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Jewish World Review Sept. 7, 2004 / 21 Elul, 5764

Mitch Albom

Mitch Albom
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Consumer Reports

Kobe Bryant case really changes nothing | If you think this means the end of rape, forget it.

If you think this means the end of gold digging, forget that, too.

If you think the sudden vaporizing of the Kobe Bryant trial means young women will no longer wander starry-eyed into hotel rooms of athletes they just met, wake up.

And if you think NBA stars will be more careful about the women they cheat with on the road, well, there's some swampland in New Jersey we'd like to sell you.

The fact is, no behavior will change on either side of the star/groupie equation with the pathetic waste of time known as "the People of Colorado vs. Kobe Bean Bryant." Fourteen months of accusations, denials, rumors and lies, 14 months of stained underwear and vague former boyfriends, 14 months of "accidental" e-mails, paparazzi photographers and conflicting versions of the world's oldest act between men and women, and this is what it comes down to:

The woman wants to stop.

Wasn't that how the whole thing started?

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The decision to drop the case, according to Eagle County District Attorney Mark Hurlbert, "is not based on a lack of belief in the victim." No, it was based on lack of belief by the suspected victim. She didn't believe she could win. She didn't believe she could come through unscathed. Or she didn't believe anyone would believe her.

Who knows?

For all anyone can tell you today, Kobe Bryant truly did force himself on that young woman in that Colorado hotel room, grabbing her neck, treating her like his own personal pleasure machine, then humiliating her when it ended.

Or, for all anyone knows, the woman did indeed give Kobe "that look" he suggested to police, she encouraged his advances, she wanted to bed a star, and she left with a kiss and a smile on her face.

Since no criminal trial was held - and it seems unlikely there will ever be a civil trial, since those are about money and money can be exchanged right now, before either one of them is further embarrassed - courts of law will render no decision here. The only decision will be in your mind.

So may I put a concept in that mind, one that goes back a few minutes before the alleged rape took place. Go back to something they both agree on: that they went to the hotel room together, then flirted, laughed, hugged and kissed.

Where exactly did either one think that was going? Did married Kobe think they would just stop there and he wouldn't be doing anything wrong? Did the woman, then 19, think they would just cuddle for a while, and Kobe could become her new boyfriend, who'd visit when he was in town?

Come on. They both knew kissing 30 minutes into knowing one another is not going to end there and is never intended to end there. And anyone who thinks things were innocent until that moment is drunk with self-deception.

"I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter," Bryant said, in a scripted apology that was apparently quid pro quo for the woman dropping the case. "I want to apologize to her for my behavior that night."

Please. If he raped her, apologizing isn't enough. If he didn't, what's he apologizing for? Never mind that those words - issued only in print, conveniently avoiding any video record - ring about as true as a campaign promise. Both Kobe and the woman are apparently willing to let them stand as the official compromise.

And Hurlbert, the district attorney, looked as if he was going to cry when calling his now-departed key witness "an amazing woman." Come on. He should either have been apologizing for blowing the county's money, or criticizing the woman for demanding justice, then settling for a payout.

And don't think that isn't coming; if the glare of the spotlight were truly too much for her, she wouldn't keep up the civil trial, where she'll have to say every lurid thing she'd have said in the criminal version.

Money will change hands. Kobe will return to the court (the wooden kind). And in the end, the only thing we really witnessed here was how powerful the media spotlight remains, costing the woman every corner of her private life and costing Kobe millions in endorsement money. But that's hardly a new lesson, is it?

Last week, while this case was apparently collapsing, a Philadelphia woman charged that former NBA star Charles Barkley groped her at a strip club. The woman was identified as a "dancer" there. How a strip club dancer files for groping is one mystery. Why Barkley was in there is another. But here's the kicker: The woman now says she'll drop the charge if Barkley apologizes. Sound familiar?

So spare me any sentiment over the "cautionary tale" of Kobe Bryant. It was a colossal waste of time and breath. Nobody learned a thing.

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Comment on JWR contributor Mitch Albom's column by clicking here. You may purchase his latest book, "The Five People You Meet in Heaven", by clicking HERE. (Sales help fund JWR.)



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