USA TODAY’s investigative story on Mel Tucker wins Headliner Award

Kenny Jacoby of USA TODAY’s investigative team and Matt Mencarini of the Lansing State Journal have won a National Headliner Award for their coverage of sexual misconduct accusations against Michigan State University coach Mel Tucker – accusations that were later found to be true by the college’s outside investigator.

The annual contest honors the best print, radio, television and online journalism in the United States. Jacoby and Mencarini won in the sports news writing category.

In the narrative podcast category focused on a single incident, person or time, the team of USA TODAY’s Gina Barton and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Ashley Luthern and Bill Schulz placed third for ‘Unsolved: A Missing Girl, A Search for Truth.’ The story used the investigation into the disappearance of a 7-year-old on her way to school in 2002 as a way to probe why so many missing Black kids in America are never found.

Jacoby’s investigation ran on Sept. 10, laying out the allegations against the head football coach by Brenda Tracy, a rape survivor who educates athletes about sexual violence. Jacoby and Mencarini followed that work with a mixture of daily coverage, including Tucker’s firing later that month, and exclusive stories.

The contest judges wrote of the work: ‘The result of reporting years in the making, USA Today reporter Kenny Jacoby’s expose on a long-running sexual harassment case against Michigan State football coach Mel Tucker rocked the world of college football. Tucker was fired for cause two weeks after the story was published with roughly $80 million left on his contract. Jacoby’s reporting, and partnership with local Lansing State Journal reporter Matt Mencarini, is a testament to the power of building relationships with sources, tireless research and a commitment to holding powerful people and institutions accountable.’

Jacoby’s story and the ones that followed transfixed the college football world, as one of the highest-paid coaches in the sport was accused of abusing his power with his actions against Tracy, whose life’s work was fighting such abuses.

‘It is a true honor to receive this award,’ said Jacoby. ‘I am very grateful to Brenda and all the survivors over the past several years who have trusted me to tell their stories.’

The investigation would lead to a national conversation about sexual abuse and the impact of Title IX, the federal law that bans sex discrimination in education, as well as the dismissal of Tucker.

‘An investigation like the one that led to Mel Tucker’s firing doesn’t happen overnight,’ said Amy Pyle, USA TODAY’s Managing Editor for Investigations. ‘Instead, this work was the culmination of Kenny’s knowledge and sources built through years of Title IX and sexual assault and harassment coverage bolstered by a strong partner once the story broke in Lansing State Journal reporter Matt Mencarini.’

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