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Unsportsmanlike Conduct: College Football and the Politics of Rape Paperback – September 6, 2016
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--USA Today Sports/Football Four Podcast
"College football has always sold itself as being about the high ideals of higher education, but sexual violence has become a mirror in which the sport, fueled by lucrative television contracts, insanely passionate fans and wealthy donors, puts itself before everything else: education, the well-being of women and, often, its own student-athletes.”
--Street Roots News
"We as a society owe a great debt to Jessica Luther. She has spent the last several years of her professional life dedicated primarily to reporting on the epidemic of sexual assault in college sportsfootball in particular. Her debut book Unsportsmanlike Conduct: College Football and the Politics of Rape, published on Dave Zirin’s 'Edge of Sports' imprint at Akashic Books, isn’t simply a tell-all; she has rewritten the playbook for collegiate sports culture, giving survivors and supporters a reason to be hopeful about rooting for our teams without further sacrificing who we are."
A freelance journalist who helped break the story of Baylor University’s mishandling of rape cases, Luther examines how coaches, administrators, and athletes at universities across the country cover up and minimize these crimes. In the second half of the book, Luther presents a new playbook for how we could do bettersuch as by teaching consent, firing responsible parties, and changing how the media responds.”
This sharp book is a must-read for anyone interested in either college sports or sexual assault politics.”
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It imbues the conversation of what's happening on our college campuses with deep research and examples. And it's really must reading for all of us who claim to want to be a part of the solution. "
--Dallas Morning News
In her first book, Jessica Luther challenges the college sports establishment to hold athletes accountable when they commit rape, sexual assault and domestic violence.”
The book delves into instances of sexual violence perpetrated by football players and the response to their crimes by their athletic departments, universities, the NCAA and the media, to show there is a "playbook" for dealing with violence in football that is common to football institutions nationwide.”
"While it’s often easier for journalists and fans alike to ignore the issue completely, Luther addresses this topic head on, laying out one playbook for better understanding the problems at hand, and a separate playbook for fixing them. The result is a harrowing, detailed account of the ways our national pastime is intertwined with violence against women, and a somewhat hopeful look at how that connection might be disrupted."
"Luther’s book is an investigation into of the most major intersections of rape culture and sports culture in the States: college football. With so many high-profile cases of late piling up and attracting sensationalist coverage of late, it’s crucial to have a sober-minded, feminist narrative that ties it all together."
"In Unsportsmanlike Conduct, Luther isn’t solely telling sports fans how bad things are. She’s also done the incredible emotional labor of building solutions that might give us back some of the joy we once had on game days . . . We can no longer say the problem is too big to solve."
"Parents would be well-advised to pick up a copy of a new book by Jessica Luther: Unsportsmanlike Conduct. Luther, an investigative reporter who was born pumping the garnet and gold blood that comes with being the progeny of two Florida State Seminoles parents, finds a lot of commonality in the unwritten mission statements shared by Florida State, Notre Dame, Vanderbilt, and Tennessee. The schools’ unwritten shared mission appears to be to use all of the resources under the schools’ influence to silence young women who accuse their Division-1 (D-1) football players of sexual assault and to create rape culture where women’s bodies become the commodities for which young men’s athletic skills are the rewards."
From Steubenville to Vanderbilt, stories of rape culture and football repeatedly made local and national headlines in the last couple of years. Though problems with sexual violence have coincided with football since the sport's inception, today a handful of survivors and journalists are bringing the issue to a national spotlight. Jessica Luther, an investigative journalist, is one of them. For the past three years, Luther has added to the dialogue surrounding rape in football. Since 2013, she has kept track of over 110 cases of sexual assault in college football.”
Jessica Luther’s take on the landscape of major college sports is clear and convincing . . . What distinguishes Unsportsmanlike Conduct from any number of books . . . is Luther’s emphasis on what could be done to promote change.”
Jessica Luther’s reporting on scandals at Baylor, Vanderbilt, and Tennessee is indispensable to understanding the most explosive, damning story in sports today: the propagation of rape culture in college football. The institutions have failed us all. Rather than teaching young men something about morals, decency and lawfulness, universities have circled the wagons to protect the assailants. Luther’s new book, Unsportsmanlike Conduct, addresses the problem head on. It’s the latest release from Dave Zirin’s Edge of Sports imprint at Akashic, so you can rest assured no punches are pulled. With any luck we may even start to see substantive reform.”
Luther explores the playbook that different institutions universities, the media, the NCAA seem to follow when it comes to handling sexual assault among student athletes. If everyone runs their plays well, scrutiny dies down quickly, no institution ever has to change how it operates, and the evaporation of these cases into nothingness looks natural. In short, this playbook is why nothing ever changes. Unsportsmanlike Conduct unpacks this societal playbook piece by piece, and not only advocates that we destroy the old plays, but also suggests we replace them with ones that will force us to finally do something about this issue.”
