Friday, October 10, 2003Audiences just love to watch their heroes fall, and be exposed for the ordinary, fallible - even low - humans that they can really be, like the rest of us. We've seen it time and time again: President Nixon. Oliver North. Bill Clinton. O.J. Simpson. Martha Stewart. Rush Limbaugh.
What about Kobe Bryant? The athlete we used to believe a good role model and a gentleman, who is facing a rather severe fall from public grace with a rape charge? This one is going to be a hard call. By his own admission, Bryant did have sexual relations with the young woman, so there isn't the element of "it wasn't me."
Bruises and hospital photos notwithstanding, it is unfortunately mainly a case of he-said-said, of his-word-against-hers: Bryant's current predicament illustrates nothing so clearly as that two strangers making foolish assumptions about each other can have dangerous public consequences.
If Bryant did indeed not stop when his accuser said "no," and proceeded to have sex with the woman using force, then he is by definition, guilty of rape. The courts should punish him accordingly, regardless of his superstar NBA status, and the so-called "mutual flirtation" that occurred before the woman accepted his invitation to come up to his hotel room.
But if Bryant is guilty of rape, both he and the woman he raped are also both guilty of major-league poor judgement. It wouldn't be the first time that happened when a superstar athlete meets a starry-eyed fan. Having private bedrooms nearby only makes the situation easier to fall into.
I'd want to ask both of them: what the hell were you thinking?
To the young woman: What were you thinking when you accepted an invitation by a complete stranger to come up to his hotel room? You may think you "know" this famous NBA star you've seen cheered by millions on national TV - and certainly, catching his eye and attention must have been quite exciting at the moment. You must have felt quite special just then.
But the problem was, you didn't know him.
Would you have made the same choice if he was any other handsome, charming stranger you'd met minutes before at your job? Would you have taken the chance of going up to his room, and allowing him to kiss and touch you? But he seemed like such a nice guy.
Honey, they usually do. You took a real gamble that night in Colorado, and you bet wrong. That was naive.
To Bryant: What were you thinking when you began to get physical with this girl you'd just met? If she said "stop," why didn't you? Think of everything you had to lose in that moment when you decided to keep going. If you did use force, crossing the line over the legal threshold of rape, were you gambling on the assumption she would keep her mouth shut afterwards - or, if she did report you, that no one would believe her? Surely a millionaire NBA star's word carries more weight than a young, small-town hotel employee's, right?
Were your reputation, your marriage, your stardom and lucrative product endorsement deals worth that "five minutes"? That, too, was naive. Very naive.
The entire sorry mess will be a money machine for the media covering the trial, and for the lawyers. But regardless of the verdict, neither the plaintiff or the defendant will "win" anything. Bryant loses his gentlemanly "shine," and stands to lose some of his money, or his freedom. Maybe even more.
She has already lost something that even a guilty verdict can't return.