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Volume 68, Issue 158, Monday, July 21, 2003

Sports
 

Tearful Kobe tears image with affair

Vanessa Bryant to help clean dirty streaks from squeaky clean image

Cougar Pause

Ed De La Garza

He may not be able to sell shoes, but Kobe Bryant sure knows how to spin a story. If recent reports are true, he may walk away from a sexual assault charge without any repercussions.

ESPN.com reported his 19-year-old accuser had overdosed two months ago after finding out her ex-boyfriend was seeing another woman. Bryant's defense team (which did a wonderful job of shifting the spotlight from an athlete accused of rape to a family man admitting his mistakes) will likely use this news to show the woman is given to bouts of high drama.

Bryant gets the benefit of the doubt. He's been one of the good guys. He doesn't have a posse, doesn't have any tattoos, got married before he had a baby and has never been in any trouble. Sexual assault and Bryant don't go hand in hand. That's been the prevailing opinion since he was charged Friday of sexually assaulting a Colorado woman in a spa/resort. But a woman who overdosed, that's a different story.

It's true, the charges don't fit Bryant's image, but the victim/accuser shouldn't be torn apart by the media. Her photo's already available online for anyone curious enough to search for it (she's white and blonde), but it, like her identity, will be kept out of legitimate news sources (until they follow the tabloids' leads). If the allegations are true, she'll be turned into a woman who deserved to be forcibly penetrated. The tables will be turned and Bryant will become the victim.

It's too early to toss labels on anyone. The only thing that's certain is that Bryant had sex outside of marriage. At the very least, adultery has killed his squeaky clean image. He's not the doting husband and father he would've preferred to be known as. He's just like anyone else. In a world that glorifies professional athletes, he's susceptible to temptation.

If convicted, Bryant faces between four years and life in prison. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Aug. 6. Friday, his lawyers went into damage control.

"I'm innocent," Bryant told reporters Friday night. "You know, I didn't force her to do anything against her will. I'm innocent. You know, I sit here in front of you guys, furious at myself, disgusted at myself for making the mistake of adultery."

He sat at a table, looking genuinely upset and contrite. Whether he was upset that he was caught wasn't important. What was left from the press conference was the image of a husband and wife standing together. Vanessa Bryant didn't say anything then, but she did issue a statement vowing to stand beside her husband.

Obviously, the worst that could happen is that Bryant is found guilty and has to serve time behind bars. His career would be over and he'd lose millions of dollars in salary and endorsement deals. All for one night in a Colorado spa.

Up until the Fourth of July holiday, much of the talk surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers was about whether or not they'd be able to lure Karl Malone and Gary Payton. Once those two were signed, the talk shifted to whether or not the Lakers could break the Chicago Bulls' record of 72 wins in the regular season. The championship was a given.

With a trial likely to interrupt the coming NBA season, the Lakers may have to assume they won't have Bryant. They'll have a dominant team, but they won't have one of the greatest teams ever assembled.

It doesn't seem possible. Bryant can be accused of hogging the ball late in the game even though passing it to Shaquille O'Neal would lead to an easy basket. He showed a bit of his selfish side during his consecutive streak of 40-plus point games. But he's not a predator. Then again, up until Friday, people were willing to believe the whole thing was made up by the accuser.

At worst, he's lost his career. At best, he's lost face.

 Send comments to dcsports@mail.uh.edu

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