Did the University of Oregon cover up a gang rape involving three student athletes in order to maintain a positive relationship with their biggest donor, Phil Knight? That’s what Joshua Hunt is claiming in his new book University of Nike: How Corporate Cash Bought American Higher Education. Hunt is coming to Grass Roots Books and Music on October 24 for a meet the author event.
Hunt was inspired to write University of Nike when he was living in Portland and investigating a freelance assignment from The New York Times. The story was about a student at the University of Oregon who reported being raped by three of the school’s basketball players. According to Hunt, the incident was swept under the rug by university administrators, the public relations department, and campus police. The players were allowed to transfer without any damaging paperwork following them.
“It was hard for me to imagine a university doing less to protect its students from campus sexual assault, or to help seek justice for those students who had been sexually assaulted,” said Hunt.
He continued, “When I looked for reasons that might explain why the school would privilege protecting its student athletes and its brand over the safety of the campus community, all signs pointed toward an obsession with preserving its lucrative relationship with Nike.”
There were a lot of questions that Hunt wanted answered, ultimately leading him to write the book.
“I realized I had the opportunity to tell a story that hadn’t really been told before — a story about what happens when taxpayers give up on their public institutions, and what it means for them to be effectively taken over by for-profit interests,” he said.
In order to research the book, Hunt spent years looking through university archives, writing public records requests, interviewing sources, and scrutinizing thousands of pages of documents ranging from lawsuits to investor conference call transcripts to old newspaper articles. He worked with a student newspaper reporter named Jonathan Hawthorne to access university archives. Hunt says he also spoke to current and former university employees, often on the condition of anonymity, given the sensitive nature of the information.
Hunt had previously lived in Oregon and was familiar with Eugene.
“In the past, Eugene had struck me as a rather quiet college town, filled with young hippies and older blue-collar types. And somewhere along the way it had become Niketown, U.S.A. That transformation fascinated me,” he said.
Hunt intends to reach as many readers as possible with his new book, and he realizes his Corvallis trip has plenty of meaning.
“I’d be perfectly happy if the Civil War rivalry brings out some Beavers fans who are looking for a book that will give them a few more reasons to root against the Ducks. This book will certainly do that,” he said.
Grass Roots Books and Music will host a meet the author event on October 24, starting at 7 p.m. University of Nike will be available for purchase at Grass Roots and through online retailers such as Powell’s Books.
By Jonah Anderson