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Big Mac Book Review: “Missoula” could be a lot of college football teams

Jon Krakauer’s latest book is another example of fine reporting.
Jon Krakauer’s latest book is another example of fine reporting. PBS.org

Author Jon Krakauer likely will not receive any invitations to the next University of Montana football booster banquet, but his latest work is another example of his particular knack to report a story, however scary and unflattering it may be. His latest book, “Missoula”, is not necessarily about the University of Montana football team but it’s more about the ceaseless enabling culture that surrounds high profile athletics, and the frightening reality that is rape.

Krakauer hit the big-time with his best-selling book “Into Thin Air”, the account of the tragic climb up Mt. Everest that left several people dead. He was on that tragic expedition in the mid ‘90s. Krakauer recently admitted that that climb was the biggest mistake of his life. That story has been made into an expensive Hollywood production, “Everest”, which is due for a September release.

Since that book Krakauer has published other books that demonstrate he is one of the best reporters today, and why “Missoula” is a must-read for any parent.

Krakauer went to Missoula, Montana to focus on the troubling series of events surrounding the University of Montana football program, and a rash of ugly off-the-field incidents that included rape, among other criminal activities by members of the football team. To a seasoned college football observer, what he found in terms of the enabling and blindly supportive fans of the Grizzlies football team is not surprising - the behavior is similar for Kansas basketball, Alabama football and on and on.

Fans of the Grizzlies will do anything to support their team, and go out of their way to stop those who may pose any type of threat to the program. What Krakauer found is an indictment on the fan base at Missoula, yet the same can be said of a thousand other places, too. It’s bad, and it’s not changing.

What he reported about rape, and more specifically acquitance rape, is disgusting and frightening. It is uncomfortable, sad, and the victim is often completely hopeless in their bid to find justice in a system that unintentionally hamstrings the accuser. The burden of proof is so high, and so hard, that it explains why so many sex offenders get away with it.

“Missoula” acknowledges there are cases of wrongly accused; angry women who cry rape when there is none. Yet “Missoula” is about the women who cry rape because they are raped, and are thrown into a situation and a system that either gives up, or does more harm than good.

Krakauer focused on two high-profile rape cases involving Montana football players, both with different outcomes. The victims of both cases knew the players in question - Beau Donaldson and quarterback Jordan Johnson. Had it not been for a recorded confession by Donaldson there is a good chance he would never have been convicted.

The case of Johnson, however, was far more gray. Krakauer provides extensive evidence to suggest the accuser, at least from a legal standpoint, was in a terrible bind to prove that she was indeed raped. However, there was ample evidence to suggest she was raped, most notably bruising on her chest from being held down by the accuser.

In the book, it was not difficult to see why Johnson was acquitted of the charges. It was also easy to see why the accuser was so damaged from an ordeal that became the topic to conversation in Missoula for an extended period. It was even easier to see that, in this case, the victim was “the bad guy” because this case involved the stud quarterback for the local football team.

The statistical and anecdotal evidence Krakauer provides about rape in this book are painful, and provides more evidence of a broken system for victims of sexual assault. Part of the tragedy of “Missoula” is that the court room is not about truth - it’s just about winning, and the truth leads to losing.

Krakauer’s point of view on the subject is not necessarily impartial; he does a good job of laying out the facts and the evidence, but it’s apparent he finds the system busted and those in charge of handling it more concerned about their track record prosecuting cases than the well being of the victims.

“Missoula” is not an easy or a fun, but it’s an important work on an uncomfortable topic.

Mac Engel, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @macengelprof

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