For those unaware, Brenda was gang raped by some athletes 18 years ago. After receiving death threats and other forms of intimidation, she decided to no longer cooperate with authorities (who had also lied to her in the interim). As a result, the players were given a one game suspension and community service.
She lived in silent pain for 16 years before speaking with The Oregonian columnist John Canzano and opening up, in full, about her life before and after the assault. Following the story, she has become an outspoken activist. She is a wonderful example of how things can go right; but she is also an exception. There are far too many rape victims who do not recover emotionally.
With all of the attention paid to Baylor football and Brock Turner's stunningly inadequate sentence, sometimes we tend to tune it out as background noise.
Look, in my paid writing career, I write about football - recruiting specifically - but that does not negate that football is a diversion. Real life is happening all around us and the story of Brenda Tracy going to Lincoln and meeting Mike Riley, face-to-face; speaking with his football team; it is a powerful story which needs to be re-visited.
I had some brief correspondence with Brenda for this piece and she is very supportive of the article and thankful. She said that a lot of 'small impacts' can create a bigger impact. There have been some fabulous stories, most recently a story in the Washington Post detailed her trip to Lincoln well. I cannot hope to have a voice as strong or broad as the Post, but as a writer, I feel compelled by duty to do my part.
We only have a short burst of light with which to work in this thing we call life, and it is in that burst which i look to make my mark.
I hope you all enjoy. This is 'Premium' Content, for the recruiting aspects, but, I am sharing the part about Brenda; talk with others about the topic. People may disagree with my take, but talking about it creates the education Ms. Tracy says is 'paramount.'
Strength to Go On
We have talked many times about what is called “The Oregon Way” in the past. Conceptually, this is meant to indicate that the Oregon football team does a little bit more, digs deeper, vets prospects longer, before offering a full scholarship. The theory is that a full scholarship is a privilege and an investment. The coaches want to invest wisely. Every program claims a similar goal; to varying degrees of success in actual accomplishment. But no one is infallible.
With the Baylor case refusing to go quietly – a coach in denial about his accountability, a subset of regents making secretive attempts to bring said coach back after a year, and many ardent fans in disbelief – a bigger, more important story is developing. Really, it is more of an awakening. An awakening that brings out the best and the worst in a society which raises up the athletes higher than educators, firefighters, police officers, and the litany of professional men and women who provide for our safety, comfort and future.
Just over two years ago, Dana Altman and the Oregon basketball team dismissed three players from the program following accusations of sexual misconduct. In the moment, having read through police reports and witness statements, it seemed a gross over-response. And maybe it was. Looking back, however, with the benefit of hindsight, the decision might have been the most just decision given what is known.
Baylor is not in the headlines because a rape accusation was made. They are in headlines, a coach is without a job, because the allegations were not taken seriously and the players were given a free pass.
Though some want to excoriate all involved, the issue is much more complex.
When Brenda Tracy was gang-raped 18 years ago, the dropping of her charges led a young coach to a now regretted decision; a single game suspension of his players. He did not investigate the claims; he did not dig deeper. Sound familiar? He made an assumption based on the charges having been dropped. His assumption was wrong. His subsequent decisions did as much damage to Ms. Tracy as the attack itself. In fact, she was quoted as having hated Riley more than her attackers. As a leader and educator, Riley should have known better.
Maybe Dana Altman knew better. When accusations are made, there is always debate, and often a slant of victim blaming and shaming. We sink to our basest levels in defense of those we believe cannot possibly be as bad as depicted in accusations.
There is a reason, though, that accusations are so frequently dismissed. False accusations have tainted an entire society. From the lesser remembered accusations against Michael Irvin, to the Duke Lacrosse Scandal and a lie told by Wanetta Gibson which cost Brian Banks seven years of his life, an education and a dream. Those lies make us all weary when athletes are accused.
