Kavitha Davidson on 2016 IMPACT25 honoree Jessica Luther
Kavitha DavidsonDavidson is a writer for espnW and ESPN The Magazine. She is also co-authoring a book, "How to Love Sports When They Don't Love You Back," with Luther.
It's nearly impossible to count the ways Jessica Luther is changing the landscape of sports. Her work has directly served fans, students, players, coaches, university administrators, law enforcement officials and fellow journalists by putting all of us on notice for the myriad hypocrisies and injustices to which we contribute in big-time, big-money sports, particularly when it comes to sexual violence. And while it's also nearly impossible to narrow down her impact, Jessica has perhaps most meaningfully served survivors in a culture that tends to discard them altogether.
Last year, along with co-author Dan Solomon, she blew the lid off a major sexual assault scandal within Baylor athletics, resulting in an administrative fallout and the effective firings of head coach Art Briles and university president Ken Starr. Her reports in Texas Monthly exposed the widespread and brazenly ignored rape culture on campus and the coordinated effort to minimize and cover up a multitude of accusations.
But her impact extends far beyond Waco. For years, Jessica has covered similar cases from every corner of the country. She has forced us to acknowledge the blind eye we've all turned toward sexual assault by athletes and the systems in place designed to shield them from scandal. In September, her commitment to exposing the dynamics of power and violence within college football culminated in the publication of her first book, "Unsportsmanlike Conduct," a sobering, powerful, necessary read into the ways in which every aspect of our sports culture excuses men who do terrible things, simultaneously demonstrating that this is by no means limited to the gridiron. That it's not just a campus problem or a football problem -- it's an American problem.
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. It can be overlooked -- but not overstated -- just how much of an emotional toll it takes on journalists to cover such cases of systemic abuse over and over again, hearing firsthand accounts of pain and violence and seeing the same patterns of behavior often followed by little progress from the time before.
As a survivor of sexual violence myself, Jessica's work in this space has been an emotional bedrock. As both a survivor and a journalist, her friendship has been invaluable. She's constantly giving advice to me and to other writers on how to properly cover sexual violence, reminding us that it's not just about the athlete, that there's a victim at the other end. She could teach a clinic on how to balance sensitivity with objectivity.
Where the criminal justice system continually fails accusers, Jessica Luther continues to serve them. She's leading the charge for institutional reform, calling on universities and publications alike to hire more women to change whatever "locker-room culture" may be used to excuse rampant violence. As her work continues to demonstrate, it's not all just "talk."
More on Jessica Luther
• Luther: Football coaches can't just "stick to sports" Story »
• Jessica Luther on "Unsportsmanlike Conduct: College Football and the Politics of Rape" Story »
• Athletes, domestic violence and the hurdle of indifference Column »
The IMPACT25 is espnW's annual list of the 25 athletes and influencers who have made the greatest difference for women in sports. Explore the 2016 list and more content at espnW.com/IMPACT25.