Here's an interesting fact about Los Angeles Lakers basketball player Kobe Bryant:

This year, the 24-year-old became the youngest NBA player to score 10,000 points. Bryant achieved this milestone March 5 in a 97-95 victory over the Indiana Pacers.

Another tidbit:

Bryant, who has seven years in the NBA, entered the league straight out of high school. He played his first pro game at 18.

How unfortunate it is that these career highlights are clouded by the latest news on the young star. Bryant was charged last month with one count of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old concierge at a mountain resort in Colorado. If convicted, he could be removed from the basketball court, where he is loved and admired, and thrown into prison for four years to life, where he will be another statistic on a government chart. He is free on bond pending an Aug. 6 court hearing.

If Bryant is innocent, it wouldn't be the first time a professional athlete contended with a false charge of a sexual nature. Complicating matters is what Bryant concedes in his case. He had sex, but described it as consensual. With his wife, Vanessa, seated next to him during a press conference, Bryant said he only committed adultery.

Sports fans aren't privy to whatever hard evidence Eagle County investigators have compiled. In the court of public opinion, Bryant is pitted in a he-said, she-said scenario against a college student on whom little is known to the general public. A friend of the alleged victim said the woman likes music. She even tried out once for the television program "American Idol." Of course, while we know about Bryant's prowess as a basketball player, precious little is known about his character off the court. His admission of adultery confirms that we don't know much about the man who wears the Lakers jersey.

Are professional athletes role models?

Perhaps some of them don't see themselves as such. Maybe many non-sports fans would prefer that young people emulate firefighters or teachers instead of people blessed with talent on a basketball court or football field. But the reality is that star athletes are role models, because young people watch them and wish to emulate them.

As Bryant's case rolls along, we may continue to presume his innocence until the state of Colorado presents its evidence. We may learn that Bryant's only sin in the legal sense was getting entangled with a woman who sought revenge for some slight. But Bryant put himself in a situation where allegations could fly. While his defense of "adultery, not rape" may be legal, it's still sleazy. His apparent attitude toward women -- as playthings for his own instant gratification -- also leaves something to be desired.

The public must demand higher standards from well-paid entertainers in the sports arena. Sports stars should exceed those standards.

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