This is the real tragedy. A tragedy because there are no easy solutions here. If a false accusation is made, and a young man’s hopes and dreams shattered, that is no less tragic than when an accusation is ignored to the detriment of the victim.
There are no easy solutions, though. This is not an athletics problem, it is a society problem. Nonetheless athletes can lead the way. Challenge yourself to read the victim impact statement by Brock Turner’s accuser. Read Brenda Tracy’s harrowing account of her assault. Read the comments which follow – they are just as despicable. We are failing our future by ignoring this problem. What is the solution? We must give a voice to those whose innocence has been stolen. We must listen without prejudice to their stories. Lies become more obvious when we know what the truth looks like.
As long as we collectively cover our eyes, ears, and mouths, we stifle the truth and continue victimization. Listen. See. Speak out. The impact on lives is too critical to keep perpetuating this all too pervasive crime against our sisters and daughters. Conferences are making efforts to stop the transfers of violent students. In March of this year, the Pac-12 ‘CEO Group’ passed a conference wide rule prohibiting players who had become ineligible to enroll at a previous school due to certain specific violence related misconduct. A good step, but a very, very small step into the shallow end of the pool. There are still loopholes – like the university looking to accept the transfer with an appeals process; making it a ‘self-reporting’ criteria. In other words, it is still possible to transfer with these rules.
The Big 12 had passed a similar rule last summer, and yet problems continue. There is a fundamental flaw in the concept – it requires a violent crime to occur before any action is taken. While that is due process in a court of law, change does not happen while waiting out court cases; cases where victim blaming and shaming become rampant. The rule, one which is rightfully lauded, including praise from Ms. Tracy, is a critical first step. First steps, though, are not the goal. They are merely a beginning.
As many know, Mike Riley brought Brenda Tracy to speak to his Nebraska football team this week. While many call it a courageous move, really, it is the only move he could have made in light of the current controversy. Courageous would have been proper punishment meted out 18 years ago. Courageous is Brenda Tracy confronting the man she hated for far too long; speaking to a group of football players and baring her darkest moments for an entire world to see. For Riley, it was not a courageous move at all, but it was the right move. Riley can never undo his decision, but he can be accountable for his poor judgment. In seeing him humbly accept his role in Ms. Tracy’s degradation, he has given a far more valuable lesson to his players.
Darius Adams, a 6-2 point guard at Tacoma Community College, also happens to be pushing for NCAA mandated change. Recently, Adams sent a letter to the NCAA asking for change. He also happens to be Brenda Tracy’s son. Applaud his efforts because they matter. Applaud Ms. Tracy’s efforts because they matter.
When Brenda Tracy was raped, a recruit was a part of the assault. Not the best impression to make. How can the NCAA do something? With a different approach. It is time for the governing body of college athletics to be proactive rather than reactive. Barring transfers of known violent students is reactionary. The NCAA needs a proactive approach to develop a section of its leadership dedicated to eliminating such crimes across the nation. Use athletics to benefit more than fat wallets. If Brenda Tracy, or any other rape survivor, were to speak to every football program in the nation, change would come. In a brief correspondence with Duck Sports Authority, Ms. Tracy agreed with this thought. “Education is paramount,” said Tracy. She is right.
The NCAA is in the business of education. Universities are supposed to be institutions of higher learning. The NFL has a rookie symposium where people from all walks of life speak to the athletes about how to avoid the pitfalls of sudden wealth. Will educating athletes at all levels about the impact of rape stop the crime altogether? We will never know until we make that a goal. Stop waiting for someone to be devastated. Stop reacting.
While it seems a tragic joke that we need to teach these lessons to young men, the NCAA can finally take a page out of an NFL playbook and make a lasting difference on not just a single person or a few collective wallets – but on an entire nation.
What we are is the sum of a thousand lies
What we know is almost nothing at all
But we are what we are 'til the day we die
Or 'til we don't have the strength to go on
Rise Against – Strength to Go On (2008)