I am under contract with Akashic Books on their new Edge of Sports (Dave Zirin) imprint to write a book on college football and sexual assault. It’s due in early spring next year so I’m guessing that means a late summer publishing? I don’t know enough about any of this but coinciding with the start of the college football season would make sense. [UPDATE: a friend who does know more than me said it normally takes a year from turning in your manuscript to the book being released. So, late winter/early spring 2016!]
This is incredibly exciting and totally surreal.
From my book outline that I submitted to Akashic:
While sexual assault is a problem throughout U.S. society — nearly 20 percent of women will be assaulted in their lifetimes — it often seems to garner the most attention when a sports star is involved, especially a football player, and even more particularly when it is a college football player. The result is that the list of cases of college football players possibly committing sexual assault is long. Already this year, there have been cases at Ole Miss, Eastern Washington University, the University of Texas, and the University of Miami. In 2013, there were cases reported at Ohio State, Arizona State, Vanderbilt University, McGill University (which is, admittedly, north of the border in Canada), and the University of California, Los Angeles. The Vanderbilt case, which involved five football players, is ongoing and has been for months, with very little media coverage outside of Nashville, despite how horrific the crime was, how poorly the prosecution seems to be handling the case, and how high-profile the school is.
Last year, in 2012, there were allegations against players at the University of Texas, Appalachian State University, and the U.S. Naval Academy. The U.S. military is dealing with issues of sexual assault across all of its branches, which has been major news recently due to federal legislation being debated in Congress. But the Naval Academy case from 2012 is very similar to a rape that occurred at the same school in 2001, the earlier one ending not in a trial but simply a dismissal of the accused from the academy. And the Appalachian State case is similar to one from 1997 at that school.
I can keep going: Miami and Connecticut in 2011; Notre Dame and Montana (coach and athletic director may have been involved in the cover-up) in 2010; Michigan in 2009; Tennessee at Chattanooga in 2005; Brigham Young University, Arizona State (the school knew the rapist was a threat and did little to protect his victim), and Kansas State in 2004; Notre Dame in 2002 (one player pleaded guilty, transferred schools, played at Kent State, and then went into the NFL); and the University of Washington in 2001. Colorado football players were accused of raping women in 1997, 1999, and 2001.
There are multiple reasons for why we talk about these cases so often when the accused or the perpetrator is a college football player. First, because of the money invested in high-profile players and their teams, people can feel a certain sense of ownership. Players are held in high esteem by fans — or hated by fans of rival teams — and their off-the-field behavior is, respectively, either a shock or evidence of what we already knew. Second, players who are in legal trouble often are not able to play, which affects the team. Third, because college campuses are both a particular perfect storm of a site for sexual assault to occur and also seen as a space where students should be safe, when a college football player is alleged to have committed an assault, it is news. Fourth, many college football players are black and the U.S. media and legal system both tend to focus on crimes in which the perpetrators are black.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the culture around (and therefore, the economy of) football today is dependent on a society that minimizes and/or ignores rape. College programs, in order to lure top players—who they are not allowed to pay—to their schools, stroke the players’ egos and present the fantasy that beautiful women will be their reward for living on their campus. Dave Zirin points out that the fact that players are “treated like gods by the adults who are supposed to be mentoring them” is a critical factor leading some men to expect others to simply do what they want. Yet, at the same time that they are being held up as gods by some, others see these players only as potential dollar signs. For those in charge of teams, departments, and leagues, football is all about using up bodies in such a way that they profit from them. The stripping away of the humanity of a potential rape victim by a rapist is similar in many ways—though not directly parallel—to the dehumanization that takes places when university administrators, team owners, and league commissioners commodify the bodies of these players.
This all comes together over and over again so that we, as a society, most often talk about the problem of sexual assault through the lens of college football. And we end up relying on sports journalists, a resoundingly male group, to talk about a crime whose victims are overwhelmingly women.
This book will tease all of these issues out, addressing the problems with how sports media report these cases, analyzing the role of race in how these stories make it into mainstream conversations, and exploring on the roll of the NCAA, universities, and athletic programs in perpetuating this problem and what they could do to fix it.
As long as we continue to look to cases of sexual assault that involve college football players as the main avenue through which we have conversations about this particular crime, we need a more substantial, in-depth, and nuanced take on this problem. This book will do exactly that.
This will of course build on work I’ve already done on this topic. Here’s a lot of that:
- ‘We Felt Like We Were Above the Law’: How the NCAA Endangers Women at The Atlantic (Sept. 26, 2013)
- Jameis Winston, and the Overlapping of Football Culture and Rape Culture at RH Reality Check (Nov. 27, 2013)
- The Jameis Winston Sexual Assault Case: No End Here at RH Reality Check (Dec. 9, 2013)
- The Hazy Middle at Sports On Earth (Dec. 18, 2013)
- How Football Culture Can Change Rape Culture at The Nation (April 16, 2014)
- Changing The Narrative at Sports On Earth (May 7, 2014)
- Fighting Sexual Assault at The Austin Chronicle (May 16, 2014)
- Faces of Assault at Sports On Earth (May 23, 2014)
- Left Out Of The Narrative at Sports On Earth (June 10, 2014)
- A Small Step at Sports On Earth (July 25, 2014)
- Missouri Football’s Rape Culture ‘And So On And So Forth’ at VICE Sports (Sept. 9, 2014)
- Who We Talk about When Athletes are Accused of Sexual Assault at VICE Sports (Oct. 14, 2014)
- Can Coaches Be Trusted To End Hazing? at VICE Sports (Oct. 27, 2014)
- Jameis Winston Conduct Hearing Transcript Reveals Mass Confusion and Bizarre Decision-Making at VICE Sports (Dec. 31, 2014)
- Jameis Winston Accuser’s Civil Suit Against FSU Alleges a Second Rape at VICE Sports (Jan. 7, 2015)
- A look at complex Vanderbilt rape case that left a community reeling at Sports Illustrated (Feb. 9, 2015)
You can also find a whole lot of my writing on sports and violence against women (especially sexual assault) at my sports blog: Power Forward.
Final note about this project: when I pitched this book, I made it clear that this would not simply chronicle cases. That’s just damn depressing and I already keep a list of college football sexual assault cases. Instead, I am going to address this issue thematically, looking at the role that race plays in our discussions about this topic, about times when the media gets it right and when they get it wrong and why both matter, the tipping point for how horrific things must get before change happens, etc. But more than all of this, I want this book to offer some solutions, even if it is pie-in-the-sky stuff. Because wow do we need solutions.
Therefore, the final chapter will be based on interviews with activists who work daily to teach consent, to explain the dangers of rape culture, to reduce the perpetuation of this crime, and to support survivors after the fact. What really can be done? And is that possible within the system already in place at most colleges and universities, especially given the structure of the NCAA and the money that flows into this sport? Where do we go from here?
So, I’M WRITING A BOOK!!!!