Try 1 month for 99¢

She walked past the statue of the famous coach and quarterback, into the building where Nebraska's most watched business is conducted, up the elevator and down the long halls.

Brenda Tracy followed Dan Van De Riet, Husker associate athletic director for football, then he turned and said, 'OK, come on in here.'"

They were walking into an office. It quickly dawned on her. This is his office.

"I said, 'Is he in there?' And I panicked there a little bit."

Nebraska football coach Mike Riley and athletic director Shawn Eichorst were both in there.

Van De Riet asked politely, "Do you need a minute?"

No, Tracy told him. She did need one deep breath. Then she looked over and saw the coach she had been waiting to meet for 18 years.

Riley wore a fantastic grin. "Brenda!" He stood up.

"I started crying," Tracy said. "I walked in and I gave him a hug and he let me cry on his shoulder for just a minute. It was a really touching moment for me."

Tracy had for 16 years resented Riley, for a long time stinging from the one-game suspension he gave two Oregon State players she said were among four men who gang-raped her one night in 1998 when she was 24. Riley made that disciplinary decision after Tracy decided to not continue with charges against those players due to the pressure and threats she felt from the public, and a district attorney's office she believed was hardly her advocate.

She said she felt pain for 16 years, until one day she told her full story to The Oregonian. Making her story public was the best thing she'd ever done.

And then a most unique thing happened: The football coach invited her to speak to his team. Then the football coach moved to Nebraska. Then he invited her to speak to his new team.

That's what she did on Wednesday.

Tracy described it as an "amazing" experience. Riley issued a lengthy statement, which included this thought, "Brenda has suffered immeasurable pain and has shown the strength and willingness to share her story. Her story today was powerful, and I know that it left an indelible imprint on our student-athletes, staff, and myself."

Tracy said she met with Riley and Eichorst from about 3:30-4:45 Wednesday afternoon, before talking to the team for about 45 minutes.

"I said everything I needed to say. I asked everything I needed to ask," Tracy said. "We talked about 1,000 different topics. ... I feel like I put everything on the table and left it all there."

She would fly home to Oregon in the morning. She almost felt like she could make it there without the plane.

"I feel like he got it, the things I was saying to him, and the way he impacted me, I think he understood how much he impacted my life and how that decision hurt me," Tracy said. "And I really feel like he would not do something like that again. I feel like he understands that lives are more valuable than win-loss record."

She's not sure she could say that about many programs.

The conversation with the team was interactive. Players asked her questions. She asked them for ideas about how they could maybe raise awareness about sexual assault on their campus and in the state of Nebraska.

Players were engaged, genuine. She took a photo with the team when it was over.

As she left, Tracy couldn't help but think that this sort of thing should happen everywhere.

"I would encourage every university to bring a (sexual assault) survivor on their campus to talk to students," she said. "I think there's a message that survivors have that only survivors have."

Tracy added that she was thankful to Riley for bringing her out, for taking this matter seriously, and thankful to the players for welcoming her.

She is excited to see what ideas are implemented. For instance, players talked about the Team Jack campaign and how the Huskers helped to fund pediatric cancer research. Maybe, it was thought, they could do a Team Jill campaign aimed at the issue of sexual violence.

Morgan Beal, who works with Voices of Hope, which provides services to those in Lincoln who have experienced relationship violence or been sexually assaulted, sat in on the meeting to offer support as Tracy talked. She's going to continue to keep in contact with the Husker program to hopefully put together an awareness event.

"This has been an important day for me and for our football program and we must keep the focus on the victims, and on preventing inexcusable acts in the future," Riley said.

For Tracy, the day she long waited for was everything she had hoped and more.

She admitted last week she was nervous about her trip to Lincoln. She said Wednesday night she'd like to come back soon.

"I feel like a huge bag of bricks was lifted off of my back," Tracy said. "I feel so much lighter now, and I feel energized and I feel hopeful. I feel like this really can change. I feel like this is a very hopeful moment in time for me."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7439 or bchristopherson@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.

0
0
0
0
0

Load comments