Larry Elder
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Last week, the Eagle County, Colorado, district attorney charged Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant with felony sexual assault -- rape. The penalty ranges from probation to life imprisonment.

However this turns out -- and Bryant remains innocent until proven guilty -- the matter again reminds us of the danger in calling people we don't know -- actors, athletes, and others -- "role models."

After the sexual assault arrest, but before the charge, Bryant issued a statement. "When everything comes clean," he said, "it will all be fine, you'll see. . . . But you guys know me, I shouldn't have to say anything. You know I would never do something like that." The statement, while not specific, certainly implied not only innocence of sexual assault, but innocence of immoral behavior. "You guys know me," he said. Apparently not well enough.

But after the charge, Bryant, his wife and his lawyers held a press conference, where he admitted committing adultery. "I'm sitting here in front of you guys . . . furious at myself, disgusted at myself for making the mistake of adultery," Bryant told the media.

Los Angeles Times sportswriter J.A. Adande wrote, "If there was one thing I always felt confident in saying about Bryant, it was that we wouldn't see his name pop up in the police blotter. I also put him among the least likely of the NBA players to commit adultery. He once became angry with me when I joked that his fidelity would be severely tested if he ever went to Brazil. 'I would never cheat on my wife,' he said, and he left in a huff." And another L.A. Times sportswriter, Bill Plaschke, wrote, "He was a man who was consistently proactive about fidelity. He was a man who would scold those who even jokingly suggested that he look at other women."

Thus, Bryant's fall, again, no matter how the case turns out, appears steep -- the besmirching of his reputation for fidelity and integrity. Heavy, for he appeared to have everything -- looks, youth, fame, money, but more than that -- sterling character. Upon the birth of his daughter, he called it a happier event than any of his Lakers' championships.

What if, many say, Bryant's accuser falsely accused him, seeking fame and fortune? Perhaps.

But consider this: Her life and family now become fodder for an ever aggressive, increasingly intrusive media. She now pits herself against not only Kobe Bryant and his millions, but the Los Angeles Lakers, the NBA, and millions of Bryant's fans who, no matter what evidence the D.A. may possess, refuse to believe the charges.

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Larry Elder

Larry Elder is a best-selling author and radio talk-show host. To find out more about Larry Elder, or become an "Elderado," visit www.LarryElder.com.