'They will never be who they were'

Updated: March 3, 2005, 9:29 PM ET
Associated Press

DENVER -- Kobe Bryant and the woman who accused him of rape can now begin rebuilding their lives, but they may never shake the lingering effects of their legal battles that generated sensational headlines around the world.

A federal judge signed the order Thursday that officially dismisses the 20-year-old woman's civil lawsuit against the Los Angeles Lakers star. Terms were not given when attorneys announced Wednesday that a settlement had been reached.

Now married and expecting a child, the woman would someday like to return to college.

"They will never be who they were before this happened," said victims' advocate Krista Flannigan, a former spokeswoman for the prosecutors who charged Bryant with felony sexual assault. "It's redefining the normal and redefining their lives to accommodate what has happened."

The settlement was filed seven months ago, just before prosecutors dropped a criminal charge against Bryant because the woman did not want to go ahead with a trial.

Now married and expecting a child, the woman would someday like to return to college. She dropped out amid the furor that erupted after her allegations were made public and began moving from town to town to avoid media scrutiny.

But Flannigan said recovery will probably be difficult for the former Eagle Valley High School cheerleader who once aspired to a singing career.

When sexual assault cases end, women involved typically experience reactions ranging from relief to letdown because they no longer have the legal battles to focus on and instead have to face their grief, frustration, sorrow or other emotions, Flannigan said.

Some feel a need to make big changes such as moving to another state or changing jobs while others take comfort in familiar surroundings.

"I think there is a sense of relief in this case," Flannigan said.

For his part, Bryant, 27, can probably buff away some of the tarnish from his name and again be a fan favorite if he plays well and stays out of trouble, said Ken Goldin of Goldin Sports Marketing & Licensing Inc. in Mount Laurel, N.J.

"It won't ever be the same, but it'll be close," he said.

Industry analysts estimated Bryant, a six-time All-Star who helped the Lakers to three championships, lost up to $6 million in endorsement income, though the Lakers signed him to a seven-year, $136 million contract last fall.

"Fans are incredibly forgiving," said Neil Schwartz, director of marketing and business development for SportsScanINFO in West Palm Beach, Fla., which tracks nationwide sporting goods sales.

"All he has to do is win a championship or get them [the Lakers] a little further than they were before, and everybody will forget about all this and he'll be able to move on."

The settlement allowed Bryant to avoid being questioned under oath about his encounter with the woman in June 2003 at a Vail-area resort where she worked, near her hometown of Eagle.

Legal experts said the settlement agreement probably spells out financial penalties for anyone involved who speaks publicly about the case or the agreement -- including the dollar amount paid.

"They're buying silence," said Mel Hewitt, a veteran plaintiff's attorney in Atlanta.

Attorneys for both sides did not return calls on Thursday.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press