Kobe Bryant and Sexual Harassment in Sports


By Eva Bryner, Copy Editor

Basketball player Kobe Bryant recently played his last game for the Los Angeles Lakers, retiring at age 37. He has won four MVP awards, and started at every all star game- a total of 18 times. He’s won gold medals at the Olympics, and was named the top NBA player in 2000. After all these achievements, there is no doubt he will leave a lasting impression in the sports world. However, a very glazed over fact is that in 2003, Kobe Bryant faced very serious rape allegations.

A 19 year old concierge was showing Bryant around the hotel. After the tour, he invited her back into his room. The few minutes following created one of the most high profile rape cases that you’ve never heard of.

The trial lasted 15 months, and was settled behind closed doors. Bryant admitted to having sexual relations with her as well as multiple other women years before, but said they all had consented. The identity of the victim was released to the press, and anyone who had any contact with her was bribed to tell stories about her or the case, even if it was an outright lie. Her past sex life was revealed, as well as her mental state, according to writer Lindsey Gibbs. Both were used against her in court. When the victim’s vaginal injuries were brought forward as evidence, the defense pointed to it being a result of “having sex with three men in three days.” This is after using the victim’s name an astounding six times in the preliminary hearing, and using what was meant to be time for the judge to decide if there was evidence for a trial as an opportunity for slander, dehumanization, and victim blaming.

The evidence presented in court was more than enough to go to trial, including a statement from the victim a day after the attack, which detailed the events. However, the cruel media harassment and continual blaming in and out of the courtroom wore her down, resulting in her ending contact with the lawyers, and ultimately dropping the case. After continual threats, she was forced to move out of her town. This case has caused an unknown amount of rape cases to go unspoken, and at the victim’s own college, the number of sexual assault reports took a dramatic decline in the same month. Gibbs states in her article that attorney and author Mike Shaw reported this case, and spoke on it saying, “How many women remember the Kobe Bryant case and don’t file a rape charge?”

That raises an interesting question. How many women have experienced sexual assault and taken these cases as models for how their lives will be if they speak out? An astounding 68 percent of rapes go unreported, according to a study by RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network). Broadly Magazine stated that 44 members of the NFL face a broad range of sexual assault accusations, including acts such as rape, “revenge porn”, sexual assault and battery, abuse, molestation, domestic violence, and battery of a pregnant woman, just to name a few. These men are still currently playing and receiving pay, so is it any surprise that Bryant’s very serious allegations go unspoken?

Another instance of assault in the NFL comes from the famed Ray Rice case in 2014. Rice assaulted his fiancee at the time, punching her in the face, and dragging her out of an elevator. Both Rice and his fiancee, now wife, were arrested as Beusman wrote in an article for  Broadly Magazine. This case sparked a national conversation about domestic violence, with the question, “Why did she stay?” being asked non-stop. The hashtag “#WhyIStayed” became an outlet for those who had experienced domestic violence to talk about their reasons for staying, that leaving a harmful relationship wasn’t always an easy option, if it even was one. The National Domestic Violence Hotline says that on average it takes someone seven tries to leave an abusive relationship.

The courage it takes to leave an abusive relationship can be harder for those who are in relationships with people of power, such as sports players or actors (namely Bill Cosby and Woody Allen). The same goes for rape cases, we see it again and again, not just with the Bryant case, but even more recently again with the NFL. An anonymous woman alleged that quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger, had raped her earlier that year. According to Beusman, the charges were dropped after a few months, and her lawyer commented saying, “A criminal trial would be a very intrusive personal experience for a complainant in the situation, given the extraordinary media attention that would be inevitable.” In non-lawyer words, she was unwilling to have every aspect of her life picked apart by the media, and dropped the case as a result.

According to RAINN, out of 100 reported rapes, only two of those perpetrators will spend any time in prison. That’s about two percent overall, an overwhelmingly small number. If simply acknowledging and talking about our history of dismissing both rape victims and rapists can create a change, let’s start talking about the problems that 293,000 victims face per year. Ignoring the allegations of those we admire or look up to does not erase the charges, it just erases the victims.