Sometimes it Really is “Just a Game”

Accountable – (of a person, organization, or institution) required or expected to justify actions or decisions; responsible.

The definition of accountability is simple, yet it trips up many of us. Every day. However, most of us don’t have a spotlight shining on our biggest decisions; a spotlight that’s going to show everything – the good, the bad and the very ugly. Mike Riley is well aware of accountability.

19 years ago Mike Riley was the head coach at Oregon State University. 19 years ago a woman named Brenda Tracy was gang raped by 2 OSU football players and 2 individuals associated with the team. The details of the rape are disturbing and graphic. I invite and encourage you to read them here.

This is where accountability comes into play. The year was 1998. It was summertime. Oregon State’s football team was not great (they’d gone 3-8 the 1997 season). Mike Riley may have already been in talks to leave OSU for an NFL coaching gig. Riley would indeed end up leaving to coach the San Diego Chargers. He may have been able to put the incident behind him and move on to the next chapter in his life but his words regarding the gang rape would haunt Brenda Tracy.

“These are really good guys who made a bad choice.” – Mike Riley on Brenda Tracy’s rape

Those words do not hold anyone accountable. Those words are weak and forgiving of a heinous and unforgivable act. Brenda would eventually choose not to cooperate with pressing charges due to blow back from the community and even from her friend that was with her at the time of the rape. Many people thought the players lives should not be ruined due to one “bad choice.” Meanwhile, Brenda received death threats to her life.

After enduring the rape and an emotional battle within herself that took her to the brink of suicide, Brenda went on to become a nurse. She already had 2 small children in 1998. So she raised her kids and went to school. But Mike Riley’s comment lived in the back of her mind. She came to despise him and his lack of courage more than she despised her rapists. In 2014 she went public and her story was published for all to see, including Mike Riley, who would soon be on his way to the University of Nebraska to become the head coach. In his interview with the Oregonian, Riley mused that someone like Brenda would be the perfect person to come talk to his team about sexual assault.

Mike Riley coaches my favorite team. His character is important to me. Most Husker fans know the Brenda Tracy story. It came to light when Riley did more than muse about an invitation and invited Brenda to speak to the team last year. Brenda would finally meet the person she hated all those years – and still hated right up until their first meeting.

Then it happened. They met. They talked. Riley apologized for his absolute shortcomings after her rape. He admitted he did not do his due diligence after the incident. He admitted he did not know much about her case or the 6 hours she was brutally assaulted. And Brenda believed him.

“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. 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.” – Brenda Tracy on her first meeting with Mike Riley in 2016

Brenda spoke with the Nebraska football team and told them exactly what had happened to her. Nebraska football is not without its own past of players being guilty of domestic violence. It happens – but again, this is where we must look to accountability. Like Brenda states, a football record does not merit glossing over sexual assault. Mike Riley did the right thing in inviting Brenda to speak to the team. He faced Brenda and allowed her to share her pain – pain that he played a direct role in causing.

Their relationship has changed. It is now one of working together for change and progress.

Sexual assault continues to be a topic in college athletics – because it keeps happening. Baylor University is a prime example of the grotesque behavior of putting a winning program over a human being. I am proud to have Mike Riley as a part of the Nebraska football program. He has met with Brenda Tracy more than once and continues to promote her message. Changing a $1 billion industry with a history of failure is slow and frustrating. Why does the NCAA allow many athletic departments to conduct their own investigations into sexual assault? Why aren’t institutions punished officially by the NCAA for blatantly covering up sexual assault? The bias is beyond comprehension – and most college sports fans turn a blind eye due to blind love for entertainment. Sometime it really is “just a game.” We would all benefit to remember that.

Brenda Tracy’s petition, started by her son, demanded the NCAA ban violent athletes. The petition has garnered more than 170,000 signatures and it forced the NCAA to form the Committee to Combat Sexual Violence. Brenda sits on this committee. Her petition provides updates on the progress – and she advises the progress is at a snail’s pace.


Please take a moment to visits Brenda’s website and share her #SetTheExpectation campaign. She continues to be active at the University of Nebraska. Feel free read about her latest visit spreading awareness. Brenda has also been nominated – by Mike Riley – for the ESPY’s Arthur Ashe Courage Award.