Some things just make you sick, physically ill. You listen and watch, partly because you cannot escape it and partly because it is like a car wreck, you cannot help but look. You watch even though you know exactly how it is going to play out, exactly what is going to happen. You know and it makes you sick. You long for the days when the biggest problem was when the Major League Baseball All-Star Game ended in a tie or when the world was aghast at cork in someone's baseball bat. Sports is supposed to be an escape from the horrors of the real world. Sports is supposed to be an oasis. Sports is supposed to be fun. There is nothing fun about sexual assault, alleged or otherwise.
National Basketball Association superstar Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers has been charged with one count of felony sexual assault resulting from an encounter with a young woman in Eagle Creek Colorado the week before the Fourth of July weekend. The woman in question is a 19-year-old employee of the hotel at which Bryant stayed and is a member of the local community.
From the moment this story broke, the storyline was almost predictable. We know Kobe Bryant, or at least think we do, and we do not know her. Bryant is known is sports circles as a "nice guy." He has had no controversy attached to his name, is considered a class act, and is one of the best players in the league. In fact, the only knock on Bryant to date has been his lack of "street cred," the dangerous quality that creates anti-heroes such as fellow basketball player Allen Iverson and moves product, which in these cases is usually basketball gear. Because of his reputation, Bryant received the benefit of the doubt. He released no statements in the days following his arrest, before formal charges were filed, but the airwaves were filled with anyone with even a remote connection to Bryant extolling his virtues. "Kobe is not this kind of guy," "Kobe would never do something like this," "This is not the kind of person Kobe is." The defense of Kobe was followed by hints and allegations that this is just another example of a young woman, a "gold digger," trying to extort money from a famous celebrity. These guys are targets, we are told, and the groupies that hang around professional athletes see them only as potential paydays.
When Bryant finally spoke in public about the situation, at a press conference on the day charges were filed, he appeared hand-in-hand with his wife. He tearfully explained that while he was guilty of adultery, he did not assault this woman and the sex was consensual. His wife also voiced her support for his innocence. The main defense of Bryant at this point is, "You guys know me. I wouldn't do this." The tear filled press conference was in stark contrast to the laughing and smiling good time he and his wife had two days earlier at the ESPY Award show.
The "Kobe as victim" phase easily segued into tearing down the alleged victim, or according to the spin control from Bryant's people, the accuser. She tried out for American Idol, so obviously she wants to be famous. She went to his hotel room on her own, so obviously she knew what was going to happen. She may have attempted suicide a few months ago due to a bitter break-up and the death of a close friend, so obviously she is a little off in the head. Although past behavior cannot be brought into the actual trial, anything goes in the court of public opinion. This is when I start to get sick.
While Bryant sat in the audience at the ESPYs and laughed at Jamie Foxx's jokes, the alleged victim avoided any contact with the media. For a publicity hound, she has been remarkably absent in face and name from any news stories concerning the incident. The media has respected her wishes to remain anonymous, unfortunately however many websites out there have not followed suit and have posted her name, photo, address, phone number, and email. Her friends have tried to tell her side of the story, as best as they could, but in some ways they have also hurt her, as the details they have provided on her alleged suicide attempt has given ammunition to those that wish to discredit the alleged victim.
We are all innocent until proven guilty and perhaps in my disdain for the attacks upon his alleged victim I have prejudged Bryant. Until his day in court Bryant should be considered innocent. The coming months will not be much better for Bryant, because once the digging for dirt begins, it is only a matter of time before the dig turns to his backyard. At this point, however, we should not pretend that we know Kobe Bryant. The only Kobe we know is the Kobe the NBA, the Lakers, and his agent/publicist has let us see. We know as much about Kobe as we do his alleged victim. There is no reason to give Kobe the benefit of the doubt based upon his ability to play basketball.
In the year 2001, there were 249,000 victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault. Chances are you know someone who has been through this trauma. According to the website for the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, only 39% are reported to police and blame for that lies squarely on us as a society. We have not created an atmosphere where victims feel comfortable coming forward, and for that we should feel ashamed. If you were a girl sitting at home, having been the victim of a sexual assault, and you turned on the television or radio and heard people tearing apart the girl in this case, what would you do?
Who knows what will happen in this case. The only thing is that it will not be pretty to watch. If Bryant is guilty, than not only is he a rapist, but we have all assisted him in tearing apart a young girl's life. If Bryant is innocent, and it is the girl who has not been honest, than not only has she falsely accused someone of one of the worst crimes imaginable, but she has made it that much harder for real victims of sexual assault to come forward and be believed. This case has many months and many allegations before it will be over. This is the world of sports we do not like, when it moves off the court and playing field and collides with the real world outside. This is the world of sports that makes us sick.
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