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MSU is no Hero with Sgt. Schultz defense

On the one hand, Michigan State leadership was only stroking a well-honed don’t-ask-don’t tell history when it purposely turned its head to allegations that its $95-million-dollar football coach was accused of an illicit phone call with a high-profile advocate for sexual assault victims.

On the other hand, coach Mel Tucker – who admits to the juicier details of the phone call but maintains it was consensual – is now facing the loss of about $70 million in future payments from MSU, which would make him the recipient of the costliest hand job in world history.

The woman making the complaint is Brenda Tracy, the survivor of a brutal gang-rape in Oregon some 20 years ago. She’s used that harrowing experience to be a spokesperson against sexual assault, specifically speaking to male college athletes about how they should treat women. That’s how she met Tucker which led to the early morning phone-sex call in April 2022 when Tucker was staying at a Florida hotel and Tracy was at her home on the West Coast.

Tracy filed a complaint late last year but Michigan State stayed silent, and allowed Tucker to continue coaching and earning his annual wage of $9.5 million, until USA Today broke the story earlier this month. Once the story aired, MSU suspended Tucker without pay, but it is clear that without the USA Today story Tucker would still be patrolling the sidelines, molding as it were the character of young men.

Why did MSU not act earlier? The university released a statement last week that many of the higher-ups, such as the Board of Trustees and high-ranking administrators, made a conscious decision not to know anything about the charges. If you are old enough to remember Hogan’s Heros, you can probably imagine the iconic Sparty statue doing its best Sergeant Schultz imitation: “I know nothing.”

Sadly, this isn’t even the worse sexual assault scandal in recent Michigan State lore. That would be the sordid saga of Larry Nassar, who sexually molested hundreds of female gymnasts including a number of Spartans in his role as the school’s sports medicine doctor.

The policy of turn your head so you don’t see anything was in full force then as well. Students said their complaints about Nassar were ignored until the story finally broke at the national level. Even then they felt belittled and mocked such as when MSU’s interim president – former Gov. John Engler – suggested without substantiation that one of the leading victim spokespersons was getting financial kickbacks from trial attorneys. Thus, Engler was more critical of a rape victim than he ever was of the monster Nassar.

Tucker has followed Engler’s lead by claiming, also without substantiation, that ESPN is pursuing a story that casts doubt on the gang-rape that Tracy endured 20-some years ago. ESPN and the reporter named by Tucker who categorically denied such a story is in the works.

The reason Engler was playing president was that the former president, Lou Anna Simon, was forced out for not better handling the scandal. As penance, she had to make do with a $2.5 million severance package which was paid out over three years, which was much higher than what she would have earned had she continued working. It stinks of hush money because a firing would have led to legal wrangling that might have revealed further failings at the highest levels.

MSU survivors of Nassar’s atrocities know how tightly guarded the school is about sharing the full story. They recently announced they were suing MSU to force it to release 6,000 documents that might better describe who knew what and when. Good luck. Both current Attorney General Dana Nessel and her predecessor, William Schuette, have failed to get those documents.

If only Michigan State protected student athletes as aggressively as it covers the butts of administrators and trustees.

When it comes to ignoring or covering up sexual assault in order to pay homage to big-time college sports, Michigan State is hardly an outlier. In the Big Ten conference alone, sordid stories have arisen at Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, and even Northwestern.

Still, as Mel Tucker tries to emerge from the sticky situation emanating from his Florida hotel room, he can take solace in one thing: on that April morning, he was one of the few Spartan leaders whose right hand knew what the left hand was doing.

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