NORMAN, Okla. — Each year, Oklahoma head football coach Bob Stoops invites several guest speakers to address his team about various topics. Perhaps none of the speakers over the last 18 seasons captured the attention of OU players like Brenda Tracy did late Monday afternoon.Tracy, a 42-year-old registered nurse from Portland, Ore., told the OU audience she was raped by four men in Oregon in 1998. Two of the men were Division I collegiate football players at the time.
Tracy's account Monday was harrowing. Several times she paused to compose herself and wipe away tears. She spared very few details.
As a result, her message had a significant impact on those in attendance.
It was Tracy's fourth time to address a collegiate football team or athletics department, the third in the last two months. Because of how well she and her message have been received, several more visits are in the works.
"Our football team was privileged to hear from an unbelievably strong woman today in Brenda Tracy," Stoops said after the roughly 40-minute address. "What a powerful, powerful message. For her to recount her personal story in front of some 120 young men and be willing to stand up and try to effect change one college campus at a time speaks to her bravery, strength and conviction.
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"The players were really focused on her message of what they can do to help put an end to sexual assault, and how she is counting on them to do just that. After spending most of the afternoon with her and then hearing her presentation to the team, I just can't say enough about her and what she's doing."
Tracy's message was one of empowerment. She told the Sooners that men need to be the ones to help solve the problem. Her words did not fall on deaf ears.
"First of all, I don't know how she had the strength and the power to stand up there and tell us that story and repeat what happened to her," said quarterback Baker Mayfield. "So that's a big credit to her. I was not aware of her story. You could hear crickets pretty much the whole time she was talking to us; it was that strong.
"It's tough to sit there and hear that when you know things like that take place on campuses, but at the same time I think it will definitely make an impact on the attitude and mindset of guys here and at other places she's talked. That's my hope, at least."
Tracy said the reaction she's gotten from each one of her talks has been overwhelmingly favorable.
"A lot of positive response," she started to explain. "I mean after my talk today I probably got 50 or 60 hugs from the players. It was like a hug line. It was amazing because they don't have to do that. A lot of them were thanking me for being here, thanking me for my courage and telling my story. That meant something to me. There was also some brainstorming about additional things they can do on campus as a team and individually.
"The response was amazing, and it really helps motivate me to keep doing this; to keep sharing my painful story, because it's having an impact and it's actually doing something. I mean I had the attention of over 100 young men today. That's a lot of potential."
Asked if it gets easier for her as she talks at more and more schools, Tracy quickly answered.
"No, it doesn't," she said. "I think that I feel more empowered each time I go, and I think I feel like I have a little more courage to say what I have to say. But it doesn't ever get easier, especially telling the details of my own personal story. It's still always upsetting and I always cry. It's always painful and I don't know that that will ever go away."
Tracy said she and Stoops spent the majority of the afternoon together Monday ahead of her team address. She now labels him a friend and an ally, and said she is happy he's on her team.
"This was amazing here today," Tracy said. "This was so empowering for me and inspiring. I came here to inspire them, but they've inspired me. That's an incredible feeling to feel like we started something here. I feel like these young men are going to go out in the world and do something, and that feels really good. Coach Stoops and all of his staff were just amazing and I look forward to seeing what happens here at Oklahoma."
Up next for Tracy? She said she is scheduled to visit an SEC school next week.
"I am more than happy to go speak," she said. "I'm really willing to speak to anyone who will listen to my message because I think it's important."
Every Sooner who heard that message Monday agrees.
Incredibly powerful testimony! Speechless https://t.co/XGXH2DvqVR— Ty Darlington (@TyDarlington56) August 8, 2016
Easily one of the most courageous things I've ever witnessed. TY @brendatracy24 for sharing your testimony and your strength with us!— Chris Woods (@CoachChrisWoods) August 9, 2016