Here are some things I wrote this year that I am proud of:
I profiled a professional ballerina, Lissa Curtis, about being a survivor, living with PTSD, and trying to be an advocate all at once. It’s about, in a word, surviving. The piece was 13 months in the making and BuzzFeed did an amazing job in both editing and presentation.
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After spending a lot of time trying hard to never talk about the Duke Lacrosse case, I wrote about it twice because 2016 was the 10-year anniversary of when the woman first reported to police. First, if you want to know why I rarely talk about the case, this ESPNW/ESPN Magazine piece will explain it: “The Duke lacrosse case’s long shadow of doubt”. Second, I talked to the woman at the center of the case, Crystal Mangum, about what the lasting effects of the case have meant for her: ““I’m Broken”: The Duke Lacrosse Rape Accuser, 10 Years Later” (Vocativ).
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I wrote a fair amount around the Olympics. My first-ever byline at the New York Times was a short piece about my Olympic memory from 1996 when I watched the USA women’s basketball play in Atlanta:
And in that awkward body that I didn’t yet know how to wear, I watched some of the best female athletes — women whose bodies looked like mine — play ball on the Olympic stage. I wasn’t ever good enough to play basketball for much more than fun. But when I look at that photo, I remember how I imagined that the people around me in that stadium, watching those women play, might look over at me and think, “She’s probably a basketball player too.”
I also wrote about the South African runner, Caster Semenya, and the seemingly endless and horrible policing of gender in sport (Excelle Sports).
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And, not least of all, I wrote my first book. Unsportsmanlike Conduct: College Football and the Politics of Rape was published by Akashic Books on September 6, 2016.
The response has been great, from very kind reviews to multiple profiles of my work. I have received many kind messages on Twitter and in my email, and am grateful to every single person who has shown up to any of my events.
Different excerpts of the book exist out on the web: the chapter on race is at Truth Out and the one on consent at Dallas Morning News. You can listen to me talk about the book on Bitch’s Popaganda podcast and Sport Illustrated’s Media Podcast with Richard Deitsch.
Some reviews (others you can find here):
- New York Times: “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 is a graduate and still a fan of Florida State, which recently won a national championship behind the quarterback Jameis Winston — a Heisman Trophy winner and the subject of a rape accusation. (He denies it, and after an incomplete investigation there was no prosecution. Florida State later settled a lawsuit in the case.) Luther doesn’t just want to save future victims; she wants to save college football.”
- Shakesville: “This book that not only explains this immensely complex problem, but imagines a world in which things could be better. In which women (in particular) could be safer. It is an objective within our reach given the collective will. Jess never loses sight of that. To the contrary, she urges us to reach with her.”
- Texas Observer: “Luther’s ability to challenge herself and her reader to grasp multiple, difficult truths about race, masculinity and exploitation take the book to another level. Three things can be true at once, writes Luther: That college football players — mostly black men — are exploited by the NCAA and athletic programs that make millions off their free labor; that these players can fall victim to a racist criminal justice system and, often, a racist fandom; and that sexual assault in college sports is a terrible, and terribly handled, problem. One that Luther puts in the hands of the overwhelmingly white and male college football leadership apparatus to fix.”
- WBUR: “What distinguishes “Unsportsmanlike Conduct” from any number of books, articles, and documentaries about the subject is Luther’s emphasis through the latter half of her book on what could be done to promote change.”
All of this is why I was chosen as one of ESPNW’s Impact 25 honorees this year, which I still cannot believe. Kavitha Davidson, my friend, colleague, and soon-to-be co-author, wrote a piece explaining my inclusion on this list:
What makes Jessica’s work so effective isn’t just her relentless attention to detail, her willingness to ask the questions nobody dared to before, her meticulous parsing of police reports and legal documents and witness testimony and case law. It’s her empathy in approaching these stories, in interviewing these victims, not to mention the astounding strength it takes for her to continue to do so.
To that end and to end this year, I want to say thank you to every single survivor who has contacted me. This happens a lot because of my work and I am honored every time someone trusts me with even a small piece of their story.
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