Set the Expectation Cardinal inspired by Brenda Tracy
By Mark Soltau
STANFORD, Calif. – The Stanford football team listened intently to Brenda Tracy last Thursday night.
“I was raped by four men in 1998,” she told the team.
In 2014, Tracy, a registered nurse who recently was nominated for the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, went public with her story.
Since coming forward with her story, Tracy has used her voice to set the expectation that sexual assault and violence are unacceptable.
“A lot of times people will cry, hide in their shirts or look down at the floor,” Tracy said during an interview with GoStanford.com of people who attend her speaking engagements. “But I like to see that, because I think it’s only when we get uncomfortable that we are motivated to be part of the change.”
She addressed the Cardinal players and staff at the invitation of David Shaw, the Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football.
By Tracy’s estimate, she has now spoken at about 30 colleges and universities around the country, mostly to football players. She doesn’t promote herself.
“Everything comes to me in an organic way or by word of mouth,” said Tracy, whose story and causes are detailed on BrendaTracy.com. “I want to make sure that schools are seeking me out and want me on campus because it shows they are being proactive on the issue.”
Shaw knew Tracy’s story, but they had never met until last week. Last year, both were named to the NCAA Board of Governors Commission To Combat Campus Sexual Violence. Shaw was the only head football coach named to the commission.
“I heard her passion on the subject during conference calls,” Shaw said. “It’s about educating people so they understand this time in young people’s lives and what they need to understand about their relationships with women. To have her come in and address the team was phenomenal.”
Shaw is equally passionate about trying to reduce and eliminate the problem of sexual assault and frequently speaks to his players on the topic. Both Shaw and Callie Seidman Dale, assistant director of football operations, have done extensive research, looking for ways to enlighten players and staff at Stanford.
“I found the statistics, and they are horrendous for the number of women in college who will experience some kind of sexual violence,” he said.
According to several national surveys, more than 11 percent of all college-age women experience rape or sexual assault through physical force or violence. Tracy added that 98 percent of all rapes are carried out by men.
“So this is a men’s issue,” she said. “Athletics is the biggest vehicle in the country to promote and push for cultural change.”
Tracy, 43, a single mother with boys ages 22 and 24, begins each talk focusing on two points.
“I tell my story to humanize the issue so they are able to put a face and person to this crime,” said Tracy. “I need them to know what happened to me.
“The next thing I do is talk to them about how this is their issue. The majority of men, because they don’t commit acts of rape and violence against women, think this isn’t my problem. I explain to them why it is their problem and how I can empower and engage them to align themselves with women to stop this.”
She does not blame or guilt listeners. Quite the contrary.
“I tell every football team I work with I’m not here because I think you’re the problem,” Tracy said. “I’m here because I think you’re the solution. Then I tell them why and how. It’s really about humanizing the issue and inspiring action.”
Her courageous and inspiring presentation resonated with Stanford players.
“It just blew my expectations away,” said junior fullback Daniel Marx. “I knew she was going to tell a story but I didn’t know what impact it would have on the team. You could tell the moment she finished because everyone was so shook up about what happened and felt compelled to do something.”
And they did.
Stanford players became the first university in the country to sign the Set The Expectation Student Pledge stating that, among other things: playing football is a privilege, not a right; that they are held to a higher standard; that their words and actions matter and can influence what others do; that they understand behavior such as rape, sexual assault, physical violence, domestic and dating violence, stalking, bullying, hazing, and taking or sharing photos and videos of a sexually explicit or violent nature is never okay and will not be tolerated; such behavior will subject them to discipline by the head coach, athletic director and university, including suspension or removal from the team.
“Her talk was about changing the culture of college sports,” Shaw said. “She’s incrementally saying I want to talk to this age of college students, athletes in particular. There is a large part of society that will follow the athletes if they lead positively. That’s the mission she is on and I commend her for it.”
Shortly after Tracy spoke, players praised her on social media and had open discussions with friends.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many tweets from our football team,” said Shaw. “They were positive, they were energized. Guys have reached out to her repeatedly and asked, ‘What else can I do?’ “
Marx was one of them.
“The first thing I had to do was talk with people,” he said. “I had to vent about what I heard because it was so powerful. A lot of them were athletes. You will see some guys step up.”
Marx and many teammates attended Tuesday’s “Take Back the Night” rally at White Plaza. Organizers lined up speakers to discuss sexual assault and relationship violence, followed by a march through campus.
“As powerful role models with Stanford football, we feel we can have a positive effect,” said Marx. “I feel like it’s just as easy to have the same effect with any sport. The more, the merrier.”
In January, Tracy spoke at the AFCA Conference in Nashville in front of 3,000 coaches and received a standing ovation. She co-mails and speaking requests.
“I live in my rape 24-7,” she said. “I also live vicariously through everyone else’s story. It can be really overwhelming, the amount of evil and darkness, to try and stay positive and feeling like I can help change this. It’s like a roller coaster.”
A year from now, Tracy would like to see all college athletic programs involved. She would like the NCAA to do more to help schools set consequences for sexual abuse by student-athletes.
Tracy also hopes to see student-athletes wear more teal — the color associated with sexual assault awareness — on gameday, similar to pink with breast cancer awareness. Stanford plans to do so during a home game this season during which it will be bringing awareness to sexual and domestic violence.
“Comments from coaches and players keep me going,” she said. “Otherwise there would be no reason to do this work.”
Tracy is counting on student-athletes around the country, like the Stanford football team, to use their platforms to speak out against sexual assault and violence against women.
“The most important thing is these players need to understand that their behavior matters,” she said.
— #GoStanford —