Heroes to Zeroes

Kobe could join some heavy-hitting all-stars wearing striped uniforms.

Hold on. This is not the time to ship Kobe Bryant off to the Big House. Not yet. Why, the armies of high-priced lawyers have barely begun to sprinkle 'round their business cards. The energy-drink bottlers and the $200-a-pair sneaker people and the weavers of jockstraps have not yet cleared their throats and, summoning up tones of righteous indignation, cut Bryant off from his endorsement millions. So far, Jim Rome has barely shouted.

So wait a minute, okay? The small-town girls who claim to be best friends with Kobe's accuser have not yet taped their giddy two minutes in front of the TV cameras, aglow in the sudden heat of attention. Listen. Why would anyone in his right mind choose to send the shamed and besmirched one off to his doom before the networks have deployed their first-string hairdos and the entire fleet of satellite trucks? Surely it's too early for a symbolic execution. Kobe hasn't agonized yet to Larry King's suspenders. His teammates aren't done sniping in the tabloids. For God's sake, the D.A. hasn't even selected his new wardrobe yet. Can't you see? Can't you feel it? The gate is still building. Just let it happen. Give the T-shirt salesmen time to set up on the courthouse lawn. Crank out that sensitive feature story about life in sleepy Eagle County. If you love justice, wait for Rush Limbaugh to weigh in.

Then slay the hero you once loved so well.

Sam Turner

In a culture that ignores its poets and dishonors its teachers, there's nothing so valuable as a guy with a jumper from the baseline or a quarterback with a rifle. Celebrity worshippers eat this stuff up like french fries. Can't get enough. On their knees for autographs, some forty-something Americans would sacrifice their first-born offspring for a lunch with John Elway. They'd betray the wife and drive the Volvo over a cliff if it meant a smile and a nod of recognition from Peter Forsberg. But look out, all you disposable icons. Don't cork your bat. Don't take Cleveland and the points. Never snort coke. And whatever happens, make damn sure you don't sell yourself as squeaky clean and then come up smelling like the men's room at Mardi Gras. Because this is a moral Christian nation, after all -- or so the administration would have us believe -- and whatever we worship must be sinless or otherwise interesting. After all, the children are watching! Grandpa, too! If you're Kobe Bryant and you get caught up in whatever the hell it is you're caught up in (Adultery? Rape? In any event, a helluva mess), don't expect mercy. Americans embrace Celebrity itself -- in fact, they can no longer differentiate between hero and villain, between dawn and dusk -- but you got to be consistent. Don't go changin' that image. We can't handle it, the idea of two opposing ideas at work in the same body.

Convicted or acquitted, it doesn't much matter. Kobe's already off the radar, beneath the line. Even if he's done nothing more than have consensual sex with an uncertain nineteen-year-old, he's cooked. He better hope his game hasn't left him, because his rep now has an estimated street value of about five bucks.

At least he'll be in good company -- or bad company, depending on your point of view this morning. Herewith, a mini-sports hall of shame countdown, a selection of notable ex-heroes detested or banished by a fickle public. Bet none of them attended church regularly:

6. Pete Rose. To be or not to be in the Hall of Fame, that is the tired old question. At this point in the hand wringing, who really gives a damn, except for Charlie Hustle himself and a couple thousand baseball junkies who would do well to read Hamlet, or at least join a Tuesday bowling league. Did Rose bet on baseball? Yes. Other sports, too. I personally remember a Monday night at Candlestick Park when, leaning on the batting cage, he acknowledged having taken the Broncos against the Raiders. Hall of Fame, so what! The man struck more base hits than Ty Cobb, played all out in ever fiber of his being, every game of his life and forged a legend that will never pass. I don't know about you, but I like my heroes with warts, and Pete Rose's plain mug needn't be cast in bronze up at Cooperstown to measure his greatness. Now, about the 1919 Chicago White Sox. Eight of them (more or less), threw the World Series. If Pete Rose had been on the club, he would have kicked his crooked teammates' asses out of pure rage. Count on it.

5. Rae Carruth. Come now, prod the memory. The former University of Colorado wide receiver (1992-96) ranks second in school history for receiving yards and first in touchdown catches, but his legacy remains that he's the only CU player to go down for conspiracy to commit murder. He was convicted in January 2001 for the 1999 shooting death of Cherica Adams, who was eight months pregnant with his baby. He made his getaway locked in a car trunk. Carruth is now seeking a new trial, but he'll always have a spot on Murderers' Row, along with former lightweight champion Esteban DeJesus, who killed a man with a tire iron in Puerto Rico, and -- this just in -- Baylor University basketball player Carlton Dotson, who, even as we speak, is being charged in the shooting death of teammate Patrick Dennehy, whose body has only just turned up. Additionally, recall a pair of initials: O.J.

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