"Jessica Luther is an Austin-based journalist doing powerful, important work. Luther . . . delves into the grim complexities of sexual assault involving football programs on college campuses, exploring the nexus of toxic masculinity, sports-as-big-business and privilege that permits (or often encourages or forces) the victim to become invisible while keeping the focus on the players and how such an event will impact their lives, often with the complicity (tacit or explicit) of coaches, police and the university itself. A crucial read."
"Luther does a tremendous job . . . Unsportsmanlike Conduct is a must read for any fan who is no longer satisfied with turning a blind eye toward one of the biggest issues facing not only sports but college campuses. Luther brilliantly analyzes how rape and assault cases have been handled, identifying troubling patterns that continue to persist. Her practical and well thought out proposals for change make too much sense and make you wonder: Why aren’t these solutions implemented already?"
--The White Bronco
"Luther’s debut book, Unsportsmanlike Conduct, explores the playbook’ that universities, the NCAA and the media follow when college football players are accused of rape."
"This is a takedown of the systematic way the NCAA, colleges, coaches, and teams respond (or rather, don’t respond) when a player is accused of sexual assault."
"Luther’s book . . . will be a must read for fans not just of college football but all sport. As well as a vital, pragmatic text for everyday feminism. Unsportsmanlike Conduct is a hard, steady look at the heart of rape culture and how it’s perpetuated . . . She is writing about something that implicates her at nearly every level as well as each of us reading. Luther doesn’t do so to tear down programs or sport, but to get us all to rectify our actions, allegiances, and excuses."
"An essential text . . . More than just for sports fans or those in college, this is a book that dismantles many of the issues in society that have led to college football becoming the perfect microcosm of rape culture . . . Luther outlines many ways to help clean up these issues and in her due diligence leaves readers, and colleges, with the tools to make it happen."
--Le Noir Auteur
"The most essential book that new students will not be seeing on their class syllabus this semester, but they should . . . Unsportsmanlike Conduct is the new playbook for colleges and sports departments when it comes to rape and sexual assault."
"[Unsportsmanlike Conduct] is very powerful, breaking down a systemic disease of sexual violence and assault against women within the college football apparatus. [Luther] illuminates the various methods employed by coaches, athletic directors, university officials, players, fans, the NCAA, local and national media, and local police departments that not only allows such heinous behavior, but that actually encourages it."
--The Shadow League
"The facts don't lie and neither does Jessica Luther."
--That Sports Girl, Corner Pub Sports
"Few subjects are as difficult, or as important, as this one, and Jessica Luther handles it flawlessly. We have to demand that schools take better care of our kids; it's that simple. Luther gives us the tools to do so, breaking down exactly where we are, how we got here, and--most importantly--how the system can change."
Rachel Nichols, ESPN
"Jessica Luther is one of the most important voices on gender issues in sports. And this book does not disappoint: it is essential reading for anyone who hopes to better understand the intersection of gender and our sports landscape."
Kate Fagan, EspnW
"The maxim of the law is silence gives consent. Back when nobody was talking about AIDS, the maxim was silence equals death. There exists in our major sports a malignant culture of sexual assault and bureaucratic indifference. There is nothing this culture resists more than plain talk, and Jessica Luther has been speaking more plainly about this ongoing obscenity than almost anyone else. This is a hard, necessary, and important book, a book by someone who refuses to be silent, and damn sure refuses to consent."
Charles P. Pierce, author of Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free
"Luther's well-researched book speaks powerfully to the complicated landscape of sexual assaults on college campuses--including the greedy interests at play in denying it--and provides us a much-needed road map for instituting effective change. I highly recommend this book for anyone who believes that student safety should matter more than athletic success, and that we all have a role to play in assuring that it does."
Wendy Davis, former Texas state senator, founder of Deeds Not Words
"Unsportsmanlike Conduct is an important book by an important writer. Jessica Luther's place as both sports fan and empathetic observer makes her perfect to explore the shameful ways universities and their athletic programs address sexual assault, as no one could say she doesn't love football. She just loves people more, as she should, and this book is an important mirror to make us question how sports became more important to the world than the women who make life possible."
Bomani Jones, ESPN
"In painstaking and passionate detail, Jessica Luther challenges those of us who have become seduced by the emotion and ritual of sport to stop being willfully ignorant about the significant problem of sexual assault and sexual violence. Sports, for many of us, have always been characterized as a lighthearted escape from the problems that dominate 'real life,' but this book reminds us that our ability to compartmentalize and rationalize these terrible crimes has cost us our collective humanity."
