This week, drinking wine in a hotel room in New Jersey, Allan and I were pleased to discover that the Red Sox were on the ESPN Wednesday night game. A nice treat, or it would have been, if the announcing team (which included one of my most disliked announcers ever) had been able to stop talking about basketball long enough to call the game.
The game was often broadcast in a little box, while we were treated to the important news that hundreds of fans had gathered outside the Staples Centre in Los Angeles. (So many things wrong with that sentence!) Gee, if only ESPN had some other stations so it could broadcast a baseball game in its entirety while still reporting on the earth-shattering news from L.A.
The news that interrupted our baseball game? Kobe Bryant's final game. So I'm thinking, Kobe Bryant, Kobe Bryant, don't I know something else about him... When my memory finally kicked in, I asked Allan, "Kobe, isn't he a rapist?"
Indeed he is. Recapping Bryant's storied career, ESPN made no mention of this, not even to note that Bryant has been "the subject of controversy" or some-such euphemism. Yesterday they remedied that omission. From Deadspin: ESPN Asks How Kobe Bryant Being Credibly Accused Of Rape Affected Kobe Bryant.
That's only slightly sarcastic. From Think Progress:
During the program, ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne — who has been spending time with Kobe during his final days as a player — said she had a “strange” and “provocative” take on the rape charges against him. She did not disappoint.And from the Onion, from some years back: College Basketball Star Heroically Overcomes Tragic Rape He Committed.
Shelburne said that being charge with rape “freed” Kobe to “tap into the darker side of himself.” He was then able to “channel all of that rage and fear on to the basketball court,” according to Shelburne.
The comments fit a troubling pattern of ignoring the alleged victim and focusing on the impact the charges had on Bryant, his endorsements and his on-court performance.
"It was traumatic for him. I think that is the right word," Shelburne concluded.
"Traumatic for all concerned we should say, not just Kobe Bryant. There was a woman on the other side," Storm reminded Shelburne before quickly changing the topic.
* * * *
In case you are of the opinion that a rapist is no longer a rapist unless he's convicted in a court of law, please be aware that only the tiniest fraction of sexual assaults are ever prosecuted, and of those, few result in conviction. (For example, see the infographic here.)
In the Kobe Bryant rape case, there was a substantial amount of evidence against the basketball star. The victim/survivor declined to testify, and if you've learned anything from the Jian Ghomeshi case, you can imagine why. The victim did bring a separate, civil suit against Bryant, which (of course) was settled out of court. Bryant's public statement included this:
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.And in case you think that media should only focus on Bryant's basketball career, and not mention his rape career, I'd ask you to read or listen to any of the recent media pieces fawning over Bryant and see if they mention anything that isn't purely basketball. I can guarantee they do.
To make the point more eloquently, I give you Deadspin. I thank them for this article, especially the closing paragraph.
When a sports event becomes so big that it produces a flood of coverage, as Kobe Bryant’s season-long goodbye tour has, it’s easy for pundits and reporters to end up in awkward positions simply by virtue of having had to say so much for so long about one thing.
The conversation is even more likely to go sideways when the story in question involves something serious, like a rape investigation. That’s how we ended up with ESPN anchor Hannah Storm and NBA reporter Ramona Shelburne having a very odd conversation on SportsCenter today.
It’s exceedingly strange to suggest that being accused of rape ultimately “freed” Kobe Bryant to become the Black Mamba—a character in Nike commercials and a vicious, selfish shooter—not just because it implicitly paints Bryant, rather than his accuser, as the main principal or victim here, but also because the Black Mamba is nothing more than a branding initiative, a piece of fiction that really doesn’t have any connection to something as grave as a rape allegation.
The Black Mamba comes up, strangely, in the context of Storm and Shelburne talking about how Bryant being accused of rape affected his career and fictional persona. This makes the question of whether or not Bryant raped a woman serve the same function as his rivalry with Shaq, or the development of his post game, and draws a connection between Bryant having been accused of rape and Bryant having, subsequently, come into his athletic prime. As if to heighten the absurdity of the conversation, Shelburne and Storm seamlessly transition from discussing the rape case to a lighthearted bit about whether Bryant will cry tonight.
The fact that Kobe Bryant was accused of rape should absolutely be brought up when talking about him, but it should not be spoken about in vague terms or swept up in the mythologizing of Bryant as a player. Kobe Bryant was once accused of raping a 19-year-old woman in a Colorado hotel room. The criminal case was dropped after the accuser refused to testify. Bryant eventually settled a civil suit with her. None of this has anything to do with basketball.