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News & Features » September 2016 » Jessica Luther: On Writing Unsportsmanlike Conduct

Jessica Luther: On Writing Unsportsmanlike Conduct

To mark the release of Unsportsmanlike Conduct: College Football and the Politics of Rape — the latest from our Edge of Sports imprint — we’re featuring a statement from author Jessica Luther on the importance of her work in the arena of sexual assault and sports.

UnsportsmanlikeConductI didn’t mean to end up on the college football/sexual assault beat; it’s not a fun place to hang out. But once you’re there, it’s hard to look away, to stop caring about its existence, to leave that reporting to other people. Throughout 2013, I was aware of and interested in cases surrounding sports and sexual or interpersonal violence, but when I went to locate more information, it was difficult to find outside of whatever local coverage there was. Most commentary would tell me the stats of the player involved, make sure I understood everything was alleged and not known, and then hoped for it to quickly be resolved. It felt unsatisfying. I wanted a conversation that looked at this phenomenon with a bigger framework, one that got past the lens of a single case and instead asked tough questions about programs, universities, and college football culture in general.

The turning point for me was in November 2013 when news broke that the star quarterback for Florida State, my alma mater and my team, was under investigation for a rape that took place nearly a year earlier. It was national news overnight and remained so for weeks (and, it turns out, months and years). I simply didn’t see the compassionate coverage of this difficult topic that I was longing for and so I jumped in to lend my voice to the conversation. Little did I understand then that the topic of college football and sexual assault was not a flash-in-the-pan moment for me or our society, or that I would continue to write on this topic nearly nonstop ever since.

This book is the culmination of that work. It is the synthesis of all the patterns I kept seeing and all the suggestions I learned for how we could change them. It is, I hope, the very beginning of what will be a long conversation, one we desperately need to be having. Because there will be another case, another football season, another athletic director who looks away, another university president who shrugs, another survivor. Instead, we need change.


We’ve received some phenomenal praise for Unsportsmanlike Conduct, including:

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

“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)

“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.” —Elle.com



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.

Posted: Sep 21, 2016

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