Editor's Note: On June 22nd, 2016. Derrick Rose was traded to the New York Knicks, two weeks after it was announced he would be deposed in a federal court case where he is accused of "drugging and gang-raping his then-girlfriend with two other men."
Oh no. Please God, don’t let this be real. That was my first thought Wednesday night when TMZ reported that Derrick Rose was served with a lawsuit alleging that, at his Beverly Hills home in August 2013 he, along with two members of his inner circle, Ryan Allen and his manager, Randall Hampton, drugged and then gang-raped a woman Rose had been dating for two years.
The drug was allegedly slipped into the claimant’s drink—a disturbing echo of the allegations made against Bill Cosby.
Rose’s lawyer responded to TMZ’s report Thursday morning, alleging that this is the “third attorney the plaintiff hired to sue Rose,” painting the entire case as “an attempt to shake down a highly respected and successful athlete.”
Let me be absolutely crystal clear before we go any further: We’re talking about a civil suit, and no police investigation is currently underway. If your reaction to this story is either to join what’s sure to be a growing chorus screaming “golddigger” or an equally incensed mob ready to summarily convict Rose before any more information comes to light, you’re heading down the wrong path.
But the idea that this might be true, and what makes this all the more frightening and awful to contemplate, is that the vast majority of what we do know about Derrick Rose stands in stark contrast to the horrors described in the lawsuit. And if it does turn out to be true, it renders all the good that he has done utterly meaningless.
Rose grew up in Englewood, on the South Side of Chicago, a neighborhood rife with gang violence. “All around him, though, people were dying,” Noah Isackson wrote in Chicago Magazine. “When Rose was a fifth grader living on 73rd and Paulina, his next-door neighbor, a teenager, got drunk and killed himself playing Russian roulette. A close neighborhood friend of Rose’s was killed a few weeks before he was supposed to leave for college.”
Since turning pro, Rose campaigned tirelessly against gun violence, the gangs, and the ever-escalating body count in Chicago. “It all starts with poverty,” Rose said in a CNN interview. “People are just surviving, just really trying to get out.”
He was one of the first NBA players to wear an “I Can’t Breathe” shirt before tipoff. When a photo from his college days began circulating showing him throwing up a gang sign, he made it perfectly clear that “This photo of me was taken at a party I attended in Memphis while I was in school there, and was meant as a joke ... a bad one, I now admit. I want to emphatically state, now and forever, that Derrick Rose is anti-gang, anti-drug, and anti-violence. I am not, nor have I ever been, affiliated with any gang and I can't speak loudly enough against gang violence, and the things that gangs represent.”
In May 2013, not far from where Rose grew up, a six-month-old girl was gunned down while her father was changing her diaper. As Ricky O’Donnell detailed at SB Nation, “When the story of the killing started spreading around the news, Rose approached the funeral home on his own accord and offered to pay for the procession.”
Or when a 14-year-old girl was murdered over a dumb fight over a boy, Rose again went to the funeral. Not as part of some image-fluffing campaign, but out of a deep sense of loss.
“A South Side church filled with mourners. Before the service, Rose drove down and quietly went inside the sanctuary to pay respects to the parents, leaving again just as quietly, not wanting to create a scene,” Wright Thompson wrote in ESPN The Magazine. “He just wanted them to know he too was mourning the loss of their little girl. When they looked up and saw Derrick, their eyes widened, because 13 miles south from his new life, he isn’t a person but an idea, proof that better days might be ahead.”
How do you square all that with someone that might possibly have broken into a woman’s apartment after dosing her with a substance strong enough to both incapacitate her and reduce her ability to recall the events of the crime before forcibly, violently raping her?
The instinct is to dig deeper into Rose’s past, as if questions of marital infidelity, promiscuity or dishonesty have any relevance. He did have someone take his SAT’s for him so he could get into Memphis—when the scores were revealed as fraudulent, the university was retroactively stripped of their title, and their entire season was wiped from the record books. There are also scurrilous rumors and gossip, the stories of him cheating on the mother of his child with a stripper, or getting caught up in a truly weird Catfishing escapade.
Rose’s tattoos of angels and crosses, messages like “God’s Child” and “Only God Can Judge Me” and wristbands with “IJNIP” (In Jesus’ Name I Play) should not lead you to bellow that he’s another Josh Duggar.
These are just a few facets of what has been, for a public figure like Derrick Rose, a closely guarded, very private life, and none of them mean a thing when it comes to crimes like these.
We’re learning, slowly, painfully, even at times while being dragged, kicking and screaming, that sexual assault knows no boundaries when it comes to race, or political ethos or age or wealth. And we’re sadly coming to the realization that the courts remain both the best and yet a wholly inadequate means of discovering the truth in these cases.
Thankfully, 10 years after Kobe Bryant settled his civil suit, we’re also finding it less and less easy to stomach the fact that sexual-assault allegations almost never result in convictions for athletes in all sports. Even as the aggrieved, ill-informed cries of those who claim that the rare instances of false accusations represent the norm are cranked to a higher and higher pitch.
Right now, when it comes to Derrick Rose we’re all in the dark, sickened at the thought that Rose might possibly be capable of committing these unspeakably brutal acts, and questioning the entirety of Rose’s history for some sign or clue that might lead to the truth. But there is none to be found. In that terrible position of not-knowing, male fans of Derrick Rose (yes, including me) are getting to experience a tiny fraction of the pervasive, oppressive fear that women have always faced—that they don’t know which seemingly “nice” guy will turn out to be a monster.
I am in no way suggesting that all men are potential rapists. I am saying that we live in a world where approximately four-fifths of all rapes are committed by someone known to the victim, or more to the point, someone the victim thought they knew until the moment that they were revealed to be a predator.
We don’t know the truth about Derrick Rose. And we’re going to have to live with that uncertainty for a little while longer.