NORMAN, Okla. – Brenda Tracy has been invited to address Oklahoma’s football team Monday. Sooners coach Bob Stoops said Saturday that he heard about her visit to Nebraska a few weeks ago and reached out to contact her.
Tracy is an advocate against domestic violence and sexual assault. She is the victim of an alleged rape that happened in 1998; two of the four attackers were Oregon State football players. She declined to press charges, but the players were suspended for one game. Mike Riley, then the Oregon State coach, is now coaching at Nebraska, and her visit there continued a healing process.
What makes her visit to OU different is that Joe Mixon will be in the audience. The sophomore running back entered an Alford plea (admitting the court had sufficient evidence to prove guilt, but maintaining his innocence) and now faces a civil suit for a July 2014 incident in which he punched a female student in the face, causing multiple broken bones. The school and team suspended him for the 2014 season.
“I won’t address him directly,” Tracy told CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd. “That’s not what I’m there for. I’ll talk about the usual behavior and accountability and how that affects other people’s lives.”
Mixon’s presence on OU’s team has been a hot-button topic. A graphic video of the attack was shown to members of the media but has not been made public. Those that have seen it say if it does become public, Oklahoma’s leadership – Stoops, athletic director Joe Castiglione and president David Boren – will face more questions like the one Stoops was asked at Big 12 Media Days.
“You’re talking about a situation that occurred three summers ago, I believe, right?” Stoops responded with an edge in his voice. “And Joe Mixon was punished. We’ve already been through all of this. He’s met high standards… So everybody has different measures of what’s enough punishment and what is not.
“In the end, we felt, myself along with our administration, that this was the right punishment and he’s met all the conditions we put in front of him and he was removed for a full season.”
Offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley praised Mixon and said he’ll be a team captain someday: “He acts like one now.”
What’s different about Tracy’s visit is the laser focus. Not only is Mixon one of the players who will be hearing her message, but that message has been under klieg lights. Baylor’s current scandal — flowing from how the school handled sexual assault reports through its Title IX office — has increased national and regional attention.
Oklahoma is the third school, and the second in the Big 12, that has hosted Tracy. In late July, she spoke at Baylor, the epicenter of the issues that are fueling her crusade. Last Thursday, she delivered a petition with 157,000 signatures advocating for the NCAA to ban “sexual violence perpetrators” from competing in college sports.
“It seems they’re standing up to it and facing it and not trying to run from it. I appreciate it,” Tracy said of the NCAA. “It’s a first step. I’m hopeful. Technically, the NCAA could have said, ‘Thank you for petition. Thank you for your concern,’ and done nothing.”
Sports, athletic endeavors, are supposed to be distractions from the realities and challenges of life. Until the perspiring arts are played by robots or virtual-reality holograms, the human side of sports will always exist.
Oklahoma was holding its on-campus media day, meeting with reporters in the afternoon after inviting fans to meet and greet players for autographs. The Sooners are third in the coaches’ preseason poll and expectations are high, but OU doesn’t exist in a vacuum.
In March of 2015, Stoops supported and joined in a players’ boycott of spring practice. The football team helped diffuse racial tensions on campus after a viral video showed members of a fraternity – that has been kicked off campus – singing a song with racial slurs.
Coaches hate distractions and outside distractions in particular, but their players are in college. Societal issues such as drinking, drugs, domestic violence and sexual assault aren’t going to avoid Norman, Oklahoma, because the Sooners are opening the season at Houston.
For his 18 years as OU’s coach, Stoops has held “Do Right” team meetings, bringing in speakers to talk on various topics. Saturday, legendary linebacker and recent College Football Hall of Fame inductee Brian Bosworth spoke to the Sooners.
“We do our best and it’s not just one ‘do right’ speech,” Stoops said. “You’re constantly trying to educate the players and make them understand correct behavior. It’s about helping young guys grow and mature.
“It’s all about educating your players, teaching them appropriate and positive behavior.”
Some will say that’s not enough. Others understand that inviting someone like Brenda Tracy to deliver her powerful message is part of the positive process of change.