Remember When Kobe Bryant Was Charged With Rape? I Didn't Forget, and Neither Should You
Lauded by Hollywood and the media for his last game, the Lakers star — and a slew of fellow male A-listers including NFL stars Ben Roethlisberger and Greg Hardy — exemplifies a double standard about verbal versus physical harm.
This story first appeared in the May 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Like many, I followed the Kobe Bryant adulation tour that led up to his final game April 13. Unlike many, I was focused on why such homage was being paid to this particular man. Of course, as a Lakers season-ticket holder for the first seven seasons of his career, I'm well aware of what a great player Kobe was. He also was, in my opinion, and that of many others, guilty of rape.
According to court documents, the facts of the June 30, 2003, incident to which I refer are that Bryant showed up at the Cordillera Spa in Edwards, Colo., ahead of a knee surgery. A 19-year-old female concierge brought Kobe to his room. He asked her to return later to give him a tour of the hotel. She did so. At the end of the tour, he asked her to enter his room. She did. She said there was flirtation and consensual kissing. When he began groping her, she said, she tried to get away. He grabbed her by the neck, and she feared for her life. He bent her over a chair and removed her panties. She said twice that she begged him to stop but he penetrated her anyway. She left about five minutes later. Her clothes were messed up. She was upset. There was blood on her panties and on his shirt. That blood matched her DNA.
She told a friend at the hotel about the incident, and he drove her home. She told her mother. The next day, she went to the police. She was examined in a hospital, and a nurse recorded that she had a bruise on her neck and lacerations on her vaginal wall. The nurse deemed the lacerations to be evidence of rape. Charges were filed, and the case followed a predictable path: Lawyers were hired, the defendant claimed sex was consensual, the victim was portrayed by the defense as a mentally ill slut who just wanted to be famous, another woman who said that the defendant did the same thing to her refused to testify after seeing how the victim was smeared, the victim received a settlement and didn't testify, and the criminal case was dropped.
Ahead of Kobe's last game, I asked three friends if they weren't uncomfortable with how he was being portrayed as a hero, given what happened in 2003. I received a couple of shrugs and a "That was a long time ago." Well, I guess our society thinks that certain transgressions by celebrities can be forgiven. What's perplexing is the contrast between which wrongs are and aren't forgivable. Based on what I've read, I believe Kobe most probably raped a woman and still was paid $26 million in 2015 by Nike, Hublot, Panini Authentic, Turkish Airlines and others to endorse their products; Ben Roethlisberger was accused of raping two women and still made more than $35 million for one year as an NFL quarterback; Greg Hardy certainly beat the shit out of his ex-girlfriend and was signed to play defensive end for the Dallas Cowboys; Jameis Winston was sued for the rape of a student at FSU and didn't even break stride to the NFL (having watched the victim's recounting of events, I believe her). Both R. Kelly and Michael Jackson were accused of sexual misconduct, yet the former still is performing and the latter practically has been deified.
But what isn't forgiven? Killing someone? Nope, Ray Lewis was accused of that, pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and now is an NFL analyst for ESPN. Donte Stallworth killed a pedestrian while driving drunk and played the next year. So violence, especially against women, can be excused. On the other hand, making ugly racist remarks cannot. Donald Sterling is banned from the NBA. Mel Gibson has no career. Anyone seen Michael Richards lately? Interestingly, nasty remarks about gay people can be forgiven. In fact, it seems you can't be elected governor of a Southern state without being a homophobe. Kobe, the role model, called a ref a "faggot." He apologized, paid a fine, and it was like it never happened.
I'm not in any way excusing the aforementioned bigotry. Sterling and Gibson got what they deserved. But why is it that saying certain awful things can end a celebrity's career but committing violence doesn't? Doing evil things is unquestionably worse than saying evil things, right? Part of it may be that a recording of one's words can't be denied, but in most rape cases, it comes down to "he said, she said," and in the court of public opinion, the default position seems to always be in favor of what "he said." Again, I'm not talking about women being offended by boorish comments about a pubic hair on a can of Coke, or whatever. I'm talking about someone being forcibly penetrated against her will. And, in most of these notorious cases that are forgiven, there is physical evidence and witnesses and a fact pattern that corroborates the allegation.
Most celebrities, especially sports stars, have been treated as special since they were young. So why is it more believable that a woman would try to entrap a celebrity by saying consensual sex wasn't consensual and less believable that a celebrity would use his superior size and strength to inflict himself on a woman? The answer is that it isn't more believable. Yet when society makes a judgment about these situations, it finds in favor of the accused. And the only reason this can be true is misogyny: The mind-set that a woman entering a famous man's room, and maybe kissing him, has given license to that man to rape her.
If we really want to reduce the incidents of violence against women, we need to first accept that in the vast majority of accusations of rape, as studies have shown, the accusers aren't lying. And second, if the facts strongly suggest that a celebrity has committed a rape, we can't just forget what they did and go to their games and buy their jerseys and the sports drinks they promote. Because if you wanted to encourage a culture of rape, the best way to do so would be to endorse and honor the most visible members of society who have been accused of rape.
Gavin Polone is a producer and director and a regular contributor to The Hollywood Reporter.