Suspended Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker released a lengthy statement through his lawyer Monday afternoon defending himself against allegations that he sexually harassed a rape survivor.
Tucker said he and Brenda Tracy had "an entirely mutual, private event between two adults living at opposite ends of the country" and said the investigation contained "an ulterior motive designed to terminate my contract."
Tucker was suspended without pay on Sunday amid a months-long investigation into Tucker's conduct with Tracy, who told USA Today that the coach crossed the line during an April 28, 2002 telephone call. While Field Level Media's policy is not to name alleged victims of sexual harassment or assault, Tracy agreed to be identified in her USA Today interview and provided hundreds of pages of documentation.
Tucker said he helped bring Tracy, a prominent activist for sexual misconduct prevention, to campus in 2021 and they developed a friendship that grew intimate over time. Tucker said he was estranged from his wife "for a long time" by that point.
"Even the investigator hired by the University found that we had a ‘personal relationship' and that we shared ‘deeply personal and private information with each other,' " Tucker said. "Ms. Tracy encouraged our personal relationship by inviting and accepting gifts from me. During the investigation, Ms. Tracy admitted requesting and accepting my gift of expensive athletic shoes, a $200 Venmo payment and a personal contribution to her non-profit."
Tucker confirmed he had a "late-night intimate conversation" with Tracy in April 2022. While he said it was mutual and Tracy initiated the call, Tracy contends that Tucker "made sexual comments about her and masturbated" during that call and she had not consented.
"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," Tucker claimed.
Now Tucker is subject to a hearing Oct. 5 and 6 to decide whether he violated school policy about sexual harassment, which the coach has criticized as being designed for student infractions only.
"The sham ‘hearing' scheduled for October 5-6 is ridiculously flawed and not designed to arrive at the truth," Tucker claimed, saying that neither Tracy nor her witnesses are required to testify under oath and his side cannot present evidence of his innocence.
Tucker said he had 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 is one of the highest-paid coaches in college football, signing a 10-year, $95 million contract before the 2022 season. The contract is fully guaranteed if the school fires Tucker for performance.
However, it contains a clause that allows Michigan State to fire him, without payment, if he engages in "conduct which, in the University's reasonable judgment, would tend to bring public disrespect, contempt or ridicule on the University," per USA Today's report.
Also Monday, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a sexual assault survivor, released a statement saying the university community and the state at large "deserve better."
"I know the pain that so many feel when allegations like this come to light because I live it too," Whitmer said. "It's retraumatizing. MSU holds a special place in so many of our hearts — which is what makes this hurt more.
"We deserve to know when the university knew about these allegations and why they made the decisions they did. 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."
Tucker, 51, is in his fourth season as head coach of the Spartans. His overall record at Michigan State is 20-14 after a 5-7 season in 2022.
Defensive backs coach Harlon Barnett will serve as Michigan State's interim head coach in Tucker's absence, with former coach Mark Dantonio assisting as an associate head coach.
—Field Level Media