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Who's the victim here?
By Kevin Jackson Page 2 staff, ESPN.com

I never realized I was a raging feminist until this weekend. On paper, I'm one of the last people you'd expect to hear extolling the wisdom of Gloria Steinem or Martha Burk.

A clean image and a tearful press conference don't necessarily mean "not guilty." For cripesakes, I'm one of the editors in charge of Page 2 -- you know, the section of ESPN.com that has published approximately 2,500 photos of Anna Kournikova, given Gregg Easterbrook a forum for his cheesecake "art" and turned Jennie Finch into a household name.

But this Saturday afternoon, I realized that ... uh, I'm not like other guys.

Or at least I'm not like the guys who I've heard discussing the Kobe Bryant case over the last couple of weeks. My car nearly careened off the road Saturday when I heard the host of a sports-talk radio show in New York offer this summary of the sexual-assault case against the Lakers superstar:

When you first hear that some woman has accused Kobe of sexual assault, your first thought is obviously that this must be some gold-digger or some woman who tried to "entrap" an NBA star. After all, we know Kobe, and this is totally out of character for him. These women are out there, and it's a dangerous world for these guys.

I'm sorry, but I must be living on a different planet here. Maybe I've just read too many tales of athletes' late-night activities off the police blotter, or maybe I'm too in touch with the "divine secrets" of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.

Either way, when I hear that a professional athlete is being charged with rape, my first thought isn't that he's the victim. Nor do I immediately envision some sort of vexing vixen preying on poor unsuspecting millionaire athletes in a hotel lobby.

No, my first thought is to fear that a horrible crime has occurred ... and to hope that I'm wrong.

And, yes, that's my first thought no matter how well I "know" the athlete -- whether that athlete is a "thug" like (fill-in-the-blank with your NBA bad boy of choice), or a "solid citizen" like Ray Allen or Kobe Bryant.

I certainly "know" Kobe Bryant better than most people on the street. I've interviewed him several times, including a brief one-on-one at last year's ESPY Awards. I've watched hundreds of his games and countless press conferences. I've seen more of his TV commercials than I care to count.

(I've also covered enough pro sporting events -- from the Super Bowl to the NBA Finals -- to know plenty about groupies and the world of temptations that confront professional athletes.)

And after all that, this is what I "know" about Kobe Bryant: He's eloquent and thoughtful. He gives good sound bites. He speaks Italian. He carries himself with class on and off the basketball court. And he's one of the best basketball players to ever lace up a pair of sneakers.

After last Friday's mesmerizing news conference at the Staples Center, I also now "know" that Kobe cheated on his wife of two years, a woman who bore his first child a mere seven months ago.

Here's what I don't "know" about Kobe Bryant: I don't know how he treats his family when they're behind closed doors. I don't know what his sexual habits are. I don't know if he has a raging temper. I don't know what he might be capable of when no one is around.

Look around your office or your school. No matter how much you think know some of the people that you come in contact with every single day, you probably don't know the answers to any of the questions above. District Attorney Mark Hurlbert wouldn't put his career on the line if he didn't have a case.

Remember, we thought we knew Kirby Puckett, O.J. Simpson and Bill Clinton.

Now, I'm not saying Kobe is guilty. I have no idea what really happened on the night of June 30 at the Cordillera Lodge & Spa, and all Americans are innocent until proven guilty.

All Americans except for the alleged female victim in this case, that is.

Since the news of Bryant's arrest broke two weeks ago, it seems like we've been searching for reasons to discredit this woman. She tried out for "American Idol" ... so she must be seeking fame and fortune. She went up to Bryant's room voluntarily ... so she was asking for it. She was an employee of the hotel ... so she was behaving unprofessionally. She allegedly overdosed on drugs two months ago ... so she must be unstable.

I only "know" one thing about this woman: Her life is never going to be the same again, and yet she's pressing on with this case anyway.

Rather than look for reasons to doubt her story, I'm going to give her the benefit of the doubt until someone can prove she's lying -- the same benefit of the doubt so many people, men in particular, seem so eager to give Kobe.

On Sunday morning, I bumped into a fellow sports journalist who offered the following word of warning to me about the Kobe case: "Man, be careful what you say about this case around women. I was at a party Saturday night, and all I said was, 'Kobe made a pretty big mistake,' and a couple of women still jumped all over me."

Well, sorry, guys, but I understand why so many women are so outraged. I also understand why so many rape victims never come forward.

If this case does indeed turn into a he-said, she-said, I'm not going to blindly assume everything he says is true. And I'd at least like to withhold my final judgment until I hear what she has to say.

Kevin Jackson is the coordinating editor for ESPN.com.


"In about 85 percent of
cases, sexual assaults
occur between people
who know each other."

Source: Diana Russell,
The Prevalence and Incidence of
Forcible Rape and Attempted Rape of Females, Victimology: An International Journal 7, 1-4 (1983).