For 16 years, Brenda Tracy held it in. She didn't have any self-esteem, self-worth or self-confidence. Her quest to prove that she wasn't "garbage" dominated her daily routine.
"I'd decided I was going to kill myself," she told John Canzano of The Oregonian three years ago.
Brenda Tracy was sexually abused as a child and, in 1998, gang raped by Oregon State football players. She refused to talk for years. Now she travels the country educating people on sexual violence and answers requests for interviews within seconds.
Last weekend, a Youngstown State student started a Change.org petition to request that Bo Pelini remove convicted rapist Ma'lik Richmond from the football team. Richmond was a 16-year-old student and football player Steubenville (Ohio) High School when he was convicted — along with teammate Trent Mays — in the rape of a minor. After serving one year in a juvenile facility, returning to Steubenville and briefly attending California University of Pennsylvania and Potomac State College of West Virginia, he transferred to Youngstown State to play football last year. Richmond sat out the 2016 season due to NCAA transfer rules and the redshirt sophomore defensive tackle is now eligible to play.
"Does he deserve a second chance?" the petition reads. "Yes, he does, and he is receiving that second chance by furthering his education on YSU's campus. Does he deserve the privilege of playing on a football team and representing a university? Absolutely not. Education is a right, whereas playing on a sports team is not."
Tracy agrees, taking to Twitter to say," I wonder how guys kicked off sports teams for bad grades & smoking weed feel watching rapists & batterers play instead of them."
She later added, "Not getting 2 play sports isn't the end of the world & if it is then as a society we have failed 2 show the athlete that they're worth more."
Tracy — who has worked with nearly 40 school across the country and says coaches and players have responded to her with "overwhelmingly" positivity — told HERO Sports that, in her experience, most coaches don't think about the survivor(s) when deciding whether to allow a convicted rapist on their team.
"I actually think that they make the decision and if they go back on that decision it's because of the public backlash," she said of coaches who make an informed decision and those who reverse course. "In the past coaches have always gotten away with it. So I'm sure some still think they can under the guise of 'second chances' but things are changing."
Tracy has spoken at Baylor, Colorado, Stanford and Nebraska. At Nebraska, she worked with Mike Riley, who in 1998, said the two players who raped Tracy made a "bad choice" and handed down a punishment that included a one-game suspension, 25 hours of community service and one sexual assault course. He has since apologized profusely for his actions.
"The player shouldn't be playing in the first place, but if a coach needed support in making the decision I think someone like me would be helpful," she said. "If we can attach grades to eligibility, then we can attach behavior."
Some behavior is attached — such as failing drug tests, as Tracy noted in her tweet — but not all and not in a consistent manner.
"The fastest way to shift the culture of violence we currently see is to attach eligibility to the issue."
Where is the line?
"I think that physically and sexually violent convictions — felony or criminal — are deal breakers," Tracy said, while also noting there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution. "Of course, there should always be an appeals process for extenuating circumstances. (There are people on the sex offender registry . . . for peeing in public.) It's important to also look at patterns of behavior. Does he have multiple interactions with police for domestic violence but no criminal record?"
In the case of Ma'lik Richmond, his conviction for the 2012 rape would be no-questions-asked deal breaker. He should not playing college football, says Brenda Tracy.