By Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Brenda Tracy looked out from the stage at a ballroom filled with at least 3,000 football coaches and was terrified. Being invited to speak to the American Football Coaches Association’s annual convention gave her the biggest audience yet to discuss how to stop sexual assault and violence against women.
So Tracy walked around throughout her 20-minute segment Monday until leaving the stage when finished.
She heard the loud applause but missed the standing ovation from many coaches in the audience. Not that it mattered, with so many coaches stopping her and thanking her for having the courage to speak to them.
“We all have to band together to do this,” Tracy said later. “It’s kind of football that victimized me in the first place, so it seems kind of strange to think the very thing that hurt me so much could heal so much, but it is. And I looked out in that room, and I saw a lot of hope. And I hope that all these people will partner with me and other survivors to change this culture.”
Tracy has shared her story of being raped by two Oregon State football players and two other men in 1998. The Associated Press generally doesn’t identify sexual assault victims, but Tracy has spoken to approximately 15 college football programs since last summer. One of the first was Nebraska, with an invitation from coach Mike Riley, who coached Oregon State when the men who alleged raped her were arrested but never charged.
Riley suspended the two players for one game, and Tracy later dropped the charges after receiving death threats.
Tracy credited SMU coach Chad Morris and Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops with recommending the AFCA bring her to speak to the group’s annual convention. She also spoke to more than 200 football operations officials Monday morning, with more schools like Stanford lining her up to speak.
She told coaches Monday that football is the answer and they can help solve this issue in society. Tracy suggested coaches have written zero-tolerance policies signed by players, bringing in survivors such as herself to share their stories and put a face on this issue, more talk about what consent actually means, and checking with high school coaches to present a unified front.
“I don’t hate football,” Tracy told the coaches. “I don’t hate men. It’s only 10 percent of the population doing this. Ninety percent of our men in this country would not commit a violent act. So let’s get them to start speaking out.”
When Tracy concluded, Patrick Allgeier jumped to his feet applauding. The father of three daughters is an assistant coach and assistant athletic director at Division III Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois, and Allgeier said having Tracy speak to the annual convention shows what the AFCA is trying to accomplish as a coaching community.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” Algeier said. “There’s obviously a lot that needs to be done. By doing that, hopefully we will see some changes and continue to see how and where this is all going to go.”
Michael Wood, who played at Ohio State and now coaches a semi-pro team in Bolzano, Italy, suggested the NCAA could help as well by making players charged with sexual assault or violence against women ineligible to play sports.
Charles Nichols, a wide receivers coach at Atascocita High School in Humble, Texas, already had read about what Tracy went through before listening to her speak Monday. He saw coaches paying close attention to Tracy, and now he can’t wait to talk with his athletic director about steps his high school can take.
“We have an opportunity to be a solution to this problem, to educate our young men while in high school and before they get to college,” Nichols said.
For Tracy, the past few months have been a whirlwind and a mix of healing, getting justice and working to prevent future victims. She also hopes other survivors are inspired to step up as well.
“There’s plenty of room and space for so many of us to come forward and speak on this subject and collaborate with football programs,” Tracy said. “This isn’t just a football problem. This is a societal problem. There’s a lot of work to do.”