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Take the gloves off for wayward athletes

Jul 15, 2003 5:59 AM

Who are these guys?

Or, more accurately, who do they think they are?

I’m talking about college and professional athletes who think their muscles and testosterone put them in some special category of society, where they can do whatever they damn please, to anyone they damn please, at any time they damn please.

Kobe Bryant got the publicity last week, with his picture plastered all over America on charges of sexual assault, and the accompanying text questioning whether he was receiving preferential treatment because of his celebrity. Of course he was. It’s the American way.

But Bryant is just one of a long list, and in the 24 hours after he was featured in my local paper there were five ”” count ”˜em, five ”” other stories of athletes in the news for various offenses.

There was the Portland Trailblazers guard Damon Stoudamire, arrested at Tucson International Airport after reportedly trying to pass through a checkpoint carrying marijuana.

There was Arizona football player Justin Levasseur, who pleaded guilty in a Henry County, Illinois, court to felony possession of cannibis, thus avoiding a more serious drug trafficking charge.

There was Orlando Magic guard Darrell Armstrong, accused of fighting with a female police officer outside a nightclub after he blocked traffic by standing in a street after being denied entrance to a full taxi.

There was Philadelphia Eagles first round draft pick Jerome McDougle, who agreed to donate $500 to the Florida Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Florida Mental Health Trust Fund in return for having charges of resisting arrest dropped in Miami.

And there was Missouri defensive end Nick Tarpoff, dismissed from the university football team after pleading guilty to felony possession of an illegal weapon.

But it was a dull day. No stories about wife or girlfriend beatings, about athletes trespassing or breaking into a girl friend’s apartment, or committing aggravated assault.

As it was, it made me think I was reading the old Police Gazette.

These guys ”” including Kobe Bryant ”” get caught up in the web of their celebrity, or size, or strength, or ability to put a ball into a basket or an opponent into a hospital.

They are, of course, role models for youth, who look up to them literally and figuratively.

The Associated Press coverage of whether or not Kobe Bryant got special treatment was comical. Prosecutors contended they were treating the superstar like any other person accused of sexual assault.

Yeah, sure.

The Eagle County, Colorado sheriff’s investigators didn’t reveal his arrest for two days, after Bryant already had been released on bail. Eagle County Sheriff Joe Hoy said, "There wasn’t any urgency. We felt we were doing the right thing for everyone involved." For everyone except the 19-year-old girl working the front desk of the resort where Bryant was staying, who filed the charges. Sheriff Hoy said, presumably with a straight face, "We wanted to give people the time to themselves to adjust." He didn’t mention if he asked Kobe for his autograph.

If this were a black non-athlete, or even a white one, do you think Sheriff Hoy would have been so considerate in giving him "time to adjust?" Do you think they would have waited 30 hours studying the case, as they did in Bryant’s case, before contacting him? Do you believe in Santa Claus?

The sheriff was not the only considerate official around. Eagle County District Attorney Mark Hurlbert said it could be days before he decided whether to file charges. Right, Mark, let this sucker cool down a while.

Robert Pugsley, a professor of criminal law at Southwestern School of Law in Los Angeles, had his own views. "That treatment would not be accorded the average citizen," he said. "Most judges, let along police, don’t get to rub shoulders with famous people. The gruff manner in which they treat us disappears and all of a sudden they treat the celebrity with kid gloves. Other people would be handcuffed immediately, thrown into a squad car and taken downtown," he told the AP.

  Kobe will walk away. And I’ll root for the Spurs or Nets next year.