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A rape victim’s story gives football players a powerful lesson

SAN JOSE — Crucial issues facing women in athletics were the focus of a symposium Wednesday sponsored by San Jose State’s Institute for the Study of Sport, Society and Social Change.

But it was the appearance of the Spartans football team that might have best measured the progress of a national conversation that has been injected with momentum through the #metoo movement and the high-profile sexual abuse scandals involving USA Gymnastics and USA Swimming.

“Given the timing with gender equity I thought it was a powerful moment for them to get some perspective,” coach Brent Brennan said.

Many of the football players attended the half-day event with an all-star panel featuring basketball great Ann Meyers Drysdale and Olympic swim champion Nancy Hogshead-Makar in downtown San Jose.

Brennan invited one of the speakers for the Gender, Sport and Society town hall to address the football team Tuesday night. Brenda Tracy has spoken to 65 football programs in the past two years as a way to elevate the conversation to those she said needs to hear it the most: men.

Tracy, 45, was sexually assaulted in 1998 by four men, including three college football players. The mother of two was gang raped, sodomized and robbed but the victim never pressed charges although authorities had a strong case against the men.

Brenda Tracy, left, and Nancy Hogshead-Makar held a conversation about therape culture and football Wednesday, March 14, 2018 during a symposium at the Hammer Theater in San Jose. Tracy, 45, told her story about being raped by four men, three college football players, in 1998 in Oregon when speaking to the San Jose State football team Tuesday night. James Tensuan/San Jose State University Can use online Can use in other DFM publications
Brenda Tracy, left, and Nancy Hogshead-Makar held a conversation about the rape culture and football Wednesday in San Jose, (James Tensuan/San Jose State University) 

Tracy began speaking about her experience in 2016 when addressing Nebraska’s football team that was then coached by Mike Riley.

It was Riley who led the Oregon State program when some of his players attacked Tracy, then a 24-year-old waitress.

Tracy speaks in graphic detail when talking to players because she wants them to walk away with a different mindset.

“If I say to you I was gang-raped by four men for six hours I don’t know what that means to you,” she told the audience Wednesday. “You’re probably sugar coating it in your mind. It’s my job to make you uncomfortable. It’s how I humanize the issue.”

Tracy was part of a program that included Palo Alto’s Anne Cribbs, a gold-medal winning swimmer who later co-founded the American Basketball League, San Jose State athletic director Marie Tuite and Meyers Drysdale, a Hall of Fame player who is vice president of the Phoenix Suns.

Tracy spoke in a conversation with Hogshead-Makar, an advocate for abuse victims in the gymnastics and swimming cases and who was raped by a stranger in the 1980s while at Duke University.

Freshman receiver Tre Walker said the room was silent while Tracy spoke to the Spartans football team Tuesday night.

“We didn’t know what to expect,” he said.

Walker, 18, called his mom in the L.A. area to discuss Tracy’s message, which is the outcome the woman hopes to happen in her effort to get young players to think about gender issues.

Kicker Matt Mercurio of Salinas said Tracy’s talk was empowering for the players, who are growing beyond the football field from such experiences.

Tracy gets similar reactions whenever she speaks to football teams. She hasn’t addressed NFL players yet. But sexual violence is a hot-button topic in the NFL, particularly in the Bay Area where former Raiders and 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith pleaded not guilty Monday to a misdemeanor domestic violence and assault charges from a March 3 incident.

Tracy said she has overcome depression and suicidal tendencies through years of healing. But she has felt the sting of her experience while listening to the gymnasts’ testimonials about the abuse by convicted physician Larry Nassar.

“I have been ashamed,” she said. “I have been silent and I am not going to be silent and I am not going to be ashamed.”

Source: East Bay A rape victim’s story gives football players a powerful lesson

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