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Speakers confront sexual violence, Islamophobia in sports

COURTESY PHOTO - Shireen Ahmed is a writer, public speaker and sports activist focusing on Muslim women in sports. Shes also an athlete, advocate, community organizer and works with youth of color on empowerment projects and is an avid sports coach and mentor from Toronto. Last March, Jules Boykoff, an American academic, former professional soccer player and one of Pacific University’s political science professors, spoke at a symposium at the University of Texas. It was there where he met Jessica Luther and Shireen Ahmed, two other remarkable speakers working on vital topics within sports.

The machinations and tactics of the Trump campaign have shined a spotlight on two major themes Luther and Ahmed focus on: sexual assault and Islamophobia. The speakers took center stage in Marsh Hall at Pacific University Monday, Oct. 10, expressing their thoughts on issues that currently run rampant in the sports industry on a national and international level.

Luther is an Austin-based journalist who writes for outlets like “ESPN the Magazine,” “Sports Illustrated” and “Bleacher Report.” She’s also the author of the just-released book “Unsportsmanlike Conduct: College Football and the Politics of Rape.” She opened up about her process for writing her pieces — and the book itself. Most of the cases Luther brought up could be found in major news outlets, like The New York Times or The Los Angeles Times. She’d even skimmed local newspapers in hopes of finding stories that weren’t discussed in larger outlets.

“It’s a massively underreported crime,” she said. “But we’re talking about it more.”

One of the cases she went over involved a victim being raped while being recorded on Snapchat, after which the recording was sent to the victim’s ex-boyfriend. Another case involved a former Pacific University football player who was arrested Oct. 5 and charged with rapes that occurred both on and off-campus in November of last year, according to Forest Grove police. Kasen Kunishima-Takushi was taken into custody in Hawaii, where he goes to school now.

“I don’t think athletes rape any more than others ... I just think we talk about it more,” said Luther. COURTESY PHOTO - Jessica Luther is an Austin-based journalist who writes for outlets like ESPN the Magazine, Sports Illustrated and Bleacher Report. Shes also the author of the just-released book 'Unsportsmanlike Conduct: College Football and the Politics of Rape.'

She also touched on how race plays a role in sports, examined how university administrations do very little to defend victims of sexual assault and spoke about bystander intervention — a topic used as a Pacific senior thesis project by Chelsea Hill last year.

Intervening in situations that could lead to sexual violence is important, but stepping in when rape jokes are told is also key to stifling rape culture, Luther noted.

Ahmed, a writer, public speaker and sports activist focusing on Muslim women in sports, took the podium after Luther. Ahmed herself is an athlete, advocate and community organizer who works with youth of color on empowerment projects and is an avid sports coach and mentor from Toronto.

Her talk, “Coverage Gone Wrong: Unveiling Misogyny and Racism in Sports Writing,” touched on the lack of diversity in sports reporting. According to a 2015 Women’s Media Center report, 90 percent of sports writers are white, cisgender males (those whose self-identity corresponds with the gender of their biological sex; not transgendered).

“It’s not to say women haven’t been trailblazing in this area,” said Ahmed. “But there could clearly be more representation and diversity.”

She also spoke about representations of Muslims in media coverage and clothing restrictions in some areas of the world, most notably the hijab. Sometimes, she noted, clothing restrictions can affect who gets to participate in certain sports.

“There’s also the issue of people reporting without understanding or knowing the geo-political situation in an area,” Ahmed said. For example, resources and infrastructures have been decimated in some areas of the Middle-East, something that can affect the way sports teams from those areas participate in larger international competitions.

“Sometimes discussions just focusing on what an athlete is wearing can ‘otherize’ the person in question and ignore more pressing issues like lack of money, social support and abuse of power by federations,” she concluded.

The talks are part of a series that deals with sports, power and marginality.

“How can sports help jumpstart conversations we ought to be having about race, gender, ethnicity and bias?” asked Boykoff. “This series is meant to coax such discussions.”

The next speaker in the Sports Colloquium public lecture series is Jacqueline Keeler, a writer and activist of Dineh and Yankton Sioux descent who talks critically on the use of Native mascots for sports teams.

Keeler founded the group Eliminate Offensive Native Mascotry and has written for numerous publications, including “The Daily Beast,” “Indian Country Today,” “Salon” and “The Nation,” and has offered expert commentary in places like MSNBC, Democracy Now and TeleSur English.

She’ll speak in Pacific University’s Marsh Auditorium Monday, Oct. 24, at 7 p.m.