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Turn My Stomach

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I’m reading and writing a lot these days about a subject that turns my stomach.

Before I go on, I want to say that today’s blog post is about the fanaticism of college football and, more importantly and more disturbingly, the pattern of rape that many Division I teams cover up. I’m not trying to trigger folks. That’s the last thing I want to do. But please know the general outline of this content before you keep reading.

I’m reading about Baylor football and it turns my stomach.

The other day, J asked me if I was upset about “the Art Briles thing,” as though an ongoing and repeated epidemic of sexual violence coverup could be contained to one euphemism. I opened a page I’d just read in Violated and had him read. “Jesus,” he said. “Jesus.”

A couple of weeks before, I was in the car with Sara and, in a true demonstration of why I shouldn’t be a navigator in any driving experience, why I can’t just say “I’m fine” when someone I trust asks me how I am, I ranted about the way my stomach turned as I read The System. I talked about the fact that this book was, at its core, simply about how college football back offices work. That I wasn’t even zeroing in on the terrifying subject matter that I was facing in Rushing. And then we missed our turn because I wasn’t paying attention.

She didn’t make me feel shame or remorse. She said something about how we needed to bring the phone mount next time and then, after we found our way back, let me keep talking.

The photo above was accompanied by the headline “Lawsuit claims Baylor football team used gang rape as a ‘bonding experience.’”

I did not read the article.

Before reading Violated, my only association with Waco, Texas was Fixer Upper. I was enamored with the low homeowner cost and the gorgeous Joanna Gaines designs. Put shiplap in every room, I don’t care. It was calm and beautiful and clean. The outdoors featured prominently. No one seemed to ever be sweltering, despite the relentless sun.

Now I want to scream at Chip & Joanna. “Can’t you see what’s happening?” How can you even love Waco as much as they do, despite everything that’s going on, or in deliberate avoidance? I’m only halfway through this book, but already three men have been accused of ruining a young woman’s life. Most have gotten away with it.

And how can you stop loving a place when this happens everywhere?

Just this weekend, I learned that the documentary Roll Red Roll takes place in Steubenville, Ohio, just outside Weirton, West Virginia, where my maternal grandmother grew up, where I’m thinking of visiting as part of a research trip for an entirely different play. The book that sparked my drive to write Rushing, took place in Missoula, Montana. Every male sound terrified me as I read Jon Krakauer’s account. J startled me by showing up early to propose. I wanted to read one more chapter.

On the character page of Rushing, I include a note, one that folks have warned me might get me in trouble one day: “This play takes place in your town. It’s your football team, wearing your colors, taking the field to your fight song. This is your play.”

My mom joked that if the show ever gets produced in LA, I should insist on the team wearing USC colors. I pointed out that in 2017, a UCLA football player was arrested for the very same act that my star running back commits.

I live in Seattle, and in 2008 the same thing happened at the University of Washington. These are reports of cases publicly litigated. So much more is swept under the rug, covered up because of shame, power, and money.

This happens everywhere.

I’m trying to take care of myself now.

On August 12, I begin rehearsals for this play, a play I don’t yet have an ending for. I’m reading and listening to others read to me. (Audiobooks have been a godsend in this process.) I’m squaring my imagined world with the truths of these women, both documented and unspoken. But I’m also trying to care for my own needs, my own body.

I had a strange reaction this morning. To combat the weakness in my stomach, I tried doing pushups. And then squats. I mimicked the physical power of my players.

I need a ritual to start and end each day, one that’s not rooted in fear. If you have one, you know where to find me.