T-shirts refer to Kobe as 'just a cheater'

Updated: November 7, 2003, 5:20 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

DENVER -- T-shirts featuring a hangman figure on one side and jokes about Kobe Bryant's marital infidelity on the other won't be seen in the Eagle County sheriff's office.

Sheriff Joe Hoy says he won't allow anyone in his office to wear the shirt on the job -- but won't bar employees from wearing the shirt on their own time.

"There were some people interested in the T-shirt as a memento or as a souvenir," Hoy told the Rocky Mountain News on Wednesday.

A company called hangmantees.com is offering two black T-shirts with a Bryant theme. One of the shirts has Bryant's No. 8 on the back with the words, "I'm not a rapist; I'm just a cheater." The other lists the costs of Bryant's trip to Eagle County and finishes with: "Not bringing your wife to Colorado with you -- priceless."

Bryant has been ordered to stand trial on a charge of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old former Eagle woman. Bryant denies the rape claim and says the June 30 sexual encounter was consensual. He may enter a plea next week in district court.

Jeralyn Merritt, a Denver defense attorney, told the newspaper that the T-shirt issue might help Bryant's lawyers if they try to move the trial from Eagle. Potential jurors shouldn't see sheriff's officers wearing shirts that mock the Lakers' star, she said.

"It strips the sheriff's department of any integrity. These officers are sworn to uphold the law, not to make a mockery of it," Merritt told the newspaper. "They can't get away with saying this is just in jest."

"It seems grossly insensitive at best," Rep. Terrance Carroll, D-Denver, told the News. "I think it's a lack of judgment on behalf of the sheriff, given the sensitivity of the case and given that one of the undercurrents of this case really is an issue of race."

The sheriff's office was given two of the shirts by the company on Oct. 9, the first day of Bryant's preliminary hearing in Eagle, said Kim Andree, the sheriff's spokeswoman. They will be kept for the department's archive, she said.

An officer e-mailed hangmantees.com last month, asking about buying some of the shirts, Andree told the newspaper. But when the officer was told that the money wouldn't go to a battered women's group, officers decided against buying them because they didn't want anyone to profit from such a shirt, she said.

The sheriff's officers investigated the sexual assault charge against Bryant and continue to assist the district attorney's office in prosecuting the case.

Hoy told the News he believes the media were "making a mountain out of a molehill" about the shirts.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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