Originally published August 2015
I couldn’t have picked a better time to read Jon Krakauer’s latest, Missoula.
The almost-400-page account of a Montana town’s struggle with a permissive rape culture demanded my full attention, so a vacation was a great time to read it. And then the news/non-news about the Chicago Blackhawk’s Patrick Kane came across my newsfeed.
I’m not going to begin to speculate on a situation of which I know absolutely nothing. The only thing I can tell you about the case is that my grandmother lives in Hamburg. And that she is not the alleged victim. But after reading Missoula, I am more than concerned with how people are reacting to this particular story.
In his book, Krakauer, takes direct aim at the criminal justice process in the college town of Missoula, Montana—a subject worth delving into after repeated news stories about the University of Montana and its football players’ connections to a number of sexual assaults.
Several cases are followed at length, in particular, one involving a player named Beau Donaldson, who raped a childhood friend in 2010 while she was asleep on his couch. Initially appearing guilt-ridden, Donaldson promised his friend he would seek treatment. Instead, he spent the next year-and-a-half walking free and increasingly showing less and less remorse, to which the victim responded with an official criminal complaint.
Donaldson confessed and managed a plea deal, but the real story is in how the town of Missoula—which seemingly derives its identity from the Grizzlies football team, threw the victim under the bus in the name of elevating players like Donaldson so high as to make them untouchable.
Players including Jordan Johnson, former U of M quarterback and at the time, probably as famous as anyone could be in Montana. In 2012, Johnson was charged with “sexual intercourse without consent” when a friend accused him of rape after a makeout session went horribly wrong. Like cases before hers, the victim was scrutinized—was her post-rape behavior appropriate? Was she interested in him only because he was the star quarterback? Did she have a boyfriend?
Johnson, in a highly-publicized trial, was found not guilty.
Krakauer’s unflinching portrayal of some very brave women in the face of skeptical police and prosecutors, is more than a worthy read. It’s a testament to what our culture has morphed into—one that’s willing to give the side-eye to someone asking for help when assaulted by a person that has fame, fortune, talent and the love of adoring fans.
How ingrained is athlete worship? So much so that even after reading the book not a day earlier, my very first thought upon hearing the news was, “What does this mean for the Hawks next season?” Ugh. Just, ugh. And the followup thought was, “I hope it’s not true.” It took a good 20 – 30 seconds before I righted course and put the concern where it should be—with the alleged victim and a sincere hope that due process is carried out thoroughly and thoughtfully, without prejudice toward either party in the incident.
I don’t even know where to start in trying to redefine the national conversation in regard to sexual and domestic assault and professional athletes. I know voices got louder after the Ray Rice incident last year. But there’s so much more work to be done, and not just in the front office. Krakauer’s book is an excellent start.