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OPINION: The NBA has a Karl Malone problem

Updated: Mar 28, 2023

The NBA, a league who consistently promotes social awareness, needs to live up to their words by de-platforming former all-star Karl Malone.

The NBA, which publicly prides itself on being a league of integrity, has a problem with acknowledging transgressions of the past. This has never been more clear than this past weekend when the league featured Karl Malone prominently during All-Star Weekend.

Karl Malone is a two time MVP, a 14-time NBA All Star, an 11-time All NBA player and the third leading scorer in NBA history.

Court documents also show that as a 20-year-old college athlete at Louisiana Tech University, Karl Malone raped, impregnated and abandoned a 13-year-old girl.

He was a sophomore basketball phenom in 1983 and Malone got his then-girlfriend Gloria Bell, 13, pregnant.

While there may have been some sort of relationship between the two, the details of which are not publicly known, in Louisiana, the age of consent was 17 at that time. That means having sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old, by law, was considered statutory rape.

According to Bell, her family did not press charges because they believed it would be difficult for Malone to help her financially from prison. This was before Malone denied fathering her child and refused to pay child support.

Bell’s grandparents took Malone to court in 1986, where they requested he pay $200 a week in child support. When the second year NBA player failed to respond to a request to appear in court, a Louisiana judge ordered he pay $125 a week, plus future and past medical expenses.

These payments went unpaid as Karl Malone claimed this was too much money.

In total, excluding medical expenses, the ordered payments would have amounted to $6,500 per year. During the 1985-86 season Malone was being paid $225,000, before taxes, by the Utah Jazz.

Malone settled out of court with the Bell family in 1989 for an undisclosed amount.

The Salt Lake Tribune uncovered a paternity test in 1996, ordered by the courts, which determined with 99.3 per cent certainty that either Karl or a brother of Karl was the father of Gloria Bell’s child, Demetress Bell.

This type of child neglect was not an isolated incident for Malone, as according to Bonita Ford, Malone got her pregnant in 1980 when they were both 17. She gave birth to twins, Cheryl and Daryl Ford.

According to Cheryl Ford, it wasn’t until she and Daryl were 17 that Malone would establish a relationship with them in an attempt to reconcile with them.

This reconciliation was a solace that Demetress Bell never received as, according to Bell, who eventually became a lineman in the NFL, Malone told him years later that it was too late for him to be a father and he would have to make it on his own.

In an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune this past weekend, Malone was asked about evolving social awareness, about power dynamics, consent, and how that may bring renewed scrutiny to his past transgressions.

“I’m not discussing any of that backlash. I don’t care,” he said. “That’s my life, that’s my personal life, and I’ll deal with that like I’ve had to deal with everything. So, whatever.”

Since involving himself in the life of Gloria Bell, Malone was drafted into the league, promoted as one of the biggest stars in the league, and highlighted as a positive part of NBA history.

The NBA has never publicly spoken about his problematic history.

“There are several other sports leagues in which this would not be any sort of surprise for this to happen,” said former CTV sports anchor Alastair Connolly. “For it to be the NBA in particular, surprises me greatly.

“With the lengths they have gone to, in what we called the LeBron era, to be a more forward thinking, social outreaching organization, at least on the face of it this seems like an extraordinary misstep,” he said.

The NBA is a league that has consistently portrayed itself as socially conscious, especially under the leadership of Commissioner Adam Silver.

The league has condemned the abhorrent racist and misogynistic behavior of owners such as Donald Sterling and Robert Sarver. They have worked to make examples of current players such as Kyrie Irving, who just this season was suspended for sharing a video with anti-Semitic remarks.

However Malone being highlighted, and even celebrated, at All-Star weekend shows a gaping hole in the NBA’s moral superiority. It comes across as if league officials will only respond if the public backlash is big enough.

Representatives from the NBA on TNT were contacted for this article but failed to respond.

“There’s never any sort of reckoning for Malone because Malone lays low,” said Bomani Jones, an American sports journalist with ESPN.

“Karl Malone’s not there, then you make this more of a story. I would imagine that there is a very cynical outlook on how to play it [by the NBA],” he said.

If the NBA wants to be a social justice-friendly league, then it is time for them to acknowledge the injustice that occurred with one of their biggest stars. It is time for them to leave Malone at home, and stop giving him a platform to be celebrated.

It is time to send Karl “The Mailman” Malone packing.

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