Mel Tucker unfairly fired before impending court date

Last week, Michigan State University (MSU) handed Head Coach Mel Tucker a letter that outlined reasons for his upcoming termination, and yesterday morning he was officially fired.

Tucker, coach of the Spartans since 2020, has been accused of sexual harassment by Brenda Tracy, a rape survivor who talked to the football team about sexual misconduct. Following her meeting with the team in 2022, Tucker allegedly made unwanted advances. He did publicly admit to masturbating to her during a phone call, but claimed it was consensual and that the two had a relationship, which he revealed in a statement.

If Tucker is innocent, his early forced dismissal from coaching could be used against the school, but that may be a risk worth taking if the allegations are true.

MSU is reporting that after the allegations were filed, months worth of research through a private investigator revealed misconduct and actions they deemed unethical, some of them violations of his contract. Tucker had seven days to appeal, and his request was denied.

As their own school, MSU does have every right to fire someone when they violate a contract, detailing in their letter, “you again admit to having multiple discussions with the Vendor” and later adding, “As the University previously stated, ‘[i]t is decidedly unprofessional and unethical to flirt, make sexual comments, and masturbate while on the phone with a University vendor.’”

While I agree with it being “unprofessional and unethical,” I believe MSU was wrong for firing him based on similar past cases within the media. Instead, I think the school should have suspended him, without pay, pending the investigation. 

Last year, actor Johnny Depp was fired from Disney and Warner Brothers once allegations of abuse against his ex-wife Amber Heard came out. However, Depp was proven innocent, with Heard being caught as the abuser. Unfortunately, his reputation had already been tarnished and his jobs lost.

When he was let go from these companies, he swore to never work with them again. It is a valid decision knowing he was innocent, but as an actor, swearing off such a large company can have drastic consequences for one’s career. 

I am in no way, shape or form saying that Mel Tucker is innocent, but we must recognize that firing him before the court has reached a verdict may cause issues. I understand that MSU would want to get rid of Tucker immediately to save themselves from backlash, but an instance like this could come back to haunt them, especially since MSU is a public university. 

If Tucker is innocent, his early forced dismissal from coaching could be used against the school, but that may be a risk worth taking if the allegations are true. Similar to Depp, Tucker would have a difficult time clearing his name and finding a new job. To restate, though, I do stand with believing Tracy.

Tracy, self-described as “a mother, registered nurse, advocate and survivor,” has worked with several popular schools, National Football League (NFL) teams and media outlets. After surviving a savage gang rape committed by college football players and receiving no justice, Tracy has devoted her life to helping survivors and initiating the change of patriarchal behaviors, specifically among men. “To the men in this room, I’m not here because I think you’re the problem. I’m here because I know you’re the solution,” Tracy says. 

With the rise of organizations like the Innocence Project and the Equal Justice Initiative, which aim to overturn wrongful convictions, being completely sure that someone committed a crime is more important than ever. Jumping the gun with certain allegations may cause more harm than good in particular cases.  

If MSU were to suspend Tucker pending trial, I doubt there would be as many problems with either outcome stated above. Of course, MSU could be under fire for not letting him go immediately, but is it entirely ethical to make that decision without a court being involved?

Featured photo courtesy of Ken Lund, Flickr