Mel Tucker’s decision making, not sex life, has likely cost him his job

by | Sep 11, 2023 | Detroit Free Press, Sports | 0 comments

It’s not about sex. It’s about judgment.

That’s the reason Mel Tucker has been suspended as coach of the Michigan State Spartans and, in all likelihood, will never coach them again.

Judgment. Not sex. A hearing will determine whether what went on between Tucker and a woman named Brenda Tracy was consensual or not. But in truth, we shouldn’t need to be rooting around in Tucker’s bedroom, or hotel room, or wherever he had phone sex with a woman who wasn’t his wife, a woman who speaks around the country about sexual assault and is now accusing Tucker of sexually harassing her.

We shouldn’t need to weigh in on whether they initially “hit it off” with one another. We benefit nothing from lurid details of what he called his private parts or hers.

That stuff should be none of our business. But it’s in our faces now, and it’s in the faces of every football player, fan, student, faculty member, administrator and alumnus of Michigan State — a school that even hears anything close to “sexual assault” and goes full PTSD.

It’s there because Tucker, 51, hired to be a “leader” of men, apparently forgot what that word means.

It doesn’t mean you never have sex. It doesn’t mean you never have privacy. It does mean you don’t put yourself in a situation that can blow up. It does mean you avoid relationships with potentially explosive consequences.

And in the calendar year 2023, it most certainly means if you are dealing with a woman who is a rape victim, and has accepted money from your university, at your request, to speak to your team about the evils of sexual assault, and you are a married man — you DO NOT get romantically involved in any way.

And you absolutely don’t do anything that could be considered an unwanted advance.

Or you risk everything you’ve worked for going nuclear.

Which it has.

And which is why Tucker may well have coached his last game for MSU.


We really don’t know anybody

“This morning’s news might sound like the MSU of old; it was not,” insisted MSU interim president Theresa Woodruff, addressing the media Sunday. “It is not because an independent unbiased investigation is and continues to be conducted.”

At that same news conference, athletic director Alan Haller announced that he was suspending Tucker without pay “as there have been new developments before the hearing, and with the best interests of everyone including student athletes and the university community in mind.”

I don’t know what the “new developments” are. But they can’t be good. And the suspension was inevitable — although you wonder why it took a news story to engender action, since Tracy filed the Title IX report back in December.

Deep down, I suspect Tucker knew this was coming. It’s hard to believe he’s been walking around with a sword over his head for 10 months. At the very least, he knew a hearing was scheduled for the first week in October, smack in the middle of football season. Did he think people were somehow going to overlook that?

If so, it was another lack of judgment. I can’t claim to be close with Tucker, but we’ve spent some time together and I was impressed with him when he arrived in East Lansing. He seems like a decent, down-to-earth guy, with a singular focus on football.

But nobody knows nobody. Not when it comes to private lives. And they shouldn’t have to. People’s sexual activities are their own businesses, as are their marriages, and let’s be honest: we Americans are far too quick to make a sport out of ridiculing others’ peccadillos, when statistics indicate that 70% of us engage in some extramarital affair during our lifetimes.

But Tucker himself said to the investigators, “I am not proud of my judgment and I am having difficulty forgiving myself for getting into this situation.”


You can’t make this go away easily

Tucker added in that statement that he “did not engage in misconduct by any definition.” But that’s for the hearing, the investigators, and Michigan State to decide in October. If he truly did what Tracy claimed — pursued her in a way she clearly didn’t want, masturbated to her voice, then broke off contact with her and her program — its unforgivable. 

But at the very least, he already did engage in behavior that, fairly or unfairly, stains the school, the team and the program indelibly. It is not the kind of thing that fades away easily. 

Every future player he’d recruit, every home he’d go into, every speech he’d make about doing things the right way, would now be shadowed by an encounter with a woman who says she sat frozen and horrified while he pleasured himself over the phone. Every hostile crowd would chant and wave signs. Every sexual assault group would scream in protest.

Yes. People have done worse and survived. CNN once brought back a legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, who did what Tucker did but on a Zoom call in front of stunned watchers. Heck, Bill Clinton, a married president, had oral sex in the White House and kept his job.

But in today’s world, and, moreover, in East Lansing, where the ghost of Larry Nassar’s horrors still wafts across the campus, it is unsustainable. And I don’t see any way that Tucker blows another whistle to assemble student athletes in Spartan Stadium. Not when an outspoken champion of sexual assault victims is his accuser.

And if Tucker didn’t understand this before, he most certainly does now.

Even though his lawyers will insist otherwise.

No one to blame but himself

The next steps are predictable. The parties will likely stay mum until the hearing. Tucker’s lawyers will argue that this was his private time and private life. As one of his supporting “expert witnesses” wrote in a letter to the investigators: “Can an employee never have phone sex?”

That’s what this will turn into, a he said/she said legal battle over what is private, what is consensual, and what is a violation of a contract that still has a about $80 million guaranteed left on it, but contains a clause about behavior that brings “public disrespect, contempt or ridicule on the University.”

It’ll be hard to argue that hasn’t already happened. Or that it would ever stop happening if Tucker appeared again on an MSU sideline.

Just consider how the event was factually reported in the Free Press: “The fourth-year head coach is alleged to have masturbated while talking to sexual assault victims advocate Brenda Tracy.”

How do you go on coaching college students after that?

In the report, Tucker, who did not deny his actions, but insisted they were consensual and that Tracy has an agenda against MSU, stated his regret, and added this curious sentence:

“I will never again allow myself to be duped by kindness.”

I don’t know what went on over that phone, but I don’t think kindness is the word. In fact, there’s only one word. Judgment.

Make that two. Bad judgment.

And in a mega-rich, high profile, big spotlight position like Tucker has, bad judgment will tackle you harder than any middle linebacker. The worst part is, you’re tackling yourself.

Contact Mitch Albom: Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at Follow him @mitchalbom.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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