When it comes to college sports in general and football specifically, sexual assaults and how to raise awareness to the escalating problem have been front and center of late. Wednesday, Mike Riley put his Nebraska Cornhuskers face-to-face with one such victim.
Nearly two decades ago, Brenda Tracy, a single mother to two young kids at the time, was gang-raped by four men, two of whom were football players on Riley’s Oregon State Beavers. The details, suffice to say, are disgusting.
“[W]hile visiting the apartment of her friend’s boyfriend,” the Lincoln Journal-Star wrote, “[Tracy] accepted a drink of gin and orange juice she will forever believe was drugged, and lost consciousness while she said four men took turns sexually assaulting her over the span of seven hours. In the morning, she said there were condoms and garbage stuck to her naked body.” The Oregonian described the assault as Tracy having been “gang raped, sodomized, [and] robbed.”
The four men were arrested but never charged, and Riley came under fire for suspending the players involved for just one game each. He also came under fire, especially from the alleged victim, for referring to their actions as merely “a bad choice.”
In 2014, however, Riley, following the publishing of Tracy’s story in a powerful article from The Oregonian, invited the victim to speak to his OSU football team. While Tracy didn’t accept the invitation at the time, the two stayed in touch following Riley’s move to the Cornhuskers, with that long-distance relationship culminating in first a face-to-face meeting Wednesday followed by Tracy speaking to the Cornhuskers football players and sharing her story.
Following what was most certainly an emotional experience for all involved, Riley issued the following statement:
As part of our ongoing educational efforts, I invited Brenda Tracy to Lincoln, to share her experiences with the young men in our program. Brenda has suffered immeasurable pain and has shown the strength and willingness to share her story. Her story today was powerful and I know that it left an indelible imprint on our student-athletes, staff, and myself.
“Sexual assault and harassment are serious issues on campuses across America. We try to recruit young men of character with core values, and once they are here, we educate them on making good decisions and treating all people with the utmost of respect.
“Prior to speaking with the team, Brenda and I had a chance to meet at length. I expressed my sincere gratitude for her willingness to come and I offered my support in her efforts to impact others around the country. Out of respect to Brenda, I will not share details of our conversation but I hope to have the opportunity to continue our dialogue.
“This has been an important day for me and for our football program and we must keep the focus on the victims, and on preventing inexcusable acts in the future.
On her own Twitter account, Tracy posted a photo of her with Riley.
— Brenda Tracy (@brendatracy24) June 23, 2016