Praying for secular heroes

Jerry Moore

News of Kobe Bryant’s death a week ago left two distinct audiences with contrasting sentiments.

Devoted fans of the former NBA player deeply mourned his loss. To them, Bryant was a superstar who had transcended the game. Athletes of his caliber don’t come around very often, and he had a public persona to match.

But members of a smaller demographic don’t want this outpouring of adulation to keep Bryant’s more menacing side hidden from view. What he is reported to have done to a young woman in 2003 is troubling, and this part of his life deserves consideration as well.

Bryant was accused of raping a 19-year-old employee of an Edwards, Colo., hotel. After checking in, he asked the woman to give him a tour of the facility. She said she was very excited to meet him.

They ended up alone in his room. He began kissing her, and she enjoyed it.

But things took an ugly turn at this point. The woman told police Bryant prevented her from leaving when she told him she didn’t want to have sex.

She said he began to take his clothes off and started groping her. She also said he grabbed her by the throat and choked her — not to where she couldn’t breathe but enough to frighten her into submission.

Bryant reportedly asked the woman several times if she was going to tell anyone what he was doing, and she said she wouldn’t. She said that he tightened his grip around her neck each time she responded.

The woman told police that Bryant then raped her. He warned her not to tell anyone what had happened, and she left.

Bryant lacked credibility when telling his side of the story. When questioned by police the following day, he denied several times that they had engaged in sex. But once officers told him that an examination of the woman provided a DNA sample, he finally confirmed the sexual encounter.

The physical evidence strongly supports the woman’s assertion. She had a bruise around her throat, and Bryant admitted he grabbed her by the neck. He told police this was how he and Michelle, a woman he was involved with, liked to have sex.

Medical personnel ruled that the woman had vaginal injuries consistent with non-consensual intercourse. These were said to have been inflicted within 24 hours prior to the examination.

And the woman’s blood was found on her underwear and on Bryant’s T-shirt. It’s obvious that Bryant was physically aggressive with her. His claim of consensual sex does not stand up to scrutiny.

Bryant was charged with sexual assault and false imprisonment. Then his attacks on the woman began again, this time to her reputation.

Members of his defense team started dragging her through the mud. They peddled stories about her previous problems with depression and suggested she was sexually promiscuous.

During the investigation, the woman said she had sex a few days before the incident with Bryant. His defense team said her vaginal injuries could have occurred then. But medical authorities said her injuries were too recent to have been inflicted before the encounter at the hotel.

Before the trial began, the woman said she wasn’t going to testify. She had already filed a lawsuit against Bryant, and it’s likely that she realized what hell she would confront in the criminal proceedings. Prosecutors dropped their case.

Bryant issued a peculiar statement when the charges were dismissed. He maintained his innocence but said he better understood her side of the story:

“Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter.”

Bryant tried to have it both ways. He wouldn’t go on record as admitting to being a rapist, but he wanted to appear sympathetic to the woman’s suffering as a rape victim. It’s like he become an independent observer offering insights on the situation.

Of course, this is utter nonsense. If he acknowledged her contention that she didn’t consent, then he must conclude that she didn’t consent. Ergo, he sexually assaulted this woman.

Bryant eventually settled the lawsuit with the woman. He regained his sparkling image and retired from the NBA in 2016 as one of the most popular athletes around.

Many of his fans want to sweep the 2003 rape allegation under the rug. Some protested bitterly when other people referenced the incident following his death.

This is unfortunate. It’s this need to worship icons that encourages superstars to commit atrocities and enables them to avoid accountability.

People with remarkable talents in the fields of sports and entertainment are placed on pedestals as they rise to fame. They begin to believe the lies we tell them that they are god-like and deserve anything they desire.

So they begin taking what they want regardless of whom it hurts along the way. And when people who have been hurt rock the boat, they are often pushed aside.

Our most popular cultural figures must remain with as few blemishes as possible. Even after their deaths, we keep the myths about them alive.

Monique Currie, a former player in the WNBA, lauded Bryant’s efforts to promote women’s sports. Speaking on the BBC’s “Beyond 100 Days” program, she also acknowledged that people shouldn’t ignore the controversy surrounding his 2003 criminal case. She said Bryant admitted “he wasn’t perfect” and that he “learned from his mistakes.”

It’s good that Currie dealt more honestly with Bryant’s past than many other fans. But she minimized the brutality of his behavior, and this contributes to how sexual assault victims are marginalized.

First of all, what Bryant did was not a “mistake.” The sex that resulted wasn’t committed in error.

He intended to force himself upon the woman and torment her into submission. He wanted to demean, dominate and violate her in the most egregious way imaginable. This was a violent crime that stemmed from a vicious mindset.

Bryant can’t be credited with taking responsibility. While he apologized to the woman, he never confessed to raping her. Good people hold themselves accountable and work to overcome their flaws — but this can’t happen if they deny that any flaws exist.