Jemele Hill, ESPN
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Top Customer Reviews
So I am not what you’d call a sports fan. Occasionally I enjoy playing baseball, basketball, or tennis for funsies or fitness, but that’s about the extent of it. I stopped caring as a spectator when my youngest brother aged out of Little League.
Jessica Luther, on the other hand, “was born with garnet and gold blood.” Her parents graduated from Florida State University; she spent her autumns rooting for the Seminoles religiously; and, when it came time to go off to college, she only applied to one school. Once at FSU, she had her butt planted firmly in the bleachers for every home game, rain or shine, humidity and frost be darned:
“I learned early on how to be a fan. There are rules and rituals the fans of a sports team follow and do, a kind of collective performance before and during games that show the love for our school and team. The playbook for fans consists of memorizing chants, wearing the right colors, painting our faces, and always singing along whenever you hear the school’s fight song. The most important play, though, is the one where you give your team your love and devotion, and you trust in the players and coaches even when they play badly and even if you have to ignore what they do when they are off the field and out of uniform. This, the fan playbook prescribes, is what good fans do. I used to be a really good FSU fan.”
That is, until the 2012 rape allegations against Jameis Winston forced her to confront some of the more problematic aspects of the sport she so loves.
Let me stop right here and say that it’s not that you have to be a fan of something in order to earn the right to critique its more problematic aspects; far from it. But the particularities of fan identity vis–à–vis sports – Luther cites studies which show that many fans’ self-esteem is linked to their team’s performance – certainly encourage suspicion and hostility towards outsiders, as do structural barriers against women in sports, not to mention larger cultural narratives surrounding rape and violence against women. To the football fans in the audience, Luther wants you to know that she’s one of you, and her interrogation of that which you hold most dear comes from a place of love: both for victims/survivors, and for the sport itself. The wake up call is coming from inside the house, okay.
Luther’s been writing about the intersection of sports, violence against women, race, and money for several years; UNSPORTSMANLIKE CONDUCT: COLLEGE FOOTBALL AND THE POLITICS OF RAPE is the culmination of her work (at least thus far). Luther compiled a list of more than 115 cases of college football sexual assault allegations, from 1974 to 2016. The number’s a little fuzzy, since many cases involve multiple rapists, including athletes from more than one college or sports team (so, for example, basketball players slip into the text here and there). If it seems small, just remember that a majority of sexual assaults go unreported. According to RAIIN, only 20% of female students report their assaults, compared to 32% of non-students. Additionally, most of the cases are from the past ten years; older cases just never made it onto the Internet and thus her radar.
And this also doesn’t account for those allegations that, for whatever reason, never receive media coverage. The book’s conclusion opens with one such case: allegations against a Baylor player, Samuel Ukwuachu, which somehow remained hush-hush until just twelve days before his trial. Luther received a tip from a source and immediately set out for Waco, just a day before the WACO TRIBUNE finally broke the story.
Using these cases as a jumping-off point, Luther argues that sexual assault in college football follows the same script, or playbook. If you pay even the tiniest amount of attention to sexual assault cases, no doubt you’ll recognize many of the plays: minimizing sexual assault; blaming the victim; police and judges (and coaches, athletic directors, and other authority figures) shielding the perpetrator; biased media coverage that centers the perpetrator and repeats sexist, rape apologist tropes, to name a few. But some plays are specific to college athletics, or at least more commonly found in this arena, such as transferring a student to another school (with an unblemished record, natch), where he’s free to prey on a whole new pool of unsuspecting students.
And then there’s the particular miasma of college football that sets the stage for violence against women to begin with. College athletes are worshiped like Gods, both on and off the field. Because of their earning potential, they’re shielded from the consequences of their behavior, even when it’s criminal. Instead of calculus and chemistry, they’re schooled in entitlement. We all know this – but Luther digs a little deeper.
Because they are unjustly labeled “amateurs,” college athletes are prohibited from earning a salary, accepting gifts, even profiting off their own name and image. Instead of money, colleges dangle women in front prospective players. Potential recruits are often shown around campus by female hosts, who are pressured to entice them with sex – or at least the potential of sex. In one mind-boggling (and law-defying) case, three women from the University of Colorado reported that football players and recruits had raped them at a party; DA Mary Keenan refused to press charges, because the players had “third-party consent.” In other words,
“They had been built up by the players to believe that the situation they were going into was specifically to provide them with sex. Their mind-set coming into it was that it was consensual because they had been told it had been set up for that very purpose, and that’s what was going to happen.”
Needless to say, there is no such thing as “third-party consent.” You cannot give consent (to anyone and anything, apparently!) on another person’s behalf.
Also shocking is the prevalence of gang rape:
“In all, just over 40 percent of the cases I’ve studied are gang rape allegations involving multiple players. If you add in cases where teammates are witnesses or later accomplices in harassing the woman who reported the violence, it creeps up close to 50 percent. This is incredibly high compared to what is known about gang rapes in the overall population.”
