Don't shoot the messenger
By Kristen Fischer
ESPN.com

I have been the prey.

Mark Hurlbert
DA Mark Hurlbert pleaded for the media to respect the victim's privacy. That lasted about 30 seconds.
I have packed a can of mace for a jog in the middle of the afternoon. I have walked with the jagged edges of my keys piercing through my fingertips. I have refused a drink because I didn't actually see it poured.

And, sadly, I have felt the terror of someone I trusted, someone twice my size, trying to rob me of my rights of consent.

Maybe you don't know what preconditioned fear feels like. Most likely, these worries don't factor into your everyday life.

Lucky you.

Being constantly on guard is exhausting and complicated, but it's a fact of life when you are a woman who's 5-foot-2 and less than 100 pounds. I can't tell you how many situations I've walked away from unscathed and caught myself thanking God and wondering, "What was I thinking?"

So, with that said, I refuse to form an opinion of the alleged victim in the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case. Furthermore, I reject all the preconceived notions of how women behave around sports stars, what levels we'd stoop to for 15 minutes of fame, and what we should and shouldn't "know" going into a given situation.

Lodge & Spa at Cordillera
It might be six months before we learn what really happened that night at the Lodge & Spa at Cordillera.
I certainly don't know what it feels like to be Kobe Bryant. I've never slam-dunked at Staples Center or cashed a million-dollar check. I have seen firsthand some of the trials and temptations that superstar athletes face, but I could not fathom trying to speak to his situation.

But I have been a 19-year old girl. And I have been a woman deeply immersed in a man's world.

In my nine years working at ESPN, I have learned to take testosterone testimonials with a grain of salt. I've developed a thick skin and an open-minded sense of humor. I do not run with the meek or the sensitive, and I can dish it out as well as I can take it. But I am troubled by the number of "she was asking for it by being there" e-mails that ESPN.com has received -- and I'm speaking to those authors right now:

Honestly, I could puke on your Air Jordans.

SOUND OFF
If you'd like to sound off on anything you read in this column, click here to submit your viewpoint.

When you wonder what the alleged victim was doing in Kobe's room that night, ask yourself a question: Would you have behaved differently? C'mon, it's Kobe Bryant. Kobe Freakin' Bryant asks you to bring him some grub after hours, and you're telling me your response would be, "Nah, man, kitchen's closed?"

Say yes, and I will call you a liar.

But she's a woman, you say -- no, she's a girl, but we'll get to that later -- and most likely an attractive one, so she should have known better. She should delve into the male psyche and know that he only wants one thing.

He's a 24-year-old married man with a child, but this 19-year-old girl should be smarter. She should know the score. How convenient for him, that she holds the key to all accountability.

But she did know. She knew all about Kobe's "character." Didn't we all? The loving, faithful husband and father; a real stand-up guy; a champion. So what if he's a little flirtatious? It's not as if he's covered in tattoos and has a bad rap with the press. What's to fear? Or rather, what's not to trust? And at only 19, it's easy to be lulled into that false sense of security.

Kobe Bryant
Before this month, wouldn't we all be inclined to trust Kobe Bryant?
Two months before the double-murder of Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman, I met O.J. Simpson while working as a golf-course attendant in Miami. I remember his exact words: "You're pretty cute, wanna get married?" I'll admit I was fairly awestruck by the Juice's flirtation. I responded something like, "Sure, but how about I get you something to drink before we start looking for banquet halls."

I told a whole bunch of people and even bragged that O.J. was being "flirty" with me. If you asked me today what I would have done had he asked me to join him for a drink later, I would adamantly say, "No way. I'm not that stupid." But then I wonder if that's just the 32-year-old, post-murder-trial me giving the 23-year-old me a lot more credit than she deserves.

Nineteen years doesn't necessarily give someone the worldly knowledge to know better. But it does give you the naiveté and confidence to think that "it" can't happen to you. Let's assume the alleged victim went in there expecting what many of you believe she should have been expecting ... OK, exactly when did she forfeit the right to change her mind?

No means no, whether it's pitched in the first inning or the bottom of the ninth.

Somehow that has gotten lost in the smear campaign of the last two weeks. For the next six months, she will be the one who's on trial.

Those of you who think I'm convicting Kobe before he's even tried are probably all fired up, because in the United States, it's the accused who is innocent until proven guilty ... well, if that's what's sinking in, then maybe you're too far gone.

With every fiber of my being, I hope Kobe Bryant is innocent. But not only to salvage the reputation of the NBA's golden child. Not so little Billy or Johnny can have another sports hero to idolize. For her sake, I hope he is innocent. For her sake, I pray that the only crime she fell victim to is one of her own creation. Because believe it or not -- as horrible as that would be -- that fate is by far the lesser of two evils.

Kristen Fischer is a senior editor for ESPN.com.




FEAR FACTOR

ALSO SEE:


Sources divulge prosecution's plan for Kobe trial

Neel: Paradise lost

Jackson: Who's the victim here?

Wiley: God's hammers

Page 2: Information overload

Page 2: No private life





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