucker sexually harassing Tracy, making the investigation public knowledge.
“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,” Tracy tells USA Today. “It’s like he sought me out just to betray me.”
Sept. 10, 2023: MSU suspends Mel Tucker
Following the publication of USA Today’s story, Michigan State suspends Tucker without pay.
MSU interim president Teresa Woodruff addresses the suspension during a 5 p.m. ET news conference. She declares that this is not the Michigan State “of old,” a reference to the university’s mishandling of the Larry Nassar situation, and says that the school handled the situation properly.
Woodruff and Haller say Tucker was suspended Sunday after university officials learned “new developments,” without specifying what those were. Haller says he learned of the investigation in late December when interim measures were put in place.
“Initially, there was (to be) no contact with the complainant and then also increased oversight from me of the program but then also the coach,” Haller says. “So, it’s an ongoing process, and we update those interim measures as we receive information.” Haller adds that the university’s objective is to conduct a thorough investigation and allow the process to play out.
Later that day, when asked by The Athletic whether and when Woodruff and the board of trustees were notified of the situation, a university spokesperson confirms they were informed of a complaint in December but no other details were provided to them. The spokesperson says Haller “would have been given some additional information” to help determine what interim measures would need to be put in place. In response to reporters’ inquires, late Sunday and then in an email to the MSU community on Monday, the school clears up that neither Haller, Woodruff nor the board knew the full details of the investigation until USA Today’s story came out, and that the third-party investigative report filed July 25 was shared with the two parties, not the school.
“As there have been new developments before the hearing, including details of the acknowledged behavior, athletic director Haller suspended Mel Tucker without pay,” Woodruff writes in the email. “While this action was not taken lightly, it was necessary, appropriate and in support of the affected individuals and of the interests of our community.”
Sept. 11, 2023: Mel Tucker denies sexual harassment allegations
Tucker defends his conversation with Tracy in the face of sexual harassment allegations, saying in a statement that their phone conversation in April 2022 was “an entirely mutual, private event between two adults living at opposite ends of the country.”
The coach calls Tracy’s allegations “completely false” and says Tracy “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.”
In his statement, Tucker calls the upcoming hearing a “sham” and says he has “no intention of allowing” Tracy’s “character assassination to go unaddressed.” He also suggests there is “an ulterior motive designed to terminate my contract.” Tucker signed a 10-year extension in 2021 that pays him $95 million and makes him one of the top-paid coaches in college football. Tucker says the school found it did not have Title IX jurisdiction and that his private life is being investigated for an alleged policy violation.
USA Today reports that the university determined Tucker’s alleged conduct falls under its sexual harassment policy because of the alleged training cancellation, impacting Tracy’s business with the school.
Tucker argues that it was not until four months after the call that Tracy told anyone she was offended. During that time, he alleges that she gave him “every indication that everything was fine,” his statement says.
Tucker says Tracy encouraged the pair’s personal relationship by inviting and accepting gifts from the coach, including shoes, a $200 Venmo payment and a personal contribution to her non-profit.
According to Tucker, Tracy’s attorney tells him that “it would take a lot of money to make” the allegations go away. Tucker states that Tracy is twisting the story of their personal relationship “to revive her career and destroy my life, precipitated by her greed.”
In response to Tucker’s statement, Tracy says in a post on social media that 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 (the) credibility of the participating parties,” Tracy tweets. “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.”
Sept. 12: Brenda Tracy says she didn’t intend to disclose her identity publicly
Tracy says in a letter released through her attorney, Karen Truszkowski, that she had no intention of disclosing her identity publicly while the investigation was ongoing and that her story with USA Today was published only after her name was leaked to local media.
“(Tracy) was and continues to be committed to complying with and concluding the MSU internal investigative process,” Truszkowski said in a statement. “She respected the process and chose not to go to the media to preserve the integrity of the process. … After the investigation process was completed, we would have determined, what, if any further steps to take.
“Instead, (Tracy’s) identity was disclosed without her knowledge or consent, warranting express actions to protect her. Her choice to allow this process to proceed privately was taken away.”
Tracy elaborates in a statement posted to social media, expressing anger that her “right to confidentiality has been violated.”
“As the investigation moved forward, the behavior and statements made by Coach Tucker and his lawyer Jennifer Belveal made it very evident to me that I was going to need to defend and protect myself,” Tracy’s statement reads. “I voluntarily shared documents with USA Today so that my story could be written and published after the conclusion of the school process, but also just in case my name leaked — which it did.
“I did not want to publish my story in the early morning hours last weekend, but I had no choice because someone outed me to the media. I am angry that my right to confidentiality has been violated and I hope that those responsible are held accountable.”
(Top photo: Nic Antaya / Getty Images)