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With Ravens Visit, Brenda Tracy Continues Mobilizing Football Community Against Sexual Assault

June 25, 2019
Brenda Tracy, an advocate for sexual assault survivors, met with the Baltimore Ravens June 12 and discussed ways players can help the next generation of young men foster positive relationships with women and prevent further abuse.

Tracy described on  Glenn Clark Radio June 18 how she was a victim of a gang rape in 1998, but when she attempted to prosecute she said she was met with intense backlash, including death threats, causing her to drop the charges and go into a place of "shame and silence" for the next 16 years.

"I dealt with PTSD, depression, I had a borderline eating disorder, I was a single mom trying to raise my son, and I was very suicidal. I pretty much just woke up everyday wanting to die," Tracy, 45, said. "In 2014 ... I started going to counseling, and through a series of events I met a reporter, and he was like, 'I would like to share your story ... I think you could help somebody.'"

Two of the four men who raped her were Oregon State University football players in the late 1990s. Mike Riley was the school's head football coach at the time, and when the news of his players' actions came out, he told the media the players were "good guys that just made a bad choice" and gave each a one-game suspension.

Tracy felt this punishment and the coach's words were not enough and harbored resentment for Riley that she later detailed in her interviews with the reporter.

"I carried that with me for 16 years because coaches are supposed to be good men of character building good men of character," she said. "I didn't understand how gang rape was just a bad choice."

Years later, the school issued a public apology, calling the sanctions "grossly inadequate, according to the Los Angeles Times.

After she came forward with her story, Tracy began getting attention for her situation and decided she needed to get men more involved in the issue of sexual abuse. She thought about the best avenue to reach the most men and came to the conclusion that there was only one clear way to catch their attention: sports.

After hearing how much his comments affected her, Riley invited Tracy to come speak to his players at the University of Nebraska in the summer of 2016. She made such an impact on the team that she started getting invitations from other schools, and suddenly she found her avenue to create change.

"I really believe that if I can mobilize every football team in this country, I believe you can see a culture shift because there's really nothing bigger than men's basketball and football in this country," Tracy said. "I choose to work smarter and not harder, and I focus on men in sports, mainly football."

Since then she's been traveling the country talking to young men about her story and how they can help change the men of the future, including a visit last year to the University of Michigan that helped pave the way for her to break into professional leagues as well.

"I just developed a really good relationship with Coach [Jim] Harbaugh, so he actually referred me to his brother, and [John Harbaugh] gave me a chance to come to the NFL and share my story," Tracy said. "Every time I see a man in the NFL that gets in trouble, I just think, 'Who failed him? Who decided that he was just an athlete and didn't have conversations with him about what a healthy relationship is and what that looks like?'"

Tracy says she's different than most speakers these athletes meet because she tells her story in "graphic detail" that shocks most players and grabs their attention. She does this to portray sexual assault in the most real way possible, but that doesn't mean she's blaming or attacking these men.

"In my session I say, 'I'm not here because I think you're the problem, I'm here because I know that you're the solution,'" she said. "I mentor guys behind the scenes. They message me, they follow me, they ask for advice. It's really incredible and amazing."

Incidents of NFL players facing accusations of violence against women have become all too frequent and the league's handling of some of those cases has been scrutinized. However, Tracy hopes by talking to young men on track to enter the NFL -- those who she says are in what she calls the "pipeline" -- they will be more likely to conduct themselves properly before they even enter the league.

"I want to talk to every NFL team. I'm working on trying to attach eligibility to behavior in college sports the same way we attach eligibility to grades," Tracy said. "I'm really just trying to figure out how we make the pipeline different."

To hear more from Tracy, listen to the full interview here:



Photo Credit: Courtesy of Liz Wilson