Rape survivor Brenda Tracy addresses players, coaches, administrators.
BOULDER» More than 100 sets of eyes are staring back at Brenda Tracy. It’s silent. Uncomfortable. But this is where she wants to be: standing before the University of Colorado football team, its coaches, staff and administrators to recount the worst night of her life.
Players shift in their seats with each graphic detail. How she drifted in and out of consciousness. How she said no, and how they wouldn’t stop. It’s one thing to learn about the impact of sexual violence in a study. It’s entirely another hearing it straight from the victim.
“It kind of settles in their heart,” said Tracy, who since 2015 has visited more than 30 campuses across the country, each time reopening wounds to begin a dialogue in athletic departments and locker rooms in hopes of changing a culture that has scarred college sports — at a time when CU must do soul searching on the issue.
The results of a June external probe into CU’S handling of domestic violence accusations against former assistant football coach Joe Tumpkin yielded at 10-day suspension for CU chancellor Phil Distefano, while coach Mike Macintyre and athletic director Rick George were both reprimanded and ordered to donate $100,000 toward advocacy groups and care for victims.
George released a statement that called for “necessary changes” at CU to “support a culture of values and respect and integrity. We must do better — and we will.” In his office recently during a sit-down interview with The Denver Post, George was adamant those discussions are taking place, thanks in large part to the woman bearing her soul at the front of the room.
“She didn’t ever look at a note,” George said. “She just talked from the heart.”
It’s not Tracy’s place to address specific cases of sexual violence when she speaks on college campuses, other than her own, because Tracy’s message is universal. The description of her alleged gang rape by four men in 1998, including two former Oregon State football players, is disgusting, painful and darkened by lack of justice. Her words lifted tension only when the final point became clear.
“I’m not here because I think you’re the problem,” Tracy said. “I’m here because I think you’re the solution.”
CU senior linebacker Derek Mccartney and senior running back Phillip Lindsay clung to every word.
“It was just crazy to hear what she went through,” Mccartney said.
Said Lindsay: “That woman is powerful.”
However, Tracy’s impact wasn’t limited to the Buffs’ football team. That was the original plan when associate athletic director Lance Carl first contacted her a few months back, but upon deeper reflection, CU opened its doors completely. Tracy also visited with the chancellor and his cabinet, Title XI compliance staff, members of the women’s basketball program and others. Different demographics required different messages.
“For me, this is really about, how do we shift a culture within athletics,” Tracy said, “and how do we use athletics to shift that culture that’s going on campuses nationwide?”
According to data provided by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), one in five women will be sexually assaulted in college. Tracy estimates only 10 percent of men are capable of committing such horrendous crimes, leaving the rest in charge to promote awareness and a commitment to intervene and/or report potential instances of sexual violence on campus.
“You start to visualize your sister, your mother,” Lindsay said. “I could never think about that happening to them. … (Tracy) is an inspiration to all of us. I can’t wait to do my part to help out and be the 90 percent of men.”
For the women, especially members of the Buffs’ basketball team, another element was addressed. According to the NSVRC, more than 90 percent sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault to authorities.
“The point that she drove home with us was, ‘Whether you took that drink, whether you were in a volatile situation, at the end of the day, if you said no or if you weren’t confirming that, it is not your fault,’ ” said Jill Mahoney, CU women’s basketball director of operations. “She conveyed to the girls that they are beautiful, powerful women, and you’re strong enough that if something like this happens to you, you’ve got a support system.”
Tracy left CU optimistic about the future in Boulder, even as just days after her visit, a sophomore cornerback, Anthony Julmisse, was arrested following allegations he attempted to push a woman down a stairwell. He was suspended indefinitely and his conduct was reported to CU’S office of institutional equity and compliance — a missed step by university leadership in the handling of allegations against Tumpkin.
“I think probably every school I go to, there is either an active issue going on, there’s been an issue going on, or they’re going to have an issue after I leave,” Tracy said. “This is something that is really prevalent throughout every campus.”
But now that CU has opened a dialogue on the subject, what lies ahead?
As a member of the NCAA Commission to Combat Sexual Violence, Tracy has lobbied athletic directors and university presidents from every power five conference to adopt a policy similar to that of Indiana’s, banning “any prospective studentathlete — whether a transfer student, incoming freshman or other status — who has been convicted of or pleaded guilty or no contest to a felony involving sexual violence.”
It is yet to be seen whether CU will follow suit with a similar approach, but George told The Denver Post: “We want to be a leader in this space. We learned a lot from (Tracy).”
Said Macintyre: “I thought she touched everybody in the room in some form or fashion.”
But ridding college campuses of sexual violence will take more than legislation.
Actions speak louder than words.
“I’m really proud to wear the CU logo, and that runs deep,” Mahoney said. “What I’d like to see is that if football players are at the same gathering as a women’s basketball player, and he sees her in trouble, for him pull her out of it. I want them to become this force kind of like, ‘Not in our house.’
“It starts with someone like Brenda Tracy.”
Rape survivor and social activist Brenda Tracy, center, visits with the CU football team, coaches, staffers and administrators in Boulder. She was there to recount the worst night of her life.