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Unsportsmanlike Conduct: College Football and the Politics of Rape


A meticulously researched and powerful exposé on the epidemic of cover-up that surrounds sexual assault and college football players.

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What people are saying…

“Not to reckon with Luther’s book would be an abdication not only of one’s moral faculty but also of one’s fandom . . . Luther doesn’t just want to save future victims; she wants to save college football.”
New York Times Book Review

“Jessica Luther studied history and the classics before marshaling her writing talent toward of-the-moment topics like sexual assault and college sports culture. Now she’s an investigative journalist, working from her adopted hometown, Austin, Tex., in what is perhaps the nation’s most college-obsessed state. Ms. Luther’s new book, Unsportsmanlike Conduct, examines the ‘programmatic manner’ in which sexual assaults are “swept under the rug by institutions both on campus and in the media.’”
New York Times, event preview

“Of all the many problems facing college football, the most severe by far is the shocking number of rape cases involving athletes. And, as Luther makes abundantly clear in this impeccably researched volume, those numbers are only the tip of the iceberg, thanks to the contagion of cover-ups instigated by coaches and university officials, often with the support of police . . . Most important, Luther devotes part two of her book to changing the playbook, offering specific suggestions like ‘fire people’ and ‘hire women’ that throw down a gauntlet to those in power. Unsportsmanlike Conduct is not always easy to read—the text necessarily relies on numerous statistics and detailed summaries of court cases—but, nevertheless, it is almost certainly the most important sports book of the year.”
Booklist, Starred Review

Unsportsmanlike Conduct . . . is an intensely detailed look into what happens (and what doesn’t) when college athletes face charges of sexual violence and how administrators, schools, coaches and fans are reluctant to hold them accountable as long as they win games and make their colleges money . . . [It] is a significant and riveting look at how one of the greatest cultural tragedies of the millennial generation—the silencing of sexual violence against women on campus—is nurtured by a system of cover-ups and corporatized crises management.”

“In Unsportsmanlike Conduct, [Luther] draws on years of research and reporting to outline what she calls the ‘playbook’—all the standard, predictable ways that football programs, universities, the NCAA, and sports media typically respond when athletes are accused of rape or assault. It’s an infuriating, exhaustively researched catalogue of problems, from denial and toothless language to ignoring or discrediting the victim.”

“Highly relevant, hard-hitting, much-needed information that reveals the widespread existence of rape by sports players on college campuses.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Jessica Luther is a Texas-based investigative reporter who broke the story of Sam Ukwuachu, a football player at Baylor University who was then on trial for sexual assault. Since then she’s kept track of the dozens of sexual-assault claims made against college football players every year. Here, she looks at the relationship between football and sexual assault, the people and systems that perpetuate it, and how we can change the narrative going forward.”
New York Magazine

“As Luther makes abundantly clear in this impeccably researched volume, the number of rape cases, reported and unreported, involving college athletes, especially football players, has reached epic proportions. A vitally important look at an appalling problem.”

“[Luther] knows too much — about how teams, like her own, fail to adequately handle allegations of rape and sexual assault. It’s hard for her to reconcile that with blindly supporting a team as a fan. So she literally wrote the book on the topic. Her book is one of two playbooks — the first describes how college football programs and the sports media currently respond to allegations like this, and the second gives suggestions of how teams, schools, media and the NCAA could respond to them better, with genuine compassion for survivors and an actual understanding of the life-changing effects of such violence.”
USA Today Sports/Football Four Podcast

“It’s not an easy read, but it’s important one. And in the end, it’s a hopeful read, too. After deconstructing the many factors that feed into this decades-long crisis, Luther pieces together a new playbook for college football—one that can be followed by everyone from athletes to fans—to stop this troubling trend.”
SportsNet (Canada), a Best Sports Book of 2016

“A culmination of [Luther’s] dedication to finding truth in often murky waters.”

“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

“Investigative journalist Luther catalogues the abuses created and enabled by college football programs and suggests workable reforms.”
Boston Globe, One of the best books of 2016, Sports

“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.”
The Undefeated, Included in New Beginnings: The Freshest Books of 2016

“This sharp book is a must-read for anyone interested in either college sports or sexual assault politics.”
Rebellious Magazine

“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 sports—football 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.”
The Establishment

“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.”
Texas Observer

“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.”
Dallas Observer

“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.”
Think Progress

“Luther makes a convincing argument that sexual violence is not solely a team-level or institution-level issue . . . The material in the book is presented clearly and thoughtfully in a way that is easy to understand—even if not easy to reckon with. Luther’s recommendations are solid starting points for changing the culture of college football to root our some of the elements that do harm and support the elements that make it great.”
Resources for Gender and Women’s Studies

“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: College Football and the Politics of Rape. 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.”

“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 better—such as by teaching consent, firing responsible parties, and changing how the media responds.”
The Alcalde

“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.”
Broadly (VICE)

“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.”
Austin American-Statesman

“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.”
Austin Monthly

“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.”
The Current

“[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

“Luther uses the language and framework of college athletics—a playbook—to demonstrate the industry’s systemic problems with sexual violence. This book should be handed to every incoming freshman, and left on the seats of stadiums across the country. A must-read for athletes, coaches, administrators, journalists, and fans alike.”
—Katie Nolan, host of Fox Sports’ Garbage Time

“Jessica Luther has delivered a searing account of the way America’s universities and athletic departments have time and again valued winning football games over justice and compassion. Unsportsmanlike Conduct is more than an indictment of the culture of big-time college football, it is a call to action to change it.”
—Ben Strauss, coauthor of Indentured: The Inside Story of the Rebellion Against the NCAA


The latest from Akashic’s Edge of Sports imprint.

