• Seth Van Camp

Why Derrick Rose’s Comeback Narrative is Problematic (8 Minute Read)

Updated: Feb 6, 2020

On January 2, 2019, the initial fan vote count for the All-Star game was released; it was no surprise that Derrick Rose sat amongst the top in voting in the western conference.

If you don’t know Rose’s story, his career began like his ability to jump and dunk, explosive and unrelenting. He flew onto the scene as Rookie of the Year in 2009 and was shortly named league MVP two years later. Many saw him as a future Hall of Famer with limitless potential, but his career has been degraded by countless injuries, seemingly banishing Rose’s potential to memory. He tore his left ACL in 2012, then his right meniscus in 2013, then his right meniscus again in 2015 and most recently tore his left meniscus in 2017. Sustaining two major surgeries to each knee and attempting to play basketball is essentially like shipping a glass vase without wrapping it in bubble wrap and then slapping a ‘fragile’ sticker on the box. Obviously, he was never the same player after his second knee injury. In some miraculous exploit unbeknownst to god, Rose is accomplishing what analysts never thought possible. He’s experienced a resurgence this season unlike anything I’ve ever seen. He’s being called “the people’s MVP.” He’s averaging 18.9 PPG, 4.8 APG, and 2.8 RPG off of 46.2% three-point shooting for Minnesota off the bench. Many, including myself, had completely written him off as a basketball player. In an emotional moment earlier this season, Rose dropped 50 points in a three point win over the Jazz. Post game, Rose was crying as he was being interviewed, clearly caught up in the moment as he reflected on his squandered potential that had somehow returned, like some boomerang. The night marked a revival for the 30 year old point guard and he has continued this high level of play throughout the season.

Scrolling online over the past couple months, Rose’s comeback has become one of the season’s largest stories. Everyone has been talking about it. It has taken over NBA Twitter and Instagram. There's no doubt that if you’re a basketball fan, you’ve heard the phrase “Derrick Fell, Derrick Rose.” I was actually watching that 50 point breakout game and as it came to a close, I heard Fox Sports commentator Jim Petersen say, “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.” Even as an avid basketball fan, I had no idea what he was referring to, so naturally I opened up Google. What I saw was shocking.

In 2016, Rose was found not liable in a gang rape case related to an incident that took place on August 26 of 2013 involving two of his friends and an ex-girlfriend. Rose and his friends were accused of breaking into the victim’s Los Angeles apartment and raping her while she was incapacitated after a night of drinking. The toxicologist estimated her blood alcohol content was 0.20 at the time, 2.5 times the legal limit. She also claims that she was drugged by the men. The victim didn’t make the legal suit until 2015. Similar to other sexual assault cases, it developed into a “he said, she said” scenario. Add on the element of Rose being a millionaire loved by the country (and apparently the jury, as they posed for photos with Rose after the trial was completed), and you have the classic inability to convict, another additive for rape culture and toxic forms of masculinity. Although this specific type of story isn’t that uncommon, given the fact that a celebrity is involved, it has larger implications with where we are at within society and demonstrates that this is much more complex than “he said, she said.”

Firstly, Rose indicated that he had no knowledge of what consent meant. The prosecutor asked “Do you have an understanding as to the word consent?” to which Rose replied, “No. But can you tell me?”

Secondly, both Rose and his friends admitted in court that they did have sex with the woman.

Thirdly, this was then followed by one of the most troubling exchanges, directly from Rose’s mouth. Rose was speaking about how he didn’t think he had done anything wrong and that his friends had the orignial idea to go over to her house. Here is a transcript of the exchange with a prosecutor:

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 Aug. 26, 2013?

Rose: No.

Clearly, Rose had and likely still has no idea what consent means and it shows in the transcripts. What he is essentially saying when he says “We men. You can assume,” is that up until sexual contact is actually made, that consent is already given and presupposed, which is at the heart of rape culture. It is the idea that unless someone directly states otherwise, that sex is always an option. It communicates that rather than you having to gain acceptance from a person, that they have to deny entry. When in reality, consent is not static. It is fluid. It can be given and taken away at any moment. These type of allowable arguments and statements made by Rose and his lawyers successfully placed a higher burden of proof on the victim needing to prove her rape, indicative of a larger problem. At the end of the day, here were the facts:

  • Rose and his friends found a way into her apartment and had sex with this woman

  • She was too drunk to give consent (Estimated 0.20 blood alcohol level)

  • Rose didn’t know what consent was

The jury felt as though she had lied about the details. The fact that the she had brought the case forward nearly two years after the incident seemed too suspicious, it was said that she “didn’t do any of the steps to prove her own case,” and a witness testified that the victim was a compulsive liar. Ultimately, the case failed to prosecute Rose because he is a man. We place the burden on the victim to somehow have the wherewithal to know how to “properly” handle being raped. In a system where the odds are already stacked against her, because she didn’t take the “necessary steps,” it means that the rape didn’t happen entirely. Sexual assault is an non-complex issue with an extremely complex judicial process, making it almost impossible to find someone guilty. I often hear “where does this leave us with ‘innocent until proven guilty?” We need to believe the survivor. It’s as simple as that.

Almost as problematic as the trial itself is the sports media’s neglect in reporting the real issue. They have built a Derrick Rose comeback monument, inherently overshadowing the slag left from his past. It’s difficult to expect that sports media members will be held to as high of a standard, but it still astonishes me that each time I come in contact with someone who enjoys basketball, that I have to explain that the Rose narrative isn’t something we should support, but should instead condemn. Essentially no one knows about this, and it blows my mind. Yes, sports is about fun, entertainment and escapism, not always a place for dialogue about sexual assault and human rights. From a business standpoint, I can see why they have and will continue to make the decisions they have made. But in this day and age, we cannot sit idly by and let financial reasons have future implications on our culture. As a fan of the sport and a consumer of the NBA, I am extremely disappointed. I expected more out of the commentators. I expected more out of the NBA and its players and I expected more out of the media. If they all choose to ignore these facts while only reporting his success, that makes them partly negligible in contributing to rape culture. It’s important that we think about this from an often forgotten lens: the victim’s. I can only imagine how triggering this event must be for the victim and for other survivors, considering Rose has been portrayed as a hero returning to some victorious battle. The debate on whether Rose is a good or bad person is an irrelevant one and the decision made by the jury is a moot point. The fact of the matter is that this woman has to return to her everyday life believing that she was raped by three men and face the harassment that comes with losing a suit to a widely popular celebrity, while Rose is afforded freedom, able to rejoin the NBA and make millions, without almost any repercussions. People love a redemption story, but it's clouded our ability to see what is actually important.

If you get the chance, educate yourself on the matter. Refuse support of the league’s decision to let him play, refute the All-Star ballots cast in his name, and support the survivor. We can do better. And we need to do better.