Nobody knows what happened between L.A. Lakers' Kobe Bryant and his Colorado accuser, but everybody with half of an opinion knows that public attention around this case is not just about what happened between the two of them. To be sure, Bryant was a $45 million "good guy" athlete whose high-flying career on the court and in the endorsements arena has been slowed, if not stopped, by rape accusations. Further, Bryant is a married Black man whose actions raise questions about his character whether they are rape or not. A decade after O.J. Simpson was accused of murdering his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and furious commentary about race, gender and justice was unleashed, the Bryant case seems less about race than it does about a culture of rape and athlete entitlement that permeates our society.
Bryant's attorneys have focused on the character of the woman who has made the rape accusations. That's no different from what happens on campuses, when women who make rape accusations often shoulder the burden of shame and campus disapproval. Even though laws have been passed to protect young women--who are most at risk for rape--from sexual assault on campus, many young men think they can rape without consequence. Thus, the Campus Security Act of 1990 (now known as the Jerome Clery Act), which requires campuses to report serious crimes on campus, and the Campus Sexual Assault Victim's Bill of Rights of 1992, have raised awareness about campus rape, but the legislation has hardly stopped rape. The combination of adolescence, alcohol, drugs, entitlement and male privilege have made rape an all-too-likely occurrence despite the fact that many campuses now make rape prevention classes a mandatory part of freshman orientation.
While Kobe Bryant is not a campus athlete, the many ways that the public has responded to his rape allegation mirrors incidents on campuses. People who do not know Kobe Bryant have been involved in threatening the woman who has accused him, even though they have nothing to do with his case. The men who are generating threats seem to be White, young and wedded to male privilege. Their actions seem to shout out a protest against a woman who would dare accuse their icon, attack his privilege.
Does race matter here? Somewhat. Our nation's history of White women "crying rape" on Black men when they don't get their way can be appropriately invoked in both the Bryant case and in campus rape cases where the Black athlete is the villain and the White woman is the victim. But history should not demand acquittal because, despite history, it is certainly possible for White women to be raped by Black athletes. It is also possible for Black women to be raped by Black athletes, but these cases, somehow, garner less attention. If the woman accusing Kobe in Colorado were African American, would the media buzz be different? Probably.
Violence against women is a problem both on campuses and in our society, and combating this violence seems an uphill battle, especially when stereotypes against women are embedded in our culture. …