Courtesy of the Lansing State Journal
Correction: Damon Stoudamire previously coached basketball at the University of the Pacific. The name of the university was incorrect in an earlier version.
LANSING — Former Michigan State football coach Mel Tucker’s attorney told university leaders Thursday he was unable to participate in a key hearing over sexual harassment allegations because of a “serious medical condition.”
His attorney, Jennifer Belveal, in a letter to interim President Teresa Woodruff and the Board of Trustees also said her firm had uncovered new evidence including text messages from Tucker’s accuser that “undermines MSU’s decision to terminate Mr. Tucker, and further confirms that the underlying “investigation” failed to meet minimal due diligence standards — at Mr. Tucker’s expense.”
The online hearing, which began Thursday over Zoom before Virginia-based attorney Amanda Norris Ames, is a pivotal moment in the campus disciplinary proceeding involving Tucker, who was fired last week after USA TODAY reported details of an investigation by the university’s Title IX office.
He is accused by Brenda Tracy, a prominent national rape survivor and activist. Tracy alleges Tucker pursued her romantically for months after hiring her to speak to his players about sexual violence prevention. His pursuit culminated in an April 2022 phone call, during which, her complaint says, he made sexual comments and masturbated without her consent. Tucker has said he and Tracy had a romantic relationship and that the call was consensual phone sex.
Tucker has not revealed his health condition publicly. He had previously said he had asked to take leave under the Family Medical Leave Act “days before” athletic director Alan Haller told Tucker on Sept. 18 that he intended to fire him for cause.
Belveal argues Tracy’s text messages with her friend Ahlan Alvarado, who has since died, show Tracy had a personal relationship with Tucker that was consensual at the same time she had a relationship with at least one other athletic coach. Belveal’s letter also alleges a new witness has come forward to say that the phone sex was consensual and that Tracy attempted to manipulate MSU for her own financial benefit.
“We detail some of this new evidence below, although it is too voluminous to capture in a single letter. (We have received approximately 20,000 new communications or documents involving Ms. Tracy.),” Belveal wrote. “This evidence completely contradicts Ms. Tracy’s claims and suggest that she manipulated a key witness, the University, Mr. Tucker, and the public. You should know that Ms. Tracy allegedly deleted key evidence and provided only self-serving excerpts to OIE to sustain a claim of ‘harassment’ that MSU never should have been investigating in the first place. Ms. Tracy pulled the wool over the University’s eyes, and maligned Mr. Tucker’s reputation for personal gain.”
Reached by phone during a break in the hearing, which is the penultimate step in the school’s investigation into her sexual harassment claim, Tracy said she had been taken aback by the letter, adding that she had not yet had time to read it in full. She said she would address each of its claims after the hearing ends.
“I showed up to the hearing today,” Tracy said. “Tucker didn’t, but instead intentionally put out more lies and mischaracterizations in what I can only assume is an attempt to interrupt the hearing. As I give this comment, I am due back in the hearing.”
MSU spokesman Dan Olsen said the university would not comment on the latest allegations from Tucker to preserve the integrity of the ongoing case.
Tracy characterized the hearing as uneventful until the break, when she learned of the letter. During the hearing, Tracy said her attorney, Karen Truszkowski, questioned her for about 30 minutes and the hearing officer, Ames, questioned her for about 20 more.
One additional witness — director of football operations Ben Mathers — was expected to appear for questioning Thursday afternoon, Tracy said, but he did not show up either. Mathers previously told the investigator he had “selfishly” not been fully accurate and requested the day after his interview to revise his statement.
Norris Ames will have 20 days after the hearing to issue a report concluding whether the evidence raised during the seven-month investigation and hearing is sufficient to establish that Tucker violated school policies against sexual harassment and exploitation.
In Belveal’s letter to the university, she said Tracy’s text messages with Alvarado, her longtime friend and booking assistant, show she had a “consensual relationship with basketball coach Damon Stoudamire — saying she was ‘dating’ him and had a ‘good thing with Damon,'” while she was also in a relationship with Tucker.
Stoudamire was hired as the head basketball coach at Georgia Tech in March, after serving as an assistant for the Boston Celtics for nearly two seasons and at the University of the Pacific before that. Tracy told USA Today she had dated the basketball coach in the 1990s, stayed friends with him after and dated him again briefly in 2021.
The following text messages, which Belveal referred to as illustrative, were included in her letter to MSU:
“Ms. Tracy: I haven’t even heard from Damon since Monday…
“Ms. Alvarado: He’ll pop up.
“Ms. Tracy: For sure. He’s not going nowhere. Lol. He was supposed to find time to see me before the 20th…
“Ms. Tracy: Coach Tucker told me he loved me last night. It wasn’t weird tho. He made sure I knew it was about being a friend.
“Ms. Alvarado: In other news lol. Coach Tucker isn’t going anywhere either.
Belveal also included text messages that she said refutes Tracy’s statements to investigators that she would not accept gifts from Tucker after knowing he was romantically interested in her. She claimed Tracy texted Alvarado that “Michigan state might be going to the Rose Bowl or one of the other major ones. We should check this calendar and keep dates open. I know coach Tucker would give us tickets[.]
Tucker signed his contract. I cant [sic] even wrap my brain around 95 million. Sheesh … Can you imagine around 700k going into your bank account every month. Every month … We’re gonna make it happen … I’m gonna ask him to finance the doc part of it [marketing materials that Ms. Tracy wanted for her non-profit organization]. … He’ll do it.”
Belveal also alleges Tracy tried to financially gain from her complaint.
“We also now know from Ms. Tracy’s own messages that she used MSU’s ‘investigation’ process because she was motivated by money, despite that she has claimed that she ‘has not mentioned money a single time in connection with [this matter].’ Among other things, Ms. Tracy’s messages reveal that she was initially hoping for a quick settlement with Mr. Tucker, telling Ms. Alvarado: ‘I’m filing a formal complaint with MSU… [My lawyer] said after that we can let him know that we want to come to an agreement then it doesn’t have to go to a hearing or anything unless he wants it to.’
“She told Ms. Alvarado that her attorney was reaching out to MSU regarding a settlement and that ‘Money is my only recourse to make him feel like there is a punishment[.] … When they do the money I should make him pay me 10k directly[.]’”
Tracy told USA TODAY that figure refers to the speaking fee that Michigan State didn’t pay her when Tucker canceled her planned July 2022 visit to the school.
Invoices included in the MSU investigation report show $10,000 is the speaking fee Michigan State paid her the first time she spoke to the team, in August 2021.
Additional text messages also show about a week before she filed the December complaint against Tucker, “She was down to $5,” and that she was having problems with the IRS. Noting that she “was supposed to be paying down 2018 taxes and not staying caught up on the other years,” Tracy said in a text to Alvarado that “[h]aving the IRS after me in a way that is known publicly surely won’t help my lawsuit.”
Belveal criticized the investigation by MSU as “misguided, incomplete, and biased” and wrote that “Ms. Tracy’s misrepresentations and manipulation would have come to light months ago. And crucially, OIE would have (or at least should have) halted this investigation once and for all.
“This certainly is not a proud moment in Spartan history, and it continues to cast a post-Nassar shadow on an institution that I, as an alumna, hold to a higher standard. Please contact me directly if you would like to further discuss the information that the OIE investigation failed to uncover.”
USA Today reporter Kenny Jacoby contributed to his report.