Woman Gang Raped by Football Players Joins with NCAA, USWNT’s Andi Sullivan & NFL’s Jason Smith-Williams to Tie Sexual Violence Reporting to College Sports Eligibility
Two professional athletes in Washington D.C. are on a mission to set the expectation that sexual and interpersonal violence is never okay.
In 1998, Brenda Tracy survived a brutal gang rape by four college football players. Turning trauma into power, the former Nurse now shares her experience across the country, partnering with colleges and universities to raise awareness and shatter the stigma that surrounds issues of sexual assault and interpersonal violence. For years, Brenda has advocated for the passage of the Tracy Rule, the most comprehensive serious misconduct policy in collegiate athletics. The Tracy Rule advocates for behavior to be tied to eligibility, requiring athletes to disclose disciplinary proceedings into their conduct and Title IX coordinators at the athlete’s previous colleges to certify if the athlete was involved in any investigations related to violence.
After years of advocacy, including a seat on the 2016 NCAA Board of Governor’s Commission to Combat Campus Sexual Violence, Brenda finally saw the NCAA take action. Beginning next school year (2022-23), the NCAA’s expanded policy will require all incoming, current and transfer college athletes to disclose annually to their school whether their conduct has resulted in an investigation, discipline through a Title IX proceeding or a criminal conviction for sexual, interpersonal or other acts of violence. Failure to comply with this requirement could result in loss of athletics eligibility.
From day one, Brenda’s mission has not just been about changing policy. She is determined to empower athletes, especially men, to lead by example.
“I believe if women alone could stop sexual violence, we would have already done it,” Brenda said. “Violence against women and marginalized communities is a men’s issue and it’s time for men to get involved.”
One of those men Brenda inspired with her story was James Smith-Williams, former North Carolina State star football player and team captain, and current defensive end for the Washington Football team.
James Smith-Williams and Andi Sullivan, midfielder on the Washington Spirit and U.S. Women’s National Team, are the first ever Champions Ambassadors for Set the Expectation (STE), a non-profit organization founded by Brenda Tracy. Set the Expectation is dedicated to ending sexual and interpersonal violence through prevention work with men, advocacy, and engagement with agencies serving survivors and their families.
The COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench in Brenda’s work, as she could no longer travel to colleges around the country. Brenda and her team had to figure out how to keep doing their important work in a remote setting. During this time of reflection, Brenda realized a lot of the activism laid on her emotional labor, which was not sustainable long-term.
Already working within sports and empowering athletes, Set the Expectation decided to launch the Champions Program. The Champions Program brings together former and current athletes dedicated to using their platform to help domestic violence agencies in their communities.
James was a natural fit to become the first ever STE Champion.
James first met Brenda in 2019 while playing college football at North Carolina State University. Inspired by Brenda’s powerful and moving story, James took initiative in his Raleigh, NC community to raise awareness around sexual and interpersonal violence. As a college football player, James organized several events, including the ACC’s first ever Set the Expectation game, and spearheaded a donation drive for InterAct, a Raleigh-based organization that provides services to domestic violence and sexual assault survivors and their families.
Nearly three years after James began his advocacy work with Brenda, the two reached a moving milestone. On December 6, Brenda proudly presented James the 2021 Vital Voices of Solidarity award in Washington D.C. After using his influential platform as a college and now professional football player to advocate for survivors and their families. The D.C.-based women’s empowerment organization, Vital Voices, selected James as one of their 2021 award recipients, placing him in a prestigious group of past recipients such as President Biden and NFL executive Troy Vincent.
As part of Set the Expectation’s new Champions program, the organization piloted work in Washington DC to leverage the platform of athletics to support agencies in the area. Andi and James led a circle chat with foster children, many of whom are affected by domestic violence. The two worked one-on-one with the foster children, inspiring them to create vision boards with goals and aspirations for the future. To celebrate afterward, James paid to take everyone out to Dave & Buster’s.
The inaugural partnering agencies in the the Champions program include the DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence, My Sister’s Place, DC Volunteer Lawyers Project, Becky’s Fund, and CASA for Children of DC.
This year, the Champions Ambassadors are leading a toy drive in the Washington D.C. area for shelters that house domestic violence survivors and their children. Prior to their advocacy, these shelters didn’t have enough toys during the holidays for each child to receive one toy. With James, Andi, and Brenda’s help, they’ve purchased over $4,000 worth of toys from black-owned and women-owned toy stores in Washington.
The Champions Program is just getting started. Brenda told League of Justice she hopes to scale the program nationwide.
Want to get involved? At League of Justice we don’t just report about great things athletes and sports related organizations are doing, we tell you how you can help and become active in the causes you care about. Join the community of over 52,000 people who signed the Set the Expectation pledge, or host an event on campus like James did in college, or donate to Set the Expectation HERE or any of the Champions program partnering agencies.
Let us know if you decide to get involved by tagging us on social media @lojsports to tell us you signed the pledge, donated funds, hosted an event, donated a toy or inquired to get involved. Every little act of kindness makes a difference.
Contact [email protected] to see how you can join the movement.
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