This week, sports fans all around the country watched one of the greatest franchises ever immortalize one of the greatest players ever. The Los Angeles Lakers retired not one, but two of Kobe Bryant’s numbers before a star-studded crowd that cheered on the man who wowed basketball fans for two decades. Now Bryant’s jerseys will be hung from the rafters of the Staples Center forever, thus immortalizing the legendary career of the “Black Mamba”.
Watching this emotional celebration, it might be easy to forget that Bryant was arrested for sexual assault fourteen years ago after a nineteen-year-old hotel employee accused the superstar of rape. Arguably the biggest rape case in United States history has been all but scrubbed from the memories of most diehard sports fans, who either willingly choose to forget or don’t care enough to remember. In the current climate, where high-profile sexual predators are finally facing consequences for their actions, Bryant has still suffered no ramifications both on and off the court. As his jerseys were strung up in the rafters, barely anyone even mentioned the charges and the million dollar settlement Bryant paid to potentially avoid going to jail. Instead, Bryant is hailed as a hero despite the preponderance of evidence against him, including overwhelming DNA evidence and his own confession of lying to the police.
The case against Bryant was ultimately dropped after the accuser refused to testify against him. This may have been due to the intense public scrutiny she was being forced to endure and the death threats she was getting from fans. Bryant then apologized to the victim without admitting any guilt, paid her a settlement, bought his wife a four million dollar apology ring and went on with his life.
Bryant lost no endorsements in 2003. He played every game the next season, as neither the Lakers nor the NBA felt it necessary to suspend him for his actions. His home fans never booed him and fans in other cities, while vicious at first, eventually forgot all about the superstar’s legal troubles.
Unfortunately, this is all too commonplace in sports. Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger remains one of the most popular players in the NFL, despite being accused of sexual assault multiple times. Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ quarterback Jameis Winston also has a recent history of allegations against him but has so far seen no consequences from the league, his team, or fans for his actions. One of the best quarterbacks of all-time, Peyton Manning, has had long-standing assault allegation against him that are rarely brought up by fans or the media when discussing his legacy.
Bryant’s career never ended up suffering for his actions in the hotel room in 2003. He won three more championships, had thirteen more All-Star appearances, won a league MVP award, and finished with many more honors. Bryant once again became the most popular player in the league, as his play on the court drowned out his issues off of it. He will, without question, be enshrined into the NBA Hall of Fame and be remembered by most not as an accused rapist, but as one of the greatest basketball players of all-time.
That is how most will remember him, but not all. Now is the time to hold professional athletes to the same standards as everyone else. While we may live in a time where sexual assault is being taken more seriously than ever, the most male-dominated industry in the country is still unchanging. Kobe Bryant should not be held to a higher standard because he can get a ball into a hoop more times than the average person. Ceremonies like the one held on Monday night are not only irresponsible, but immoral. Praising men who have been accused of rape further perpetuates a rape culture that women are fighting so hard to tear down.
Al Franken, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Danny Masterson, Mario Batali, John Conyers, Russell Simmons, Louis C.K., Mark Halperin, Roy Price, and more have all been justly removed from their positions for their history of sexual misconduct. Despite their talent, these men have deservedly suffered for their actions. It’s about time the same gets done in sports. Until the Lakers realize this, the memory of an accused rapist will (quite literally) always hang over their arena.