If Bryant learned anything, it was how to remain popular in the public eye after behaving reprehensibly. Sadly, our cult-like devotion to celebrities continually makes this possible.

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to jmoore@wdt.net.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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(17) comments

zeitgeist

I'm not going to bet that sports enthusiasts, under the spell of selective vision and willful blindness, will come around. Their fervor is too complicated. Identities are at stake. Their cult-like devotion and problems are personal. Forget bringing them around to truth and decency. (I hope they come around.) Go at the "structures and systems"-- the sports associations, teams, corporate sponsors, legislators, law enforcement, etc. When they change things, things will change. Then, the deranged sports enthusiasts can come around or not.

One thing about Kobe. Yes, his public life entailed safely navigating his alleged crime. Doesn't seem right or fair. But he had a private life, too. Vanessa. With her, his navigating never ended, never provided a fix, never made her forget, never moved her to believe in his innocence, and never removed the burden of betrayal he imposed on her. If you want Kobe to pay for his alleged crime, you'll have to settle for the way he paid for it in his private life.

rdsouth

I don't really follow sports, but I remember hearing about this incident in the news way back and wondering what happened to it, then hearing in recent news about the same guy having a great career and being widely admired for his phenomenal talent and ability--with no mention at all of his incident. I figured it must have been disproven, otherwise how could he have been forgiven. But that's sports for you. Winning is all that matters, and you win by being hard charging and strong. Let's all think the sports way. By worshiping sports we are literally worshiping power and aggression devoid of any real redeeming moral features. Sure, celebrity privilege exists in other fields, but a great musician's ability being paired with an immoral personality is a random thing. In sports they're part of the same package. Does aggression and athletic ability have a necessary role to play, one rehearsed for and contextualized by participation in sports? Yes, but idolizing it is putting it in the wrong place.

Holmes

People after death can’t harm anyone and it is general culture not to speak bad about them. I was taught that it is immoral to talk negatively about a deceased person...

Holmes -- the real one

What were you taught about respect for living people?

Nice_Commenter

Aren't you the Trump supporter? Trump trashes John McCain and other dead people all the time.

Airball55

There is our Holmes. As usual finding a way to insert trump. And we all wonder why he keeps gaining in popularity. Bryant was guilty...but celebrities get special treatment. Been that way forever

hermit thrush

what we actually all wonder is why your comments are so full of factual inaccuracies. trump does not keep gaining in popularity. his favorability ratings have been the most stable since the advent of modern polling. sometimes the numbers wiggle down a little bit, sometimes they wiggle up a little, but the overall story is that there's barely any change. he's the most consistently unpopular president we have numbers for.

Holmes

‘Approval ratings’ ask how that worked out for President Hillary Clinton. Read it and weep!

hermit thrush

what a ridiculous response!

Holmes -- the real one

Oh dear, Airball55 --

And we all wonder just where you get the ideas you put forth in these comments.

As hermit thrush already stated, you needn't wonder about Trump's "popularity" -- it's not increasing at all. Further, many of those who formerly supported him are now getting tired of all of his lies.

I do realize that, for some, telling lies is a way of life.

Nobody should get a pass on heinous behavior. But I guess you're in the, "...when you're a star, they just let you do it...." camp.

Holmes

Keep telling yourself that. Democrats can’t fill a Starbucks, Trump gets 175,000 requests for the NJ rally. Yep, popularity is decreasing.

hermit thrush

real holmes didn't say trump's popularity is decreasing. it's simply staying flat. read it and weep: https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/trump-approval-ratings/

Holmes

‘The Real One’ that is.

Scoot24

I agree that Bryant was guilty and shouldn't be placed on a pedestal after this tragedy but where are you getting the Trump comment? Sounds to me like you are the one who can't get the president out of your mind.

Nice_Commenter

Trump regularly trashed John McCain, after Mr. McCain's death. I am guessing Fox News doesn't tell you that.

Scoot24

I'm not sure, I don't watch fox or any other main stream news network. They are all trash that tailor the news to fit their narrative. Yes Trump did say some derogatory things about Sen. McCain after he died. I don't condone that either. My only point was that this is a tragedy and families lost a part of them but should Kobe be put on a pedestal they way he has? Mourn his loss and consider how bad his family must feel. Period.

Holmes -- the real one

This "turning villains into icons" thing seems to be a local trend.

Now, there does seem to be some evidence that Bryant at least attempted to turn his life around, although it didn't appear to include any effort at personal responsibility or attention to that matter of conscience. But Jerry gets it right here when he says, "Good people hold themselves accountable and work to overcome their flaws — but this can’t happen if they deny that any flaws exist."

Apparently some North Country folks prefer a more challenging feat of denial regarding their favorite icon.

https://cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/191127220236-donald-trump-rocky-photoshop-moos-pkg.jpg

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