Meet Jessica Luther, the Woman Who Wants to Fix Sexual Assault in College Football

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Photo: Janelle Renee Matous/Akashic Books 

On the way to our interview, journalist and author Jessica Luther was seated next to an older couple on the train. They asked what she did, and she told them she was an author. Then, they asked what her book was about. “I said, ‘college football and sexual assault,’” Luther said. “And they immediately changed the subject.”

It’s an uncomfortable topic, and it’s one Luther has focused on her entire career, but her name was catapulted into the national spotlight in August 2015, when she broke the story about Sam Ukwuachu, a Baylor University football player who was then on trial for sexual assault. (He was eventually found guilty of second-degree sexual assault and served 180 days in jail.) Her work has appeared in numerous national publications, and in September it culminated in a book, Unsportsmanlike Conduct: College Football and the Politics of Rape.

In it, she details the steps universities usually take when one of their athletes is accused of sexual assault — “Nothing to See Here,” “The Shrug,” and “Moving On” — and examines the factors that make such suppression possible, such as institutional racism, the incredible amount of money at stake in college sports, and the culture of college football as a whole. Then, she offers solutions: Teach players about consent. Hire women. Hold coaches to a higher standard. On the eve of one of the biggest football weekends of the year, Luther talked to the Cut about how the stories she tells resonate in the wider world.

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