I read an article on sports columnist Bill Simmons’ The Ringer website recently that touched on something I’ve been struggling with. Derrick Rose, the NBA’s 2011 MVP, was traded to my favorite basketball team, the New York Knicks, over the summer.
Along with his friends Randall Hampton and Ryan Allen, Rose is embroiled in a $21.5 million civil lawsuit which began Oct. 4 and was filed by a Jane Doe who has claimed that Rose and the two other men gang-raped her while she was unconscious.
Rose is expected to be the defining factor in how far the Knicks progress this season and that fills me with a huge internal conflict, because, as the title of The Ringer article states, “You Can’t Separate Derrick Rose the Knick From Derrick Rose the Defendant.” It’s hard to root for a team when you realize they knowingly traded for a player who, whether found guilty of rape or not, will be back on the court for the regular season unless prevented by the NBA.
These incidents are far, far too common in both college and professional sports, almost always turning into a case of he-said, she-said, with the female plaintiff usually being smeared by the media and defense teams of the accused athletes.
Chapman football head coach Bob Owens said that he talks to his players every season about respecting other people as well as conducting themselves responsibly in shared spaces.
“We talk about some of the stuff that’s going on in the country,” Owens said. “We talk about ‘the Chapman way’ and the Chapman attitude, which we think is really important here. We talk about Title IX, we talk about respect and being courteous to females on campus and we talk about the responsibility you have with a shared space, whether you’re in dining facilities, whether you’re in any of our closed facilities, that you need to respect the fact that you’re sharing space with other people.”
Rose is one of the many athletes who appears to have missed a message like Owens’, yet the focus of his trial – as many similarly high-profile civil rape cases tend to do – is focused largely on the character of the plaintiff, not the defendant.
On the surface, a certain narrative that Rose’s lawyers have crafted emerges. They say that Doe is Rose’s estranged ex-girlfriend who no longer gets the benefits from dating him and is just suing him for the money.
I want to make it abundantly clear how inaccurate and detestable those types of pervasive narratives are when it comes to rape allegations against male athletes. Because of their star status, there emerges this notion that they couldn’t possibly rape another person because why would they? They’re rich, famous and generally attractive, so how could they have a problem with getting someone to have sex with them? And who is this person suing them but some skimpy clothes-wearing random woman who thinks she can get attention and money out of it, right?
These notions seem to be disturbingly engrained in the psyches of sports fans who don’t want to believe their immaculate, untouchable athletes could possibly commit such heinous crimes. People, overwhelmingly men, try to think of any excuse they can for why the athlete “couldn’t possibly have done” what’s being shown that he or she likely did.
They ignore that only about 40 percent of rapes – at most – are actually reported to police and among them, only about two to 10 percent of rape accusations are false. There is little way of knowing how that number changes for high-profile athletes and other celebrities.
The way famous men are viewed regarding sexual advances was summed up in the disturbing video of Donald Trump that was recently released from 2005. In the video he says about women, “I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss them. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything.”
Rose’s lawyers are exploiting his own star power. The way they have treated the case is simultaneously expected and appalling. After Rose entered the courtroom – two days and two hours after the trial started – Doe began to cry, prompting Rose’s lawyers to complain that they, “couldn’t have her crying all day.” From the outset, Rose’s defense team has rarely tried to paint their client as innocent, instead going on the offensive and trying to smear Doe as sexually suggestive and a “gold-digger.”
His lawyers said before the case, “This is not a rape case. It’s pure and simple extortion by a plaintiff who wants to hide behind the cloak of anonymity while seeking millions in damages from a celebrity,” and then during the case, “Derrick Rose has too many women looking to get at him where there’s going to be some kind of problem”.
If you read the details of the case as well as Rose’s testimony, it’s impossible to deny that he and his friends engaged in some very questionable behavior. After Doe left Rose’s house with a friend – who said it was “very obvious” Doe was intoxicated and had even burnt her hand on coals earlier in the night – she and Rose exchanged texts, in one of which Rose says, “He (Allen) bringing u back here and we gon make sure u get to work.”
Doe eventually stopped responding to Rose and Allen at 2:12 a.m., missing a combined nine texts and calls from the two, the last of which were a, “Wake yo (expletive) up,” text from Rose at 2:52 a.m. followed by a missed call from Allen at 2:53 a.m.
Doe said she woke up the next morning “fully dressed and wet with lubricant,” with blood on her splayed sheets and a used condom on the ground. Her roommate said Doe had to ask her whether there were men in her room the night before.
According to Rose’s own toxicologist, Doe had an estimated blood alcohol content level of 0.20 that night, or 2.5 times the legal driving limit in California.
Rose said on the stand Oct. 7 that Doe had agreed to let the three men have sex with her, despite acknowledging in his deposition that Doe did not say anything that led him to believe she wanted to have sex with him, Hampton and Allen. He said he had assumed consent due to previous sexual encounters with Doe, saying, “In my mind, she consented every time we had sex. Why wouldn’t she do it that time?”
If Rose wins his case, it’s not because he and his two friends didn’t have sex with Doe. That happened. It will be because the narrative of him being a star athlete and questioning Doe’s motives will complicate the already difficult issue of proving or disproving consent. Without much physical evidence – especially the lack of a rape kit – it will be an unfairly difficult battle for Doe to win, though not impossible.
All I can hope is that if Rose is found guilty, he receives a substantial punishment from the NBA and not a slap on the wrist like the meager eight-game suspension Sacramento Kings point guard Darren Collison got for a recent misdemeanor domestic battery conviction.
As a die-hard Knicks fan, I want to see the Knicks be competitive. But if supporting a man who is accused of gang-raping a woman regardless of the case’s outcome is needed for that to be possible, then that’s not something I can get behind, whether other Knicks fans will – and they will – or not.
Ignoring the facts is not just being ignorant, but it’s dismissing evidence of bad character because it’s inconvenient for your fandom and easier to look to Rose’s – or any other athlete’s – star status and physical abilities rather than even consider the idea that he might truly be a bad person. That ignorance is exactly why athletes get away with rape and domestic abuse with little or no punishment so often and it’s why lawsuits against them rarely ever go as far as they should. Whether you like it or not, athletes are just people and people sometimes do really abhorrent things.
Author’s note Oct. 10 5:11 p.m.
I am not saying that Rose necessarily raped Doe and I do not intend to insinuate that. He is innocent until proven guilty and the trial is civil, not criminal, so I am aware the standards for conviction are much different. He may turn out to have done no wrong and maybe he is actually a good guy. But to ignore the tactics his defense team is using, Rose’s own indifference about the proceedings, the blatant vitriol towards Doe and the ubiquitous perception of athletes and celebrities as almost always being wrongly accused is intentionally blinding yourself to the reality of these cases. The proceedings are far too reminiscent of similar cases against athletes, in which the plaintiff is smeared and the athlete walks away with little to no punishment. Ignoring how male athletes are treated when accused of rape or a similarly heinous crime is dismissing evidence of how disadvantaged the plaintiffs are from the outset in these cases.