Football teams create playbooks, in which they draw up the plays they will use on the field. Playbooks are how teams work and why they win. This book is about a different kind of playbook: the one coaches, teams, universities, police, communities, the media, and fans seem to follow whenever a college football player is accused of sexual assault. It’s a deep dive into how different institutions—the NCAA, athletic departments, universities, the media—run the same plays over and over again when these stories break. If everyone runs his play 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.

Political sportswriter and Edge of Sports imprint curator Dave Zirin (the Nation) has never shied away from criticizing that which die-hard sports fans hold dear. The Edge of Sports titles will address issues across many different sports—football, basketball, swimming, tennis, etc.—and at both the professional and nonprofessional/collegiate levels. Furthermore, Zirin brings to the table select stories of athletes’ journeys and what they are facing and how they evolve both in their sport as well as against the greater backdrop of one’s life’s odyssey.

Read an interview with Jessica Luther from Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner’s Lenny Letter.

Read an interview with Jessica Luther and an excerpt from Unsportsmanlike Conduct at the Dallas Morning News.

Read features by Jessica Luther at Austin Magazine and Not Even Past.

Listen to interviews with Jessica Luther at Texas Public Radio’s The Source, SportsTalk, Sports Illustrated Media Podcast with Rich DeitschESPN the Classroom, The Zero Hour with RJ EskowBitch Magazine’s Popaganda podcastEdge of Sports Podcast KUT 90.5Katz and Luther PodcastThink (KERA)Feminist Magazine (KPFK Los Angeles)Not Your Boyfriend’s Sports Show, The Shadow League/TSL Sports Talk, Uproxx’s It Me Podcast, the Tommy Schnurmacher Show/CJAD 800 AM, on KZUM’s Sports from the Grassroots Sportsline, Book Talk with DJ Kory FrenchMinnesota Public Radio News, KAZI Book Review (Austin, TX), and on Utah’s NPR show Access Utah.

Watch interviews with Jessica Luther on C-SPAN2/BookTV and on This Week in America with Ric Bratton.

Read interviews with Jessica Luther at  New York magazine’s The Cut, FlavorwireTeen VogueChronicle of Higher EducationThe EstablishmentHope and HumorThe Daily Texan, Chicago TribuneVox, and the Houston Chronicle and TruthOut. Read excerpts from Unsportsmanlike Conduct at TruthDig and TruthOut.

Named Progressive Pick of the Week by TruthOut.

BookRiot included Unsportsmanlike Conduct in Liberty Hardy’s Great Big Guide to Wonderful Books of 2016 from 100+ Indie Presses

Read a short piece by Jessica Luther on the 1996 Atlanta Olympics at the New York Times Magazine.

Read a recap of panel discussion on the intersection of sports and sexual assault at Georgetown University’s The Hoya.

Read a guest piece from Jessica Luther at ESPNw.

Read about Unsportsmanlike Conduct in a letter to the editor at Eugene, Oregon’s The Register-Guard.

Read about Jessica Luther’s presentation at SXSW 2017 here.

Watch Jessica Luther’s guest appearance on ESPN Outside The Lines, Part 1 and Part 2.

Jessica Luther has been touring around the country doing events for Unsportsmanlike Conduct. Read features on recent events: Salt Lake City and Chicago.

Here is a piece highlighting Jessica’s keynote speech at the Gender & Gender Identity Colloquium at Texas Tech University. Watch a video of the Salt Lake Tribune‘s panel on consent and sexual assault where Jessica was a panelist here

Jessica Luther is an ESPN IMPACT25 Honoree for 2016! Read Kavitha Davidson’s piece on Luther for ESPNW here.

Read Jessica Luther’s recent New York Times essay “Fighting College Sexual Assault in the Trump Era.”

Included as a resource in Rape Culture Syllabus.

Included in Booklist’s “Top 10 Sports Nonfiction Titles for 2017”

Listen to an interview with Jessica Luther on A Public Affair (WORT 89.9 FM Madison).

One year after the release of Unsportsmanlike Conduct, KUT 90.5 Austin spoke with Jessica Luther about the ongoing issues with campus sexual assault and what can be done to combat the epidemic. Listen to Luther’s interview here.

Jessica Luther spoke to KALW’s Your Call about the #MeToo movement in sports. Listen to that discussion here.

Book Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Published: 9/6/16
  • IBSN: 9781617754913
  • e-IBSN: 9781617755217


JESSICA LUTHER is an independent writer and investigative journalist living in Austin, Texas. Her work on sports and culture has appeared in the Texas Observer and the Austin Chronicle, and at Sports Illustrated, Texas Monthly, Vice Sports, Guardian Sport, and Bleacher Report. Luther’s work gained national attention in August 2015 when writing for Texas Monthly; she and Dan Solomon broke open the story about a Baylor football player on trial for sexual assault, a case known by only a few in the community and not reported in the media for nearly two years. She is the author of Unsportsmanlike Conduct.

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