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Unsportsmanlike Conduct: College Football…

Unsportsmanlike Conduct: College Football and the Politics of Rape

by Jessica Luther

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CN: Rape

I first learned about Ms. Luther during Wendy Davis’ filibuster of HB 2 in Texas – the bill that would eventually become the TRAP law that made it all the way to the Supreme Court as Whole Women’s Health. She is a journalist who has built her career focusing on the intersection of sports and culture, reporting extensively on how women are treated when they report that an athlete has sexually assaulted them.

Unsportsmanlike Conduct is a book from a small press that focuses exclusively on issues in sport, and the publishers approached Ms. Luther to write it. They also worked with her to create the framing for the book, which is about sexual assault committed by football players, and how both the victims and the student-athletes are failed by the system as it currently stands.

The first half consist of five chapters that set the stage – or field, as it were – as it currently stands. There is the field – the universities and colleges themselves – as well as what we don’t see.

She explores the tension that exists with a sport that sees majority black players and (assumed) majority white female who are assaulted and raped, and the history of racism there. The chapter that focuses on this history was fascinating and depressing, and important for understanding the entire issue. One fact she shared, which I found both unsurprising but also depressing as hell, was that the most important predictor of opposition to paying student athletes was if someone had a negative view of black people. Yikes.

With this history firmly grounded, Ms. Luther moves on to discuss the ways Universities, the NCAA and police will try to simply make the reports of rape and assault go away. Or, Coaches and Athletic Directors will claim that the cases just aren’t that big of a deal. Finally, she includes my personal (least) favorite – the attempt to just move on, and pretend everything has been handled appropriately. I loathe the ‘we’re looking to the future’ mentality, when the transgressions of the past have not yet been properly addressed. It is infuriating, and this chapter handles this well.

With the field set, Ms. Luther focuses the second half of the book on things that can be done to improve things now. There are ten chapters of varying length; the one that I think is the most critical (if we were to rate them) is the one that explores the reality of what trauma looks like. We so often hear ‘why didn’t she go to the police right away’ or ‘why did she text the guy a week later’ or ‘her story changed,’ but the media doesn’t provide the context for how the brain recovers memories after a traumatic event like a rape or assault.

I think this is an important book. Unfortunately, I cannot see coaches or the NCAA bothering to read it, because it is so critical of them. But if more students, players and journalists took the time to read it, I think we could see some progress. If the subject matter isn’t too triggering for you, I really hope you consider picking it up.
( )
  ASKelmore | Jul 9, 2017 |
As powerful as it is necessary, Luther's discussion of sexual assault and college football covers a tangled landscape of surrounding culture and attitudes--from politics, to fandoms, to tradition, to expectations, and on to identity. As difficult as the examinations in this book are, there's also a great deal of love and objectivity here; in fact, I suspect that only someone who Does love football could have written this work in this manner, where it is not only serious and piercing, but respectful and, on some level, even understanding of the reasons we've reached this point in history and culture, without excusing any of it.

And yes, this is far more than a catalog of players and nights gone horribly wrong, and far more than a listing of victims and villains. Systematically, Luther presents evidence of a culture and systems that not only perpetuate behavior that leads to assault and victimization, but then cover up such behavior with what might look like ignorance, but is actually self-sustaining promotion of the status-quo. And, what's more, she presents paths for change, and signs of change that are already struggling to make a difference, while making it terrifyingly clear that even as these changes are happening, much is being done to undermine them.

If I could, I'd ask every college instructor and student to read this. I'd drop off barrels of the book in the locker rooms and even at high schools, and I'd make my students read sections, if not the whole of it, if I still taught in a college town. I'd drop it off in high schools and ask the coaches to read it, and I'd pass it to my friends. And even beyond coaches and athletes, it should be read by fans. There might be an argument to be made that fans need this book as much as anyone, in fact.

In an approachable and careful way, this is an important book, and deals thoughtfully with an issue that should not be ignored, but too often is.

Absolutely, I'd recommend it. ( )
  whitewavedarling | May 28, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This is a really thoughtful journalistic look at a troubling topic that many people and organizations are going to great lengths to cover up. The magnitude of the problem becomes extremely obvious and demoralizing, but fortunately Luther does offer some ideas of how to move forward both pragmatically (what colleges and the NCAA can do) and philosophically (why do we deal with this degradation of women?). I was surprised at how well the "playbook" structure of this book works -- it gives it something more compelling (not to mention a way to move forward) than long-form magazine pieces lamenting this issue without solution. ( )
  sparemethecensor | Nov 19, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The book reads a little rough in areas, but Luther's task is too important to get caught up on word-smithing. As i watched a college football game last weekend, I was haunted by the fact that many of those men had probably sexually harrassed or raped a fellow college student. Luther has a lot to say about how poorly college and universities treat the victims and really burns the NCAA for their obvious blind eye towards the athletes who commit these crimes. ( )
  mojomomma | Sep 13, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Reading a book about rape culture and how it has manifested itself within the realm of society and college sports doesn’t make for an “enjoyable” time. Luckily in the capable hands of Jessica Luther, Unsportsmanlike Conduct: College Football and the Politics of Rape, this is and cultural problem has been molded and shaped into something that reads like an essential text, forcing us to reckon with the pain and use it as a baseline for developing solutions.

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. What I think keeps this book humming along, even as you are being shown example after example of repugnant behavior and lack of accountability, is that Luther is unafraid of this depth. This in turn, allows the book to be accessible for those who don’t follow college sports who know about rape culture, those of us who follow sports religiously and maybe didn’t understand, and the regular lay person.

Most of the populace understands rape and issues of consent are a problem and given what has happened at Baylor, and to some extent the Nate Parker case, is something that needs to be addressed swiftly and with care. 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. ( )
  Terence_Johnson | Sep 6, 2016 |
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A meticulously researched and powerful expose on the epidemic of cover-up that surrounds sexual assault and college football players.

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