There is a power in honesty.
Brenda Tracy understands this better than most. She provides raw, unflinching details when she delivers her story as a gang-rape survivor to college athletes across the country.
There are no ellipses in her text, no blanks left to be filled in by the audience, like the one she had at N.C. State in April when she spoke to all of the university’s male athletes as a part of her “Set The Expectation” initiative.
Tracy will be back on campus on Thursday, at the Talley Student Center at noon, for the first of several events connected to her national campaign against interpersonal violence. She will also serve as an honorary team captain for the Wolfpack football team on Saturday for their home game against Ball State
Her candor on topics many people don’t want to talk about — rape, sexual assault, violence against women — brings out the worst in college football fans on social media. There’s a Sisyphean quality to her daily grind on Twitter.
“The hatred I get from people on social media, those are the ones who don’t appreciate honesty,” Tracy said in a phone interview with the N&O Tuesday.
“But the athletes I meet and talk to, they absolutely appreciate it. They love that I don’t hold anything back.”
N.C. State’s “Set The Expectation” game Saturday will be the first by an ACC team. It’s not the only #STE game, though. Stanford will be playing its third annual awareness game.
“I can’t get to every game now,” Tracy said. “That’s a good problem to have.”
A call to the NCAA for action
Tracy, 45 now, is a nurse turned activist. She attended a party at Oregon State in 1998, where she was raped by four men, three of them were college football players.
Her long-term goal is to get the NCAA to adopt the “Tracy Rule,” which the University of Texas-San Antonio did this week. She wants the eligibility of athletes to be tied to their behavior. If there’s a history sexual assault or violence, Tracy doesn’t think that athlete should be able to compete for an NCAA school.
“Rape is not an NCAA violation and that’s ridiculous to me,” Tracy said. “Accepting money or smoking weed is but not being guilty of rape.”
Tracy has visited more than 75 schools since she started her campaign three years ago. Schools from the SEC, Big Ten and Pac-12 have all participated in a #STE game.
“Real cultural change takes awhile, but I’m going to keep pushing,” she said.
Tracy’s immediate goals are to educate athletes and coaches about topics such as consent, spark conversations on college campuses and raise awareness about interpersonal violence.
N.C. State senior defensive end James Smith-Williams was inspired by Tracy’s powerful message. It was impossible not to be, he said.
“If you don’t react emotionally to her story live and in person, and what it is, then you’re kind of missing something as a person,” Smith-Williams said. “It’s just so brutal and violent. It’s disturbing, I guess is the best way to put it. And it’s supposed to be.”
Smith-Williams and Vinnie Durand, a senior on the men’s soccer team, organized a collection before an N.C. State baseball game in May for items to help InterAct in Wake County, a non-profit agency that provides, safety, support and awareness to victims and survivors of domestic and sexual violence.
They delivered two carloads of goods to the agency.
“It was great,” Smith-Williams said. “People really responded and it meant a lot.”
NC State’s James Smith-Williams finds inspiration
Tracy took notice of Smith-Williams’ work and he is now an ambassador for her campaign. The Allstate “Good Works” team, which honors the community service of college football players across the country, also recognized Smith-Williams for his service.
Smith-Williams, who played high school football at Millbrook, isn’t interested in any credit for helping. He just wants to make a difference. His mother, Wendy Williams, is a social worker in Wake County.
“She’s getting called when something’s wrong,” Smith-Williams said.
Seeing the cases his mother has worked on exposed Smith-Williams, first-hand, to the problems caused by sexual assault and domestic violence. It’s why Tracy’s story hit so close to him. So did her challenge to do something.
“She came to us and she was like you have to be active in being the solution. You have this platform, you need to use it,” Smith-Williams said.
That’s what Smith-Williams did. He’s excited for Saturday’s game, not just because he’s hoping to return from an ankle injury, but it’s a chance for Tracy to reach a wider audience.
“Honestly, I think it will be awesome for her coming out as a captain,” Smith-Williams said. “That’s big platform, you’re around almost 60,000 people. That’s awesome for her to have that exposure and for this cause.”
Ball State at NC State
When: 7 p.m., Saturday
Where: Carter-Finley Stadium, Raleigh
Listen: WRAL-101.5 Triangle; WXRC-95.7 Charlotte