On what would otherwise have been a quiet April evening, the Stanford football team gathered for its most important meeting of the year.
The keynote speaker Thursday in the football auditorium wasn’t coach David Shaw or a famous Stanford alumnus. It was a registered nurse from Portland with a devastating story and vital message.
Over 90 minutes, Brenda Tracy told the Cardinal players and coaches how she was assaulted, sodomized and gang-raped two decades ago by four men, including members of the Oregon State football team.
She talked about staying silent and becoming suicidal, she answered questions, and she asked the Cardinal to join her in working to end the culture of sexual assault and domestic violence in athletics. Tracy calls her campaign #SetTheExpectations.
“Certain coaches draw a line in the sand that if you commit sexual violence, you won’t play football,” she said by phone Thursday. “Others don’t set that expectation, and I want all of them to get on the same page.”
Tracy has addressed approximately 30 college teams and many more on the high school level in the past year. She’s a one-woman movement. No publicist — just her story and her message.
“It was emotional, it was real, it was more impactful than I had hoped,” Shaw said. “She reached them, and she pushed them.”
Tracy also serves on the NCAA’s Commission to Combat Campus Sexual Violence, which was formed last year and counts among its 26 members one football coach: Shaw, who was “floored” to be included.
Shaw said he addressed the players in the late fall about the culture of sexual assault and domestic violence on campuses across the country. Around that time, the Cardinal reached out to Tracy, purposefully booking her for a quiet stretch in the offseason. “We can’t address the issue once,” Shaw said. “The second part was bringing in someone else. Brenda was at the top of the list.”
Shaw said there was no connection between his efforts and an alleged 2015 sexual assault case involving one of his players. (A university disciplinary panel did not find the player responsible.) The incident was brought into the public realm in a New York Times story in December. “The wheels were in motion before the story,” Shaw said. “We were on it because it’s the right thing to do, because of the things that have come to light (in college football) the last few years.”
Stanford is the fifth football team in the Pac-12 to meet with Tracy. (The others: Washington, Oregon, Oregon State and Arizona State.) She began her address Thursday, as she always does, by recounting in graphic detail the alleged gang rape and assault in June 1998, in an apartment in Corvallis.
Tracy, who was 24 at the time, reported the incident, and four men, including two Oregon State football players and a recruit, were booked. Tracy, who said she became suicidal, never pressed charges. The players were suspended for one game for what then-Oregon State coach Mike Riley called a “bad choice” — two words that enraged Tracy.
She remained silent for 18 years, before finally telling her story to the Oregonian’s John Canzano in 2014.
Riley agreed to be interviewed for that story — “It’s pretty powerful of her to step forward,” he told Canzano — and eventually reached out to Tracy, inviting her to address his new team, Nebraska, in 2016.