Jewish World Review Sept. 3, 2004 / 17 Elul, 5764

Leonard Pitts, Jr.

Leonard Pitts, Jr.
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What's the moral to the Kobe Bryant story? | This will be the first thing I've written about the Kobe Bryant trial -- passing references aside - in over a year.

I put a moratorium on Kobe columns after writing two such pieces, which suggested to me in hindsight that this was the rare subject on which maybe I didn't know my own mind. Bryant was a guy I admired, playing for a team -- the Lakers -- I've followed since 1979. Now he stood accused of raping a 19-year-old hotel worker in Eagle, Colo., so I wrote a column defending him. When he confessed to adultery, I wrote another, backpedaling.

It made me wonder whether and to what degree my affection for the player and the franchise had compromised my ability to fairly analyze this case. So I decided to keep my mouth shut until it was over.

Which was Wednesday. Prosecutors dropped charges against Bryant just days before trial was to begin. District Attorney Mark Hurlbert said the woman who claims Bryant assaulted her was now unwilling to go through with the ordeal of testifying against him.

In one sense, her reticence is understandable. She's had death threats from people outraged that she accused the young basketball star of rape.

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But surely her decision also factored in the realization that taking the stand meant facing another kind of ordeal. Meaning, she'd have been required to explain forensic evidence which seemed to indicate that she had sex with another man in the hours after the incident with Bryant. It's behavior that seems, in the most charitable interpretation, inconsistent with a claim of rape.

Meantime, the woman's civil suit is pending. And what does it tell you that she can't find it in herself to testify in criminal court where the objective is justice, but she "is" strong enough to do so in civil court where the objective is money?

Bryant, meantime, issued a curious statement in which he apologized to the woman. While reiterating that he still believes -- interesting word -- the "encounter between us was consensual," he conceded that she sincerely holds the opposite view. In other words, I understand that you think you were raped.

So ends the case of the People v. Kobe Bean Bryant and, with it, my self-imposed silence. I've spent most of that time watching other people try to frame a moral to the story. None seems to fit.

For many observers, this was about male entitlement, a star jock forcing himself upon a helpless young woman, then lying about it. But those same observers seemed loath to admit that sometimes women lie too, and that if it is humiliating to be raped, it is no picnic to be falsely accused of rape. After all, the supposed victim here is no fount of credibility.

For others, the story's moral was about women panning for gold in men's wallets and the vulnerability of men -- particularly rich and famous men -- to their machinations and lies. Those observers seemed equally reluctant to admit that sometimes men -- particularly rich and famous men -- treat women like candy in a candy store. There is a sense of blithe entitlement, a preening belief that every woman wants them and every no is just a prelude to yes. And, rapist or not, maybe Bryant was a man exactly like that.

Finally, there is that old bugaboo, fame, as symbolized by those clowns who felt so connected to a man they didn't know that they allegedly threatened the life of his accuser. They are fools, and in that, they are different in degree of fanaticism but not in essential kind, from people like yours truly, unable to disconnect a fan's distant admiration from a subconscious belief that I know this guy and he could never do such a thing.

Turns out I don't. And maybe he could.

We'll never know. Maybe, when it comes to lives other than our own, we never truly can.

As a moral to the story, that works just fine for me.

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