Derrick Rose and the Absence of Malice

Eighteen hours after the Derrick Rose civil suit was made public last summer, the media complex latched onto the sordid nature of the allegations against him in spectacular fashion. ¬†Morning television shows provided Rose’s lawyer an opportunity to describe the charges against him by a former girlfriend as being baseless, a subjective lens¬†to be sure. Internet blogs editorialized the character of Rose as a Bill Cosby wannabe on one extreme, or a victim of a greedy, revenge-bent girlfriend on the other. Sports fans, those in Chicago, enduring their second sexual misconduct case of last summer- Chicago Blackhawks Patrick Kane was investigated for rape but no charges were filed- were in shock that one of their own, home grown Englewood native Derrick Rose, MVP Derrick Rose, Bulls savior Derrick Rose, was caught up in the media crosshairs like this and then they were reflexively depressed.

Perception is reality and in this case, a civil suit about sex, either sexual violence or consensual sex, has everyone taking sides. Yesterday, a judge denied a motion to dismiss the civil lawsuit which boils down to a gang rape case. The alleged victim, referred to by the name of Jane Doe in court filings, claims Rose and his friends sexually abused her.

There will be a trial in October, in the middle of training camp. In Judge Fitzgerald’s decision not to dismiss the complaint, he wrote that the central facts in the case, whether this was consensual or whether it was forced sexual contact, is up to a jury to decide.

Certain pejoratives¬†will always be attached to¬†NBA players but one of the¬†social behaviors that¬†has eluded their grasp in recent years is criminality.¬†Seemingly, the NFL has cornered the market on athletes crossing the line into criminal behavior, particular when it comes to violence against women. But, it’s been over a decade since Kobe Bryant was charged with rape and the charges were then dropped. In Bryant’s case, social media was an outlier, barely a ripple in the pond of human reaction and opinion. Twitter wasn’t created until 2006 so for the NBA, the Derrick Rose civil case is new territory that should have them braced for a roller coaster of imagery as their league gets thrown in the mix of facts and rumors.

How responsible will the media be?

In a landscape of sports writers, political writers, media writers, legal writers, gender and culture writers, blog writers, the journalistic standard known as absence of malice is implied. Absence of malice is a writer’s first responsibility. It implies that journalists are not writing with malice when they cover individuals and events that make news;¬†malice is absent from their intent. Can their words cause harm? Yes. Is it their intention for harm to occur? No. Malice, in its purest form, is an act of aggression and premeditation. It leads to defamation lawsuits.

So writers will cover the Rose case, not because they have an opinion on Derrick Rose one way or the other, or because there is some implied hidden agenda whereas they want Derrick Rose to suffer a public stoning in the town square, but they will write about this case in particular for two very specific reasons. Sexual violence against women, as a crime, has thankfully emerged from the darkness of self-shame and has been thrust into the light of accountability. But more importantly, the accused is Derrick Rose, an exceptionally gifted, famous human being who is being blamed for an atrocity that seems unthinkable.

Rose’s¬†very nature represents a certain constituency, a black constituency, a young constituency, a baller constituency, a Chicago constituency, a New York constituency, a poor now rich constituency, a NBA constituency.¬†His story is legendary and inspiring- he made it despite incredible institutional barriers meant to prevent him from success. It’s not a fall from grace for Derrick Rose to have to defend himself. Nothing has been proven. But he has been accused of something despicable that lends itself to shame.

Derrick Rose became a national figure in 2008 when he was a member of the Memphis Tigers, the best college team in the country, the number one team, a team that won 38 games and lost one game when they entered the championship game against Kansas. In that contest, they led throughout but missed free throws late. The game went into overtime when Mario Chalmers hit a last second shot. Kansas pulled away, ruining Rose’s 18 points, 8 assists, 6 rebound performance.

The number one pick in the NBA draft¬†selected by¬†his hometown team Chicago, Rose was a story of perfection. Protected by his brothers in an oppressively rough neighborhood, he achieved when all evidence supported the contrary which filled impoverished Chicago with a blueprint. His success was revelatory. It¬†said something significant¬†about Rose’s guts and grit and character and, of course, his mother too.

In his first playoff game against the Boston Celtics, Rose was spectacularly great. He matched Kareem Abdul-Jabaar’s playoff debut: 36 points. Rose dropped 11 assists. It was an overtime win in the Boston Garden, proof he had arrived, Two years later, he won the MVP and his career hit the stratosphere.

But Rose was a little different than the Kobes or LeBrons. He was quiet, almost shy, and definitely not a self-promoter. Often, his expression was sad. ¬†He embraced his native land of Chicago even as it was difficult at times to wander the streets, the local hero in everyone’s midst, almost Messiah-like as he ducked inside doorways to escape the glare that was constant. Here he was, a 20 year old, expected to lift a nation. He¬†was burdened¬†more than the average NBA athlete who¬†had the luxury to¬†ease into his career.¬†Rose was supposed to save the city where he was born but suddenly, through¬†a twist of fate,¬†he had transformed into the¬†very thing¬†he was supposed to rescue.

Derrick Rose was a black athlete from the blighted inner city; he checked all the boxes. Young. Swag. Much game. Brilliant. But when he began to suffer repetitive injuries it put on hold his biography as he recovered, returned, was injured again, returned, was injured again.

Last summer, he was left off of the team that participated in Las Vegas. The mini-camp that would decide the participants for the Olympics in Rio went on without him though Managing Director Jerry Colangelo left open the door for Rose, saying he still had an opportunity to play in Rio. At first glance, it sounded more of a p.r. statement than a real opportunity since the mini-camp was stacked with guards. USA basketball doesn’t need Derrick Rose. Truthfully, neither does the NBA.

His 2015-16 season was medicore measured against Derrick Rose’s standards. He watched the playoffs from home. A New York address puts a certain part of Rose’s career in the rear view mirror. Paired with Carmelo Anthony and Joakim Noah, he can be reborn. But there is the matter of the trial with its salacious details.

According to the original complaint, the alleged victim claims Rose and his friends, one of whom is the younger brother of Memphis Grizzlies guard Tony Allen, one of whom is his best friend since grade school, raped her when she was “incapacitated” by a drug. She is seeking $21.5 million in damages.

Rose denies he raped the¬†Jane Doe in this case and his attorneys said the allegations that he raped her are “completely false and without any factual basis.” They further categorize¬†Jane Doe as trying to shakedown Rose for money.

In 2016, Rose is entrenched in a certain celebrity world where perks and benefits are envied just as they are abnormal. He is part of a culture in which forgiveness and looking the other way is an accepted¬†behavior doled out to the precious few. And yet, there are bumps and bruises and wounds in this¬†famous world where the costs can ripple causing social media to exaggerate and explode. This is one of those moments, a civil case with narratives Derrick Rose can’t possibly control. Famous in the sports world, he now is infamous in the social world as he checks another box, athlete accused of violating women.

Someone, a Chicagoan all her life, recently said to me, “I think this is all a setup. This girl wants to get money out of Derrick Rose.” And then, someone else said to me, “If he did all of the things she said he did, I hope she gets a hell of a lot of money.” Neither person, the woman nor the man, knows the truth. Neither statement was said with malice.


photo via llananba