More than anything, these numbers are emblematic of the toxic masculinity so often found in locker rooms. In gang rape, violence against women is transformed from an unthinkable violation to a male bonding experience.
In addition to misogyny, Luther also explores the racism that undergirds the whole system. Returning to the “amateur” status of college athletes, it’s important to note that the people making money off the backs and bodies of these predominantly black players – the coaches, athletic directors, and university presidents; the NCAA; and even the media – are nearly all white men. They have a vested interest in attracting good players and keeping them on the field – and to do this, they objectify women and hang victims out to dry. Not because they care about their players, or believe in their innocence, but to keep the cash monies coming in.
Overall, these folks follow the same script that we all start learning before we’re even old enough to talk (e.g., a boy who pulls a girl’s ponytail or shoves her down on the playground is just showing how much he likes her), just with a little context-specific “bonus” material. Much of the reasoning behind protecting athletes who rape is equally applicable to Hollywood actors (Bill Cosby, Johnny Depp, Woody Allen) or other celebrities (R. Kelly, Julian Assange, Roman Polanski; I could go on for days) and “too important and/or talented to be held to account” men. I would’ve liked Luther to link her discussion to rape culture more generally – for example, explain exactly how objectifying women as compensation in lieu of money leads to assault – especially for the not-feminist football fans who might be reading; nevertheless, she does an excellent job, using a mere 224 pages to their fullest.
I could go on and on (seriously, I took nearly 60 pages of notes on my Kindle!), but suffice to say that UNSPORTSMANLIKE CONDUCT is a smart and insightful look at rape culture as it manifests in college football. The book is meticulously researched and documented (the end notes take up 16% of the book; they’re not listed in the TOC, but fall under the Conclusion), and argued with passion and nuance.
I also appreciate that Luther offers a list of solutions – alternate plays – in the second half of the book. It’s easy to feel like the scourge of violence against women is too entrenched in our society, too firmly upheld by cultural institutions, too massive and far-reaching to tackle. Depression and apathy are reasonable responses. But Luther ends on a hopeful note, offering some suggestions for positive change. Picking up this book – and maybe sending a copy to your school’s president or athletic director – is one place to start.
Many thanks to Akashic Books for providing me with a review copy – and for creating a platform to discuss these important (but often unpopular) topics.
Read with: ASKING FOR IT: THE ALARMING RISE OF RAPE CULTRE – AND WHAT WE CAN DO ABOUT IT by Kate Harding (2015)
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction: The Playbook
PART I: THE PLAYBOOK AS IT IS
Chapter 1: The Field
Chapter 2: What the Playbook Doesn’t Show
Chapter 3: Nothing to See Here
Chapter 4: The Shrug
Chapter 5: Moving On
PART II: HOW IT COULD BE
Play #1: Consent Is Cool; Get Some
Play #2: Understand Trauma
Play #3: Go Federal
Play #4: Intervene, Maybe
Play #5: Follow the Players
Play #6: Be Specific
Play #7: Teach Coaches to Teach Boys to Be Men
Play #8: Clean It Up
Play #9: Fire People
Play #10: Do Anything
Play #11: Do Better
Play #12: Calm Down
Play #13: Hire Women
Conclusion: Change Is Possible
About Jessica Luther
Copyright & Credits
About Edge of Sports
About Akashic Books
** Full disclosure: I received an electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss. **
Luther uses her journalistic skills to examine the relationship between college football and sexual assault. She uses cases going back to the 1970s to illustrate various aspects of this relationship. After a detailed introduction that defines terms and sets the stage for the conversation, the book is split into two halves. The first half examines "the playbook" as it stands. The playbook is how teams, universities, the NCAA, the media, and fans have responded to allegations of sexual assault against players in the past, and for the most part, how they continue to respond. Each institution is culpable in perpetuating systems that shame victims and go out of the way to protect perpetrators of violence. The second half of the book offers thirteen suggestions to change the playbook as it stands.
I appreciate that Luther tackles such an important topic. She doesn't shy away from difficult subjects that most would rather avoid. I also really like that she offers potential solutions, and doesn't just point out problems. She admits her own struggle in dealing with sexual assault allegations as a lifelong college football fan. Nothing can change if it remains unexamined or discussed. People who are willing to put money or even just the sometimes almost religious experience of being a fan of a huge football program ahead of the well-being of non-football playing students and others who don't have as much "value" have to own that they are part of the problem. Luther does a great job of pointing out how various groups are at fault, and how each group can change. Violence in our culture is not just the responsibility of those who commit it; everyone can be a part of the solution is we are only willing to ask, "How?"
I recieved this book for free through LibraryThing. I was not required to write a review at all, much less a positive one.