Opinion: The Utah Jazz need to stop giving Karl Malone a platform

Some things just override an athlete’s contributions to a sports franchise.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Former Jazz forward Karl Malone gives an interview to The Tribune in Salt Lake City, Friday, Feb. 17, 2023.

Some things are just bigger than sports.

That old adage springs to mind as the Utah Jazz franchise, as part of its 50th anniversary season, brings Karl Malone back into the positive spotlight once again. Wednesday night marked the “90s Night” portion of the season-long celebration, and featured a teaser with snippets from Malone and fellow Jazz All-Star John Stockton about their time with the franchise through that decade. The teaser is part of a larger documentary film that will be released in the spring.

Karl Malone’s off-court past includes multiple disturbing, disgusting incidents. You may not have even known this — and that’s part of the problem here.

As a 20-year-old basketball phenom at Louisiana Tech, Malone impregnated then-13-year-old Gloria Bell — her family declined to press statutory rape charges, Bell said. Bell gave birth to a son, Demetress, whom Malone refused to acknowledge or carry on a relationship with for decades, despite paternity test confirmation. Malone did the same with twin children, Daryl and Cheryl Ford, whom Malone had at age 17 with a different mother. Only when grandchildren came into the picture did Malone relent and connect with his children.

That’s not all. In 2004, Malone was also accused by the late Kobe Bryant of making multiple inappropriate sexual comments toward Bryant’s wife, Vanessa. One of the alleged comments, about going “hunting for young Mexican girls,” is especially horrifying (it was also confirmed, on the record, by Malone’s agent).

Malone was also one of the loudest opponents of Magic Johnson’s return to the NBA after his HIV diagnosis in the early 1990s.

Is forgiveness and repentance possible, even for such disgusting acts? It can be. But Malone has given zero indication that he’s even aware of doing anything wrong, much less remorseful or sorry.

Malone has constantly denied making a pass at Vanessa Bryant, even as the account was largely confirmed by his own agent. When asked by the Tribune’s Eric Walden about societal backlash for his past during the 2023 All-Star Weekend, Malone simply said, “I don’t care” followed by, “Whatever. I’m human.” Rather, he seems perfectly content to “sportswash” his misdeeds — to simply gloss past and avoid them, knowing that his fame, money and status will insulate him.

He’s not alone in that effort, though. Whether intentionally or (hopefully) otherwise, by continuing to support and even platform Malone, the Jazz franchise is complicit in this sportswashing.

Malone has consistently been honored and featured by the Jazz since his retirement. His statue outside the Delta Center, along with Stockton’s, is an unforgettable reminder of his stature in the franchise. He’s been a guest at several events over the years, including the 2023 All-Star festivities and now again for this 50-year anniversary documentary.

By continuing to platform and support Malone despite his awful actions in the past — and by never so much as acknowledging said actions in any public way — the Jazz are helping send a simple message: If you’re successful or famous enough, you don’t have to be accountable for what you do.

Some things just override an athlete’s contributions to a sports franchise. This is one of them.

Think of the impact this organization could have by taking the opposite stance; by showing some gumption and refusing to continue this trend. What if they took the money spent on Malone’s next honorary ceremony and instead donated it to support victims of sexual crimes?

Maybe that’s wishful thinking. Maybe it’s simply not tenable for the organization to about-face so suddenly and criticize Malone directly after decades of taking a different position.

But the Jazz shouldn’t be providing a continued megaphone for Malone’s sportswashing, either. It’s long past time the organization stops honoring and platforming him. Here’s hoping those who make these decisions remember that some things are just far, far more important than sports.

Ben Dowsett

Ben Dowsett is a freelance NBA writer at places like ESPN and The Guardian. He’s also a longtime Jazz fan who cares about the impact the franchise has on his community.

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