On Oct. 31, 2018, with a clutch block on Utah Jazz guard Dante Exum’s buzzer-beating three-point attempt, Derrick Rose sealed the Minnesota Timberwolves’ 128-125 victory in what might have been the best game of Rose’s career. In 41 minutes of play, the 2010-11 NBA Most Valuable Player put up 50 points on 19-31 shooting, including going 4-7 from three-point range and 8-11 at the free-throw line. Rose also secured four rebounds and notched six assists. Fittingly, this offensive outburst occurred against the Jazz team that had waived him midway through last season, following a trade from the Cleveland Cavaliers. Equally important, he delivered a win for a Timberwolves team reeling from controversy regarding then-Timberwolves player Jimmy Butler.
An emotional Rose was immediately embraced by teammates. As the Fox Sports staff reacted to his sensational performance, television analyst Jim Petersen offered a curious thought: “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, and… he plays hard. He is a gutty basketball player.”
In this oddly-phrased quote, Petersen is referring to the lawsuit accusing Rose and two of his friends of the rape of his ex-girlfriend, a case that ended with the jury ruling in Rose’s favor in October 2016.
Without getting into some of the more graphic alleged details, the undeniable facts of the case are that Rose and two friends went over to the plaintiff’s house late at night to have group intercourse. Rose, his two friends and the plaintiff were all intoxicated, although the degree to which the plaintiff was intoxicated was a contested piece of the case. The three men then engaged in intercourse with the plaintiff. The event was prompted by text messages from the plaintiff encouraging Rose to come over, and that conversation was preceded by a text discussion between them about engaging in sexual acts with a female friend of the plaintiff.
Petersen’s awkward phrasing is no simple mistake. Rose’s rape trial is a seldom-discussed topic, even among the most avid NBA fans and followers. Even if you agree with the jury’s ruling, some of the statements made by Rose during the deposition and trial will leave a rightful stain on Rose’s legacy. Personally, I am skeptical of the judge’s decision, even as a fan of Rose, the basketball player.
In his deposition, Rose openly admitted to having no understanding of what the word consent really means. Even worse is the following sequence of questioning from the trial:
Question: “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.”
Question: “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.”
Question: “Alright. 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?”
Rather than picking apart Rose’s statements myself, I’ll defer to former Detroit Lions linebacker Deandre Levy and the article “Man Up,” which ran in The Players’ Tribune on Apr. 27, 2016:
“What if the woman says yes to letting a handful of strangers engage sexually with her while she’s under the influence of alcohol? That’s called gang rape. What if everyone else was also drunk? Still a gang rape. What if everyone was sober, but she said yes – a response that was likely prompted by her fear of the many men in the room? Yes, still rape… ‘But she’s a ho. Just look at how many men she’s slept with.’ This is irrelevant. A person’s sexual history is in no way related to their right to consent.”
Levy wasn’t responding directly to Rose’s case, yet his statements are applicable, if not from a legal perspective, at least from a moral perspective.
I lack the legal expertise to rule on the case itself, but I can offer an opinion on the aftermath. At the end of the trial, Judge Michael Fitzgerald offered the following joke: “Mr. Rose, my best wishes to you and your career — except when the [New York] Knicks play the [Los Angeles] Lakers.” Lighthearted humor seems out-of-place and inappropriate at a rape trial, but it got weirder from there. As Rose exited the courtroom, jurors requested to take photos with Rose, many of which can now be found on various social media platforms.
Rose was about to begin a new season for a new team, having signed with the New York Knicks, and it seemed that the entire city of New York blew a collective sigh of relief at seeing Rose cleared of the charges leveled against him. To many, this lawsuit was another instance of a gold-digger attempting to exploit the fame and monetary resources of an ex-partner.
“Innocent until proven guilty” is taken to a further extreme in the cases of beloved athletes. The fact that Rose was found not liable does not definitively indicate he was innocent, and it certainly does not absolve him of blame for his immoral actions and ignorance.
Let’s circle back to Petersen’s statement. Knowing a video of Rose’s emotional reaction to his incredible performance was bound to go viral, Petersen should have been more sensitive with his phrasing.
Interestingly, Petersen’s sentiment seems to be widely shared, as congratulatory tweets from NBA players emphasized the amount of hardship Rose — the person, not the athlete — had to endure. Tom Thibodeau, Rose’s coach both during his time with the Chicago Bulls and now with the Timberwolves, has continually heaped praise on his point guard’s character, in addition to his athletic ability.
The online media was quick to jump in as well, with numerous articles on sites from ESPN to The Athletic discussing Rose’s resurgence as a testament to his character. As recent as this past Friday, Forbes published an article lauding Rose for his perseverance, calling his story “one to aspire to.”
The difficulty in coming back from Rose’s injury-plagued post-MVP seasons is not to be scoffed at. Nor is the challenge of shuffling around teams during the 2017-18 season anything to be tossed aside, as Rose joined the Cleveland Cavaliers after a brief tenure at the Knicks, only to be traded to Utah, where he was waived, and finally was acquired by the Timberwolves — his fourth team in under a year.
Rose, as an athlete, undeniably overcame a great deal. Any statement regarding Rose’s personal character, however, should come with an asterisk. Curiously, few of these articles mention his rape trial. Moreover, the court case is often implicitly lumped in with all the other difficulties he had to endure.
Rose continues to make headlines for a career renaissance at age 30. The point guard’s 19.3 points per game average is his most since the 2011-12 season. Rose’s blistering 50.5 percent field goal mark and 49.4 percent three-point shooting statistic would both be massive career-highs if they continue at that level for the rest of the season.
The evolution of Rose’s jumper is of particular importance, as it maintains his media relevance and offers another excuse for his coaching staff to discuss his dedication (this time, in terms of his shooting practice over the offseason). As such, Rose’s name constantly comes up in the NBA media world, even on nights he doesn’t drop 50.
Hopefully in the age of #MeToo, though, coaches and media members will start to be more sensitive to Rose’s background when praising his character.