What is the biggest problem facing college sports today? If you immediately defaulted to money – who is making all of it and why aren’t the players getting any – it is tough to blame you. The media salivates over and gravitates to stories and lawsuits that pit David (the players) vs. Goliath (the NCAA). However, there is more important issue that receives far less fanfare: the sexual assault culture in college sports.
In Unsportsmanlike Conduct, Jessica Luther, a freelance journalist who has spent years focusing on the intersection of violence and sports off the field, thoroughly examines this topic. Luther candidly discusses the inner conflict of squaring her lifelong fandom for Florida State University with the University’s handling of athletes and sexual assault, including Jameis Winston. While the book is not about Winston (it discusses dozens of other cases in detail), Luther does a tremendous job of tying back the themes of how law enforcement, boosters, and universities (among others) handle sexual assault to the Winston case.
“It is easy to say that you do not condone this kind of violence; it is indefinitely harder to take a look at how the very sport you love contributes to a culture that ignores, minimizes, and sometimes perpetrates it.” – Jessica Luther
Unsportsmanlike Conduct is broken up into two sections. The first explains why sexual assaults in college sports are not isolated incidents, but rather demonstrated patterns of conduct. Luther interviews experts to examine how gender, race, and money impact how, when, and why rape and sexual assault occur. She also identifies patterns of how universities, coaches, athletic departments, law enforcement, the NCAA, and the media deal with allegations of sexual assault, noting that each group has “plays” (or go-to responses) when asked to act.
In the forward-looking second section, Luther examines thirteen changes that could and should be made to combat the current sexual assault culture on college campuses. These changes range from very straightforward, federalize Title IX officers, to very complex, find a better way to understand how trauma impacts rape victims.
Verdict: Two thumbs up.
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?
Sexual assault in sports is an extremely important topic that continues to be ignored. Recently, myself and others have openly wondered why more media coverage isn’t devoted to high-profile rape lawsuits, including the Derrick Rose case, which is set to go to trial in less than a month:
I've tried to write about the Rose case for numerous national outlets for the last year. Nobody wanted to touch it. No idea why.
— Julie DiCaro (@JulieDiCaro) September 1, 2016
(Even the lawyers in that case have admitted that “media has to some degree lost interest.”).
Unsportsmanlike Conduct is a huge step in the right direction that not only educates readers about the current crisis in college sports, but provides a practical roadmap for change. Garbage Time’s Katie Nolan’s summed up the book best:
“This book should be handed out to every incoming freshman, and left in the seats of stadiums across the country. A must-read for athletes, coaches, administrators, journalists, and fans alike.”
Pick up your own copy of Unsportsmanlike Conduct here.