Why The Fuck Isn’t Kobe Bryant A Pariah Yet?

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Photo: Christopher Polk (Getty)

Did you hear? Kobe Bryant is a body-care guru now. Partnering with a pair of business-bro whipdicks and a smattering of pro athletes, including NBA MVP James Harden, he’s launching a line of beauty products for athletes and men who want to pretend they are athletes. Here’s a link to an article about it from Women’s Wear Daily, a fashion trade publication. The article refers to Bryant as a basketball legend, a world-class athlete, a celebrity of sport, and a five-time NBA champ. Somehow it never mentions that he is also an accused rapist who avoided a criminal trial verdict by bullying his accuser into silence. Maybe they ran out of column inches. And maybe so did ESPN and Sports Illustrated and everybody else, too.

Remember that shit? The world seems to have forgotten along the way to facilitating Bryant’s total public rehabilitation. On the night of July 1, 2003, Bryant choked a 19-year-old employee of the Eagle, Colorado hotel where he was staying (hard enough to leave bruises on her neck), bent her over a chair, and drew blood during the ensuing sex act. By the end of the night, she’d told a coworker that Bryant had forced himself on her; by the end of the next day he’d been contacted by local police. During the resulting criminal investigation, Bryant did not deny the encounter; he didn’t deny choking her; he even admitted he’d never asked for her consent, claiming to have inferred it from her body language. When it was all over—that is, after Bryant’s lawyers intimidated the woman out of the courtroom by reframing the forensic evidence to suggest that she was a lying slut—he even apologized for it, more or less:

First, I want to apologize directly to the young woman involved in this incident. I want to apologize to her for my behavior that night and for the consequences she has suffered in the past year. Although this year has been incredibly difficult for me personally, I can only imagine the pain she has had to endure. I also want to apologize to her parents and family members, and to my family and friends and supporters, and to the citizens of Eagle, Colo.

I also want to make it clear that I do not question the motives of this young woman. No money has been paid to this woman. She has agreed that this statement will not be used against me in the civil case. 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.

That this type of thing is a dismally familiar tactic in defending against rape charges makes it no less fucking cynical and evil. Kobe Bryant did this! He bullied into silence a woman who’d credibly accused him of raping her. In a society even a little bit less structurally misogynist, he would be a goddamn pariah. Hell, in that society he might only just now be coming up for parole hearings.

In this society, the NBA itself, along with just about every mainstream media outlet presented with the opportunity, rushed to facilitate his self-reinvention as a guru of professional excellence and personal actualization, a wise basketball sage, and a business mogul warmly called upon at regular intervals to issue homilies on What Greatness Requires and benedictions on the Will To Prevail of this or that up-and-coming basketball star. He can attach his name to a PR venture costumed like a journalism shop, or add his face to the star-studded lineup of pro athletes fronting a skincare brand, and it’s received not as a blight or a discredit, but as a mark of credibility. Oh wow, they got Kobe, these guys are legit. He’s shown up in at least the past two annual iterations of the NBA 2K video game—the NBA’s official e-sports partner—to provide in-game commentary to the prompts of an adoring, gushingly effusive Kevin Harlan. He produced a dreadful, skin-crawling cartoon movie explicitly geared to launder and burnish his personal myth, and it won an Oscar. When the Los Angeles Lakers added LeBron James in free agency over the summer, Stephen A. Smith invited Bryant on his ESPN Radio show to “welcome [LeBron] to the family.” Nowadays, the hottest scan

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