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.
The Orange County Register reported that two months ago the alleged victim nearly OD'd on pills because of anguish over the break-up with her boyfriend. And, already, one can find her picture and name on the Internet.
Bryant, given his wealth, youth, looks and fame, stands as a magnet for women seeking to shake him down for money. True, a woman falsely accused former Dallas Cowboys stars Erik Williams and Michael Irvin, claiming Williams raped her while Irvin videotaped the alleged crime. The allegations proved baseless. But, in this case, Eagle County District Attorney Mark Hurlbert claims to possess solid physical and testimonial evidence, sufficient, he says, to prove his case beyond a reasonable doubt. Again, we know little until a trial -- assuming the matter goes that far.
The news networks scrambled to break "news." Fox's Greta Van Susteren, in one of the more bizarre interviews, landed a "friend of Kobe Bryant's," an attractive young lady, with whom Bryant had a relationship lasting all of two months. The "friend" attested to Bryant's good character, but Van Susteren struggled to determine how the relationship started:
Greta Van Susteren: How did you meet him?
Jamieka Williams: It was after a basketball game at the Forum in Inglewood . . .
Van Susteren: How do you actually meet a basketball player at the Forum?
Williams: We just saw each other and started talking -- exchanged numbers and started talking from there.
Van Susteren: When you say you -- when you saw him, I mean I assume he was playing basketball?
Williams: No. This was after the game.
Van Susteren: All right. But I mean it's like . . . were people hanging around after the game? I mean I'm -- I don't understand.
Williams: I'm pretty sure, but I was able to meet him and we exchanged numbers.
Van Susteren: How -- I mean where do you -- how do you happen to even like have eye contact because, usually after the game, they go into the locker room and -- they leave the court?
Wiliams: Yes. But it -- it was after the game.
Van Susteren: And was it inside the Forum? . . .
Williams: Yes, it was -- it may have been near -- I'm trying to think if it was near the tunnel or -- it was outside possibly . . .
Oh. And the trial hasn't even started yet.