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In Kobe Bryant case, let's take a moment of silence

Lakers star reportedly accosted man he thought was taking his photo in church. We don't know what occurred, but this is clear: Disturbing someone's worship, as well as manhandling, can't be tolerated.

August 16, 2011|Bill Plaschke
  • On Sunday at St. Therese of Carmel Church in San Diego's Carmel Valley, police say, Kobe Bryant became upset at a man who he thought was taking his picture.
On Sunday at St. Therese of Carmel Church in San Diego's Carmel Valley,… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)

The jokes will soon be descending upon us like chuckling little angels. The chance to spread a little nonsecular humor will be heaven-sent.

So, it turns out, even God can't stop Kobe Bryant. He just recorded a steal in the open pew. Talk about your stained crass.

It's the latest Bryant alleged meltdown, and it's the Lakers star at his essence, anger wreaking havoc with calm, intensity swallowing up innocence.

On Sunday at St. Therese of Carmel Church in San Diego's Carmel Valley, police say, Bryant became upset at a man who he thought was taking his picture. Police said Bryant grabbed the man's cellphone in an altercation that allegedly sprained the man's wrist. Police said Bryant found no photos on the phone, returned it to the man, then left church early.

An investigation is taking place, and I know what happens now. As soon as everyone stops joking, everyone will start condemning. It's the usual reaction to Bryant's absurd theater, and I'm usually leading that parade.

But this sounds different. This feels different. For once, instead of everyone screaming, I think we should all be pausing.

I'm not saying Bryant's alleged actions were justified. I'm just saying that maybe they are understandable.

When it comes to church, I adhere to the mandate shouted by the fictional Hunchback when he once stood at the doors of Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral.

"Sanctuary! Sanctuary!"

Church is where we escape from the world's perception of us into who we actually are. Church is the one place we should be able to feel naked in a crowd with nobody looking.

Public personas do not exist at church. During the height of the USC athletic department turmoil last year, I spent several consecutive Sundays sitting several pews in front of the much-maligned Mike Garrett, yet we never exchanged a word. Maybe he never saw me, but he acted as if I were invisible, and likewise, and later when friends asked me if that was uncomfortable, I was fortunate enough to be able to say, no, that's just Mass.

Professional standings do not exist at church. I spent several springs in Vero Beach, Fla., sitting a couple of pews in front of then-Dodgers catcher Mike Scioscia, often even close enough to shake hands during the Catholic sign of peace. Yet while we often talked in the clubhouse, we never spoke in that House, and it worked.

"The great thing about church is, you walk inside, and you are who you are," said Father Mike Gutierrez, pastor at St. John the Baptist in Baldwin Park and a priest for 18 years. "You're not a celebrity anymore. You're just you, and people need to give you space to be you."

Nobody has a right to grab a cellphone from anyone else. Nobody has a right to call attention to themselves in a place that represents something far bigger than him. If it turns out Bryant actually hurt this guy, then he should be forced to fill his collection basket.

But if this guy was really trying to take pictures of Bryant or his family, I can understand Kobe's anger. On an infinitely smaller scale, I have been approached about sports in the middle of prayer by folks stopping by my pew on their walk back from communion. At that time I imagined a stranger stopping in my bathroom and pulling back my curtain during a shower. I'm just a regular guy and it was weird for me. I can't imagine how it would feel for Bryant.

"You're in a place of worship, not Morton's Steakhouse," Gutierrez said. "It's your time with your God. You have a right to worship in private."

We don't know whether someone violated Bryant's rights, or whether Bryant responded in a criminal fashion. We just know that police are investigating a charge that Los Angeles' biggest sports star was violently protecting his privacy in the one place where that privacy should require no protection.

Right place, wrong time.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke

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