College coaches often invite speakers to meet with their teams. Alumni in the NFL come talk to about competition, celebrities come to inspire and sports psychologists discuss mental health issues. It’s a way to start off the season on a positive note.
Brenda Tracy isn’t any of those – but there she was last June standing in front of the Nebraska football team – delivering a speech that none of those players will likely forget.
Tracy spoke of the 6-hour gang rape she says she suffered 18 years ago at age 24 by four football players, 2 of whom played at Oregon State University. I won’t discuss the details of the alleged assault, but Tracy described a violent and horrific attack.
Tracy reported the assault and the players were arrested. The two OSU students were charged and suspended for one game. After receiving death threats from the community, Tracy refused to cooperate.
The charges were dropped. OSU head coach Mike Riley held up the suspension, but he also defended his players: “These are really good guys who made a bad choice,” he said.
Brenda Tracy’s recovery was a difficult one. She contemplated suicide. She had such hatred for Mike Riley – it consumed her. “I despised that man,” she told the Oregonian. “I hated him with every cell in my body.”
So how did she end up half-way across the country speaking to the Nebraska football team? Because head coach Mike Riley invited her.
Riley was named coach of Nebraska’s team in 2014. From the moment he arrived, he began working on a way to meet with Tracy. He had a lot of time to reflect on what happened in 1998 and admitted he should’ve “done more” and been harsher on his players after the assault. He invited Tracy to come to the school.
At first, Tracy could not fathom being in a room with Riley, but since she has gone public with her story, she’s become an advocate for sexual assault survivors. No matter how difficult Tracy knew she’d be doing it for all rape victims.
On June 22nd Tracy and Riley met for an hour. “I said everything I needed to say. I asked everything I needed to ask,” Tracy said. There were tears shed and most importantly, an apology. Mike Riley apologized for not getting all the facts of what happened and for not fully considering the impact on Tracy – and she believed him.
After their meeting, Tracy sat with the players and recounted EVERY detail of the rape. She told them how she hated Riley “more than the rapists,” but then she told them how Riley didn’t have to invite her and praised him for his “accountability.”
Here is statement from Mike Riley:
Brenda Tracy now works at OSU helping the school prevent sexual assaults. She thinks, and I agree, every school should have survivors speak to teams. It’s a scary time in college football (Baylor), Mike Riley and Brenda Tracy have set a positive example. Hopefully, more teams will follow.