One of the high points of SDSU football’s 2021 season was a come-from-behind victory over Boise State on Friday, November 26th. The Aztecs fell behind 16-3 in a contest that appeared to be comfortably in hand for the Broncos.
Behind the heroics of backup QB Jordon Brookshire, SDSU flipped the script, shutting out BSU the rest of the way and winning comfortably 27-16. The victory sealed the West Division for the Aztecs, earning them the right to host the Mountain West Championship Game.
SDSU’s main goal every season is to win a conference championship. Everything they do focuses on this ultimate prize. The players and coaches sacrifice all year #Win22. Now, only one game away, they had eight days to prepare for Utah State.
At this critical moment where every distraction is magnified, SDSU coaches and the school’s administration sent a powerful message to their players. On Sunday, November 28, the program held a mandatory training session for every football player and coach with Brenda Tracy, a sexual violence prevention educator. Inviting Tracy on the cusp of the program’s highest goal communicated that at SDSU, winning is not the only thing that matters.
Last fall, SDSU invited Tracy to share her story with the team.
In 1998, she was a victim of gang rape. Two of the perpetrators played football at Oregon State. According to a presentation she gave at the National Character Leadership Symposium in 2018, OSU covered up the incident because they were renovating a football stadium and could not afford to have a rape scandal scaring donors away from the project. Sixteen years after the incident, the president of Oregon State apologized to Tracy “for any failure on our part in 1998 in not helping her through this terrible ordeal.”
It is impossible to miss the parallels between Tracy’s experience and the rape allegations reported at SDSU. The main difference between them is the choices the universities made in how they addressed them and people like Tracy, who has worked tirelessly since 2017 to change the public narrative on the topic.
Tracy’s challenge and the name of her nonprofit is Set The Expectation. In her presentations online, she points out that 10% of men commit nearly all sexual assaults and that it is up to the other 90% of men to set the expectation and speak out against even a hint of violence in their homes, workplace, or locker rooms.
If the allegations against SDSU’s football players prove true, Tracy addressed the perpetrators directly that day in November, but her charge was to the rest of the men in attendance. It is their duty to #SetTheExpectation on their team.
The training at the school did not end with the football team. The following day every men’s team and their coaches went through the same mandatory training. For the men’s basketball team, it meant spending time and emotional energy away from preparation for their biggest game of the non-conference season, a road contest against Michigan in Ann Arbor.
“These mandatory sessions were enhanced training sessions offered to reinforce the education and dialogue around the importance of maintaining a healthy and safe environment,” SDSU told EVT when contacted about the training. “This was one of the many ways we looked to be active and proactive in response to the limited information we had, and that was consistent with SDPD’s request to stand down.”
Our society is a copycat world. When innovation occurs, businesses and institutions across the globe adopt the advancement. The same is true for individuals. Anytime a scandal like the one SDSU is currently embroiled in occurs with no resolution in the judicial arena months after the event, people assume the group in power is intentionally preventing justice because our experience has taught us this is the norm.
It is critical, then, for the positive steps taken by San Diego State to be acknowledged and appreciated by the community. On the week of their most important games, when winning could result in elevation of the program and millions of dollars from donors to their stadium project, SDSU, going only off rumors, chose to make winning secondary. Bringing publicity to and celebrating that fact makes it more likely other groups will copy their actions in similar situations.
Coaches eliminate distraction because failing to do so often leads to poor performance. Following the seminar, the Aztecs were handily defeated in their two marquee games of the season. Michigan handed men’s basketball their second-most lopsided loss of the year, 72-58, in a game where the Aztecs did not have their defensive assignment down as crisply as they normally do.
Utah State crushed the football team 46-13 in a game filled with uncharacteristic mistakes and assignment errors. It was not only the mental lapses that cost the Aztecs. Throughout the roster, many players were missing due to Covid protocols. In bringing their team into the same room for the seminar, SDSU coaches risked forfeiting the game.
On Thursday, SDSU President Adela de la Torre, Athletic Director J.D. Wicker, and football head coach Brady Hoke sent a joint statement to the SDSU community that read in part, “Never would we allow anyone in this institution to be protected against being held accountable for their actions.” They should be believed because they backed up their words with actions, setting themselves up for defeat on the field to address the situation off of it.
The games counted as defeats in the loss column, but they were clear victories for the program and the community as it tries to prevent future sexual assaults.