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Jessica Luther's 'Unsportsmanlike Conduct' Tackles Sexual Assault in College Football

"Unsportsmanlike Conduct: College Football and the Politics of Rape" is the new book released this week from Austin-based journalist Jessica Luther.

Last year, Luther helped break the story about a Baylor University football player on trial for sexually assaulting another student. She argues the college football system as a whole bears much responsibility in cases such as these. And the system is where, she says, changes need to take place. 

Who tends to investigate sexual assault allegations?

It’s up to a university to ensure everyone have equal access to education, as a civil right. It’s hard to go to school if you have to go to class with someone who perpetrated violence against you. That’s the idea. There can be a Title IX investigation. If the school hears about it, they have to do some sort of investigation. They can’t just let it go. If someone reports to law enforcement, then you would have a separate criminal investigation. Often, Title IX offices work in conjunction with criminal investigations, if both are happening, so that Title IX doesn’t get in the way of the criminal investigation. But, it’s possible that you will have two tracks, two totally different answers, for what is found. It’s not uncommon for there to be a third civil suit. So, you can often get legal documents coming out around a civil suit will give a whole other level of information about what we know. And, again, it’s just a different system working towards a different end.

Where do the changes to the system start, then?

About a third of the book, I think, is solutions. I open that entire section talking about consent education. As a society, I think it’s a cultural failure on our part to not do better to explain how consent should look. Bystander intervention is very popular. You see your friend is going into the room with someone, and they look a little drunk and you’re not sure if that’s a good decision. Then, you literally intervene in that moment – question them, make sure that’s what they want to do.  Bystander intervention can be such a bigger thing. If your friend makes a sexist joke and, in that way, demeans women in front of you, there’s a moment there where you can intervene, right? So, there’s a whole spectrum of intervention that can help sort of chip away at the sexism that leads to the dehumanization of women and increases this kind of violence. You know, I question sort of why Title IX coordinators are not federal employees, since it’s a federal law. Title IX coordinators get their checks from the universities that they’re critiquing. Seems like a conflict of interest. 

What about the role of fans? What's the responsibility of fans?

This is always such a hard one. People are always emotional about this. I’m emotional about it; I understand what’s happening with fans. They need to put pressure on their universities to do better. As alumni, some of these people are probably boosters. They need to say this isn’t good enough, that we’re not going to uphold a system that potentially leads to harming students, a system that doesn’t really care about these players except keeping them on the field. Instead of the reaction which we normally see, which is to say, ‘Oh, this must not be true. I hope it’s not true.’ They need to instead say, ‘Why is this happening? I want my school to be better. I want to watch the team that I love without thinking about all these problems and worrying that I’m participating in a system that’s going to harm people.

Luther will be talking more about her book tonight at 7 p.m. at Book People in Austin.

Jennifer Stayton is the local host for NPR's "Morning Edition" on KUT. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on X @jenstayton.
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