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FIRST-PERSON: Kobe’s tarnished image
by Tim Ellsworth
Date: Jul 23, 2003

MULKEYTOWN, Ill. (BP)--You might expect it from someone like Allen Iverson. Or Ron Artest. Or Rasheed Wallace. Or any of the Portland Trailblazers, for that matter.

But when the news surfaced about Kobe Bryant facing sexual assault charges from a one-night dalliance with a Colorado teenager, sports fans were stunned.

Not Kobe. Not the guy with the bright smile, the beautiful wife, a baby daughter and a squeaky-clean image. Kobe’s better than that. There has to be some mistake.

Unfortunately not. Although he adamantly objects that he forced himself upon the 19-year-old girl, Bryant faces those charges nonetheless. His side of the story is that the sex was consensual and that in no way did he rape this young woman.

“I have a lot at stake, and it has nothing to do with the game of basketball and it has nothing to do with endorsements,” Bryant said at a recent news conference. “It has to do with my family and being falsely accused. And, I’m innocent. We’re going to fight this all the way to the end.”

He might be telling the truth, and many people appear to be giving him the benefit of the doubt. Innocent until proven guilty, right?

But even if his version is accurate, it still leaves us with an immensely popular athlete -- someone supposedly above moral reproach -- who committed adultery and set a horrible example for the hordes of kids who idolize him.

“I made the mistake of adultery,” Bryant said. “I have to answer to my wife and my God for my actions that night and I pray that both will forgive me.”

At the worst, Bryant is a rapist. At the least, he’s an unfaithful husband who sacrificed the wellbeing of his family for a meaningless one-night stand. Neither option is a palatable one, and sports fans never again will see Bryant in the same light as they have in the past.

Bryant’s troubles force us once again to remember that it’s easy for someone to put on a front and to convey an image of something they are not. Bryant had a spotless reputation and made millions in marketing because of the wholesome image he projected. But sports fans are far removed from the athletes they revere and don’t always see them for who they are.

Let’s assume that the events in Colorado are completely uncharacteristic of Bryant, and that in reality he is the standup kind of guy everyone thinks he is. That still provides us with another stunning example of how susceptible everyone is to temptations and sinful behavior. Nobody is immune, and even a moment of weakness is enough to wreak a lifetime of havoc.

Bryant may weather the legal battle and be found not guilty by a Colorado jury. I certainly hope this is the case. However, even if there are no legal penalties to pay, Bryant has already lost something even more valuable from his family, friends and fans -- respect.

Bryant’s performance on the court may not suffer at all from the criminal charges. But by throwing away all he’s worked for in exchange for a moment’s gratification, Bryant’s life off the court will never again be the same.
--30--
Tim Ellsworth writes this column from his home in Mulkeytown, Ill. Write to him at bpsports@sbc.net.

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