Vanessa Bryant deserves admiration, not contempt

Posted: Jul 29, 2003 12:00 AM

Vanessa Bryant, wife of basketball superstar Kobe Bryant, has publicly defended her husband, who is charged with raping a 19-year-old woman. At a press conference she held her husband's hand and defended him as a good man who had erred by committing adultery, but was not a rapist.

She has received a great deal of contempt from the media and public for her public defense of her husband.

The headline of Bill Williamson's NBC Sports column, for example, reads: "Vanessa Bryant shouldn't stand by her man."

"She has been made a fool of, and now must go along for the ride with her embattled husband.

"Yes, she is standing by her man. The question is why? It is not her duty. It is not her job.

"The saddest part of Friday night's made-for-TV event is how meek and willing to play along Vanessa Bryant appeared.

"Does she really think that the father of her infant daughter who, at the very least cheated on her, is a great person?"

Such sentiments can be found in papers and on radio talk shows around the country.

I disagree with these sentiments. Of course, a married person having sexual intercourse with someone other than his or her spouse has committed a serious sin. But I admire Vanessa Bryant's loyalty and hope that she stays with her husband.

The issue is an enormously important one, far more significant than the fate of any one couple. How a woman should react to the sexual infidelity of her husband is, unfortunately, an issue that millions of women have had and will have to deal with.

Many angry women and many sanctimonious men heap abuse on women who stand by their adulterous husbands. But if these women and men were to think more rationally and with more decency, they would either keep their opinions to themselves or just wish struggling couples well.

I have no idea how many men have been sexually unfaithful to their wives. And I am certain that no one knows, since people lie to pollsters about almost everything, and especially about sex. But the number is probably not small.

One reason is that for nearly all men, unlike nearly all women, the sexual drive to variety must be fought constantly. Moreover, and again utterly unlike females, males are sexually aroused by their eyes -- not only by their minds or their hearts as with nearly all women, but by sight alone. Furthermore, given the superficial nature of men's sex drive, the sex act for almost any man can be utterly devoid of any human, emotional, intellectual or romantic meaning.

That is why a wife can understand -- not excuse, but understand -- that her husband can be a good man and slip up. Saints never weaken, men sometimes do. That is why some men who love their wives with all their hearts, who devote their lives to responsibly taking care of a wife and family for years, can without thinking (not to mention without love or a desire to hurt their wife) have sex with another woman one night.

A woman who leaves her marriage solely because her husband was sexually unfaithful is most likely making a grievous error. Such women should speak to the women who have called my radio show when I have discussed this subject, to tell me how profoundly they regret having ended their marriages solely because their husband had an affair. (I hold the same position regarding men leaving their marriage solely because of their wife's affair, but most women's affairs are far more emotionally involved, and

therefore marriage-threatening.) Years later, alone and with their family now forever broken, these women realize that their heart ("he betrayed me") and their pride ("no man is going to do that to me and get away with it"), not their mind ("my good man made a terrible error") or their values (marriage and family and forgiveness are infinitely better choices than divorce), led them to mistakenly end their marriages.

Vanessa Bryant, if your man is a good man and you love him, stay with him. We need more marriage in America, not more angry divorces. Especially in the NBA.