I almost didn’t write about Derrick Rose tonight.
I don’t have to, after all. No editor is asking me to do it. No one is paying me to do it. I’d rather not do it. And here’s why.
I don’t know Derrick Rose.
What I do know, I like. I had to chase the 20-year-old Chicago Bulls rookie guard for over a month to interview him for an in-depth feature story this past winter for the Tribune, but I never blamed him for the runaround. There were always plans he did not know about and demands he seemingly could not control, and he always seemed sincerely sorry each time the interview would get postponed at the last minute.
Getting blown off in our business is like getting a paycheck for people in other jobs. You expect it on a regular basis. And when someone like Rose acts genuinely sorry about it, you’re almost grateful. Pathetic, I know. But it’s our cross to bear.
Eventually, I had to fly to Dallas to do the interview and was impressed with who I perceived as a shy, but very thoughtful young guy.
We talked for more than an hour in the lobby of the Bulls’ team hotel and again the next day in the lockerroom before their game. He told me about the first time he experienced the death of a close friend at 19 and how angry he was when it came out that the cause of death was Russian Roulette when he knew differently.
He told me about his dreams — not of playing pro basketball, which was too lofty a goal for him before high school, but just getting out of his neighborhood.
“I just knew I had to do something, I had to be something where I was going to take care of my mom,” he said. “I knew my brothers and others in my family would be all right but I felt like my mother was working too hard. She used to cry when she’d get the bills. . . .”
He also told me his mother Brenda was his role model and how much he counted on her after the death of his friend, when she urged her youngest child to channel his grief into something positive.
“And that’s what I did,” he said. “When I got to college, I made sure I did everything right.”
I want to believe him. Even after the almost inevitable first scandal surfaced several weeks ago linking him to alleged academic fraud, which he denied.
Even after Thursday, when an old photo surfaced of Rose flashing a gang sign while at a party during his only year in college at the University of Memphis.
Many people take gang signs very seriously, regardless of the context and the intent intended. And when the NBA’s No. 1 draft choice pops up like Rose did, regardless of how young, foolish or innocent it may have been, it merits attention.
So much so that Rose quickly issued a statement apologizing: “I want to emphatically state, now and forever, that Derrick Rose is anti-gang, anti-drug and anti-violence,” it began.
I hate that I’m suspicious. Not that Rose is lying about his hatred of gangs and violence. But that I don’t know him well enough to know what to believe. That I’m suspicious about everything these days regarding public figures. That a story starts in the tabloids or on someone’s blog, spreads to the mainstream press and gets repeated and re-told so many times, it is legitimized.
I became part of it tonight when I repeated these transgressions and suspected transgressions. I was part of it when I wrote for a major newspaper. You’re a part of it if you’ve ever watched Entertainment Tonight or, heaven forbid, bought a National Enquirer or clicked on the photo of Derrick Rose.
I hate that I once did a heartwarming story that ran on the day of Super Bowl XXIII about how Cincinnati running back Stanley Wilson had kicked his drug problem, but that the night before, after my deadline, Wilson’s teammates found him in a cocaine stupor in the hotel bathroom.
I hate that I can’t get to know athletes better so that I’m better equipped to defend them.
I hate that I have to defend them.