Anya Alvarez – The Guardian
The sports media has heaped praise on the former MVP for his persistence through adversity, but folding his ongoing sexual assault case into a comeback narrative is an insult to survivors
a comeback narrative with problematic elements. Photograph: Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
“He’s got a lot of stuff going on off the court, and I’m not a judge and I’m not a jury, and to my estimation he’s not been convicted of anything … but he plays hard.” These were the words of Fox Sports commentator Jim Petersen at the end of Wednesday’s NBA game between the Timberwolves and Jazz, where Minnesota’s Derrick Rose poured in a career-high 50 points.
The night marked a stunning and emotional revival for the 30-year-old point guard, whose playing career has been undone by a litany of injuries in the seven years since he became the youngest person ever to win the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award, teasing a future of limitless promise.
But if you watch the last 15 seconds of this clip, Petersen’s commentary is, for a lack of a better word, cringeworthy.
In a clumsy attempt to burnish the redemption narrative of a faded star who’s persisted through injuries while bouncing from team to team, Petersen gave cursory mention to a part of Rose’s story that is troublesome.
In October 2016, Rose and two friends were found not liable in a gang rape case related to an incident that took place on 26 August 2013. The alleged victim, who did not come forward with the complaint until 2015, accused Rose, Randall Hampton and Ryan Allen of breaking into her Los Angeles apartment and raping her while she was incapacitated from an evening of drinking. She also claimed to being drugged by the men.
Like many sexual assault cases, it turned into a “he said, she said” affair, with the focus weighing heavily on the woman to prove her case against a superstar athlete and idol of millions (including, it would seem, the jury members who posed for photos with Rose in the aftermath).
Despite Rose admitting to not knowing what consent meant, and admitting that, yes, he and his friends did have sex with the woman while she was intoxicated, he was not held accountable in any way for his actions.
Perhaps the most shocking part of the trial was the admission Rose gave in response to what he and his friends were planning on doing once they arrived at the apartment:
Q: So they just said, ‘Hey, it’s the middle of the night. Let’s go over to plaintiff’s house’ and they never gave you a reason why they wanted to go over there?’
Rose: No, but we men. You can assume.
Q: I’m sorry?
Rose: I said we men. You can assume. Like we leaving to go over to someone’s house at 1 a.m., there’s nothing to talk about.
Q: All right. Is there — within what you just reviewed in those text messages — is there anything within them that would lead you to believe that plaintiff wanted to have sex with you and the other two defendants on August 26, 2013?
Not only did Rose basically state that “boys will be boys”, he also confessed that there was no indication that the plaintiff wanted to have sex him or his friends.
This was all admitted openly in court, on the record, in front of a jury. Still, Rose walked and went on to continue playing basketball, although he will likely find himself back in the Los Angeles courthouse as the case is under an appeal scheduled to be heard on 16 November.
When Petersen decided to include the accusations against Rose in the same breath as the injuries that derailed his career, he did a disservice to the conversation around sexual assault. It’s clear that Petersen isn’t equipped to lead a discussion around this, because you can’t try to talk about Rose’s rape allegations in 15 seconds. You also cannot simply put being found not liable of sexual assault in the same box of overcoming injuries.
Talking about sexual assault is never easy, even for me, as a survivor of multiple assaults who has written about the experiences on several occasions. We cannot approach the topic of sexual assault in a myopic manner. We have to be thoughtful, educated on cases we are speaking on, and willing to sit back and truly evaluate what value we add to the conversation.
In the case of Petersen, he did not take into account what he actually knew about the proceedings, except that he knew Rose hadn’t been found guilty of anything. There is a time to talk about sexual assault allegations against an athlete. However, it should never be framed in the same narrative thread of a comeback from injuries.
In the case of an injury, only one person is directly impacted: the athlete. In the case of sexual assault, there is another person to keep in mind, someone who may not have found redemption: the survivor.
And if we collectively look at the survivors of sexual assault who do come forward, even if they find legal justice, there is often very little redemption for them. No one writes or talks about their lives and focuses on all the obstacles they had to overcome in regards to their assault. We don’t get to know their pain or see how PTSD can impact their lives on a daily basis. We don’t see the internal struggle many survivors endure, the struggle to love and to not blame themselves for the assault. Their redemption stories don’t make the cover of magazines – and since every 98 seconds a person in the United States is sexually assaulted, there simply isn’t enough time to cover every single one of these comebacks.
Those are the redemption arcs I want to hear and that the world needs to hear, too.