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Published: Sunday, 9/5/2004

Kobe on the rebound

In the carefully drafted non-apology issued by Kobe Bryant as a judge threw out a rape allegation against the NBA star, Mr. Bryant said that no money had been paid to the woman involved and "I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter."

But here's our less charitable interpretation: "Thank you very much for dropping the charge against me. Cash to follow."

The rape claim by the 20-year-old resort employee was a classic "she said, he said" case involving a fabulously wealthy athlete. What really happened is known only by Mr. Bryant, 26, and the alleged victim, who admitted that she went willingly to his hotel room 14 months ago in Eagle, Colo.

However, the dismissal of the criminal charge, five days before trial was to begin, clears the way for a potential payment by the Los Angeles Lakers star of what undoubtedly would be a large sum of money to the woman to settle a civil lawsuit she filed last month.

In dismissal of the charge, Mr. Bryant achieved what one legal analyst, mixing his sports metaphors, described as "a small price to pay to get the kind of result criminal defendants and their lawyers dream about It's the equivalent of a walk-off home run."

That's not the same as a satisfactory conclusion to a criminal matter, but the prosecutor had a tough case on his hands, even before the woman called it quits. The judge already had ruled that the woman's sexual history could be admitted as evidence and Mr. Bryant's lawyers were prepared to argue that she had sex with another man after the alleged attack and before she complained to police.

Would the jury have called it rape? It's doubtful.

Any outrage that the dismissal represents one more arrogant star athlete escaping the consequences of his actions also has to be tempered by the tendency of some people to see dollar signs in any personal interaction with a celebrity.

At the same time, we are mindful of the long history of women being victimized by men who claim that forced sexual relations were just a misunderstanding. Unfortunately, any progress toward correcting that shameful history is ill-served by claims of sexual assault that can easily be construed as an attempt to cash in on stardom.

Some would say that the young woman should never have gone to Kobe Bryant's hotel room unaccompanied. But if her version of their encounter is correct, her foolish naivete in that regard, and the flirtations it evidently led to, do not justify what followed.



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