Let me show you what a victim looks like. Her name is Brenda Tracy.
On Wednesday at the Belo Mansion, Tracy appeared as a panelist in the Big 12’s series of forums on the state of college athletics. The title of this particular installment was “Campus Violence. Finding Solutions.” No one would say if the theme was a direct response to what’s happened at Baylor, where two football players were convicted of rape, a third awaits trial and victims were failed time and again by their school. Let’s just say the timing was appropriate.
The panelists included a commissioner, a college president, a Dallas cop, an investigative reporter and even Ray Rice, maybe the most famous perpetrator ever caught on video.
Wednesday’s most riveting testimony, though, came from a former waitress.
Background: In 1998, Brenda Tracy was 24 and the single mother of two young boys in Salem, Ore., when she accompanied a friend to a party at the apartment of an Oregon State defensive back. Also in attendance were another OSU football player, a high school recruit and a junior college player on probation for armed robbery.
Most of what happened next, Tracy only found out later. What she recalls is waking up with a player on top of her and others cheering him on. The gang rape lasted six hours. I make no apologies for the term, and neither does Tracy. It’s more accurate than “interpersonal violence” or “unpleasantness,” the polite euphemisms Starr used last week.
Part of the problem with the response of Baylor officials to what happened on their campus was the sanitization of it. When asked for his response to the conviction of a second player, Briles called it “unfortunate.” And that’s a problem, because “unfortunate” doesn’t begin to describe what happens to the real victims, people we don’t know, don’t read about, don’t watch on television.
What happened in Tracy’s case was that, after reporting the rape to police, she’d planned to kill herself. Only the intervention of a hospital nurse kept her from doing so. Because of it, she became a nurse herself.
But let’s not get ahead of the story, because this is a tale of not just one atrocity, but two.
“When the media got wind of the case because all four men were arrested, that’s when the backlash started,” Tracy said. “That’s when people weighed in on whether I was a liar or not. Not only was I a victim of a horrific crime, now I was a perpetrator.
“Who was this woman, and why was I trying to ruin their lives?”
Based on the district attorney’s response, death threats and backlash, Tracy dropped the charges.
She did so not knowing that the four players had all pointed fingers at each other. Or that the rape kit had been thrown out.
And for a long time she lived with her pain. Until one day in 2014 she went to a reporter.
Since then, she’s written a book, lobbied for legislative action, even taken a job with Oregon State to help prevent sexual assaults on campus. She also lobbied the NCAA about banning perpetrators of sexual assault.
Most famously, she spoke to the Nebraska football team this summer at the invitation of Mike Riley.
That’s significant because she’d been raped by two of Riley’s players. He’d been the head coach at Oregon State in 1998. At the time, he told reporters the players were good young men who had made a “bad choice.” As punishment, he suspended both a game each.
When Tracy told those Nebraska players this summer what had happened to her, graphically describing the crime in order to get the message through to them, she also told how much she had hated their coach. Hated him more than the players who had assaulted her. Why? He’d trivialized her pain and the crime inflicted upon her.
What changed Mike Riley’s perspective was the story he read about Tracy in the Portland Oregonian in 2014. Until that point, Riley didn’t really think of Tracy as a victim. He didn’t even know who she was. He just knew his football players, and coaches stand up for their players, right or wrong.
The first thing Riley did after reading the story was post an apology in the comments section. Then he called Tracy. He kept calling her, in fact. He wanted to know how she was doing, and then he wanted something else.
Would she come to Nebraska to talk to his players?
“It was a really remarkable time for me,” Tracy said. “I look at Coach Riley as an ally and a friend.
“He’s a really good example for the rest of the world to follow. Stand up and say, ‘We were wrong.'”
The other panelists Wednesday — Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, Dallas police officer Byron Fassett, Iowa State president Steven Leath, ESPN investigative reporter Paula Lavigne (a former Dallas Morning News reporter) and Rice — made good points, too. I don’t know if anyone came up with any solutions to violence against women, but talking about it is a good start.
Rice has been doing this for awhile now, ever since he was caught on video knocking out his fiancée in an elevator, then dragging her through the doors. He’s been through therapy, seen a psychiatrist, counseled high school kids, the works. When I asked him what he’d say to people who contend he’s just trying to get back in the NFL’s good graces, he had a good answer. He’d still like to play, but if he doesn’t, he’s in a good place. He seemed sincere, anyway.
Lavigne — who has covered the case at Baylor, interviewing several of the victims — struck a particularly poignant note when she said most of the women she interviews just want someone, anyone, to say, “I’m sorry.”
Some involved at Baylor still have a hard time with the concept. In fairness, maybe it’s hard for them to sympathize with someone they don’t know. We know Brenda Tracy, though. Hers is pretty much a universal story, and that’s the sorriest part of it all.
Source: Dallas Morning News | Kevin Sherrington (Twitter: @KSherringtonDMN)