By Sarah Hayes, A&E Editor
Content warning: this review discusses a book which covers the topic of rape and rape culture in a collegiate setting and could be potentially triggering to some readers. This article will avoid any explicit descriptions of events and acts in the text, but the book itself does not have the same discretion for details.
A young woman is assaulted by a football player at a campus party. She goes to the police. She goes to the administration. She goes to the coaches. The police stall, the administration wring their hands, and the coaches suggest that the woman forget the entire event happened. After all, that football player is a rising star on the team. He is an NFL prospect in the making. Does she not see how her accusation will ruin lives? She is threatened by the player’s friends. She withdraws from classes, loses her scholarship, and transfers to another school. The assailant wins.
This is not uncommon in 2016; a woman goes up against a college-level athlete with an accusation of rape and is torn down in the process. The details are not always exactly the same every time, but they should be. This is the focal point of Jessica Luther’s new investigative book, which drags college sports down from the pedestal on which society has put it, and reveals all of the cracks and flaws that threaten its legacy and, most importantly, put the lives of women in danger every year.
Luther’s “Unsportsmanlike Conduct: College Football and the Politics of Rape” is possibly the most essential book that new students will not be seeing on their class syllabus this semester, but they should. Written by a sports journalist who is also a lifelong Florida State University (FSU) fan, two identities which end up clashing during the course of writing this book, “Unsportsmanlike Conduct” is the new playbook for colleges and sports departments when it comes to rape and sexual assault.
Luther breaks her book into two distinct sections. One covers how the systemic silencing of rape victims leads to a normalization of violent sexual behavior by players on college sports teams. The other covers how collegiate systems can teach players to respect women and be educated on sexual health and consent, among other possible fixes.
Even Luther admits that there is no easy fix for how prevalent violence against women has become in these settings. She said that these ideas “will be more difficult to implement than what [society] is used to.” But, as the majority of the book shows, there are solutions worth mapping out and giving a try, if only to try to stem the tide of sexual violence on college campuses across the United States.
As Luther maps out in astonishing detail, the seemingly recent rash of rape and assault cases among college sports players are not that recent at all: cases are documented as far back as the ‘70s and ‘80s. Considering how officials treated rape victims forty years ago (i.e. very poorly, with disrespect, if not disbelief or disinterest), there is a good chance there are many older, similar cases that have gone unreported. Luther recounts the history of attacks by collegiate athletes to show that these events do not happen in a vacuum, or as isolated incidents. Often one player is the perpetrator of multiple offenses. Whether or not they are brought to justice for these actions relies on a multitude of factors often beyond one person’s control.
Understandably, “Unsportsmanlike Conduct” is a difficult read. It describes in detail the worst day in the lives of multiple women, and the hierarchical destruction of their lives in the name of team loyalty. For Luther, who admits that her love for Texas college football meant unlearning her blind loyalty to her beloved FSU team, detailing the “politics of rape” in a college setting became more than just a journalist beat but a necessary responsibility in bringing these painful issues to light. Considering that the University of Missouri system itself is discussed in this book, we here in St. Louis would do right by our fellow classmates, who may know these stories on a personal level, to look into the problems explored in “Unsportsmanlike Conduct” and ask each other what we are actively doing to make our college environment a healthier, safer place in which certain students can learn.