Two years ago, Mel Tucker blazed a trail for Black head coaches. One day ago, Mel Tucker set them back.
In a bombshell that rocked the sports world on the first Sunday of the NFL season, we learned that Tucker is under investigation after Brenda Tracy — a speaker and sexual assault prevention advocate — accused him of sexual harassment, as she alleges that he made sexual comments about her on a phone call as he masturbated. Over two decades ago, Tracy was raped by four men – two Oregon State University football players, a junior college player, and a high school recruit, the report from USA Today Sports reads.
Once again, Michigan State is the common denominator of yet another sports scandal that involves either sexual harassment, sexual assault, or both. And that community college in East Lansing has learned nothing from its past.
“This morning’s news might sound like the MSU of old. It was not,” said Michigan State’s interim president Teresa Woodruff. “It is not because an independent, unbiased investigation is and continues to be conducted. That investigative process is not complete and has not been referred to [Athletic Director Alan] Haller and the university. That process will not be complete until there is a hearing and a final decision.”
At best, that statement wreaks of a “leader” whose ego is tied to protocol. At worst, it’s further proof of just how much the brass at the school continue to be cowards whenever the right things must be done — as they’ve known about this since December.
Tucker is now suspended without pay, which means he’s on his way to being fired. But, no matter when it happens, Tucker has coached his last game at Michigan State University — and hopefully, forever.
Update: Tucker released a statement saying that the allegations are “completely false.”
The timing of the news couldn’t be worse, given that during this part of the year one of the ongoing discussions in football is the eternal lack of Black head coaches — in college and the NFL.
In 2021 — which was eight years after Kevin Sumlin’s six-year, $30 million deal at Texas A&M raised the price tag on Black coaches — Tucker signed a 10-year, $95 million extension with the Spartans, making him the highest-paid African-American head coach in all of American sports, and highest-paid the sport of college football had ever seen.
No matter how you felt about his coaching abilities, it was a moment — until it wasn’t.
Last year, Tucker’s team got into a brawl after the Michigan game, in which a group of Spartans jumped members of the Wolverines in the tunnel. Seven players on Tucker’s team were charged. At least one was formally sentenced. The damage that occurred was bigger than any sentence from a judge or a suspension from Tucker could give.
The Black coach with the big paycheck couldn’t control his Black players as they “acted like thugs.” Once that narrative, even if it’s false, is out there, it’s hard to erase — given that terms like “thug,” “woke,” and “classless,” are nothing but new ways to call Black people the N-word.
And now this, at a moment in which the plight of the Black head football is still very much a thing.
This season in college football, only 14 Black men will serve as head coaches out of the 133 programs on the Division I level. That number will be 13 after Tucker is officially fired. Only seven — soon to be six — of them fill that role in the Power Five, which includes 69 programs. And in the NFL, there are still only three Black coaches who identify as Black leading locker rooms in the pros — Todd Bowles in Tampa, Mike Tomlin in Pittsburgh, and DeMeco Ryans in Houston.
“But there was an even larger takeaway that should not be overlooked, and it’s a reminder of how NFL owners and college administrators need to open their minds when hiring head coaches,” wrote The Athletic’s Jim Trotter in his recent piece on how Deion Sanders’ early success at Colorado highlights flaws in hiring processes — it’s all connected.
As we’re still waiting to see how Brian Flores’ class-action lawsuit against the NFL for its “alleged” racial hiring practices will turn out, Black coaches in college were at least enjoying some kind of progress, as Tucker’s deal let to James Franklin getting an extension that’ll keep him at Penn State until 2031, paying him $7.5 million per year. But due to racism, and the disgrace that Tucker has brought to his profession and his race, for many, this will be yet another unfair stereotype and hurdle that Black coaches will have to deal with.
One of the toughest parts about being Black is that you rarely get to be “Black” all the time, given that you’re always a representative of your entire race. That gets amplified when you’re one of the highest-paid coaches in all of sports, and only the second Black head football coach in Michigan State’s history. Mel Tucker decided to throw all that history and responsibility away. But, he didn’t just hurt himself. He became an obstacle for every man who looks like him on a sideline.