Note: I wrote blog a few weeks ago, right after Kobe’s passing. Since then, people have instead been up in arms about different things, like the Superbowl halftime show, but now that I have time to post it, it is still quite relevant and worth posting. As I mentioned in my recent blog about what we could learn from Kobe Bryant’s death, for a long time, I was not a fan of Kobe. This was primarily during the early 2000s when Kobe and Shaq were winning championships together, which coincided with Kobe’s sexual assault case, which I must admit – I used as another excuse to hate on him. The way this has come up in the wake of his demise, especially from white women, is prompting me to write some reflections on racism and the death of Kobe Bryant.
First and foremost, I think it’s important to state a few things.
One is that all of us are multi-dimensional. We can be a great father, a legendary basketball player, someone who’s made mistakes, a spouse who’s improved over the years, a philanthropist, an inspiration to many, and a rapist, all at the same time.
The second is that we do not know what happened in the hotel room in 2003, when the incident occurred with Kobe’s victim – only the two of them do, and they each likely have a different and still honest story based upon their individual perspectives.
The third is that we are living in a time where consent is still not taught as part of sexual education. Just think – if young people were taught that without an enthusiastic yes, there’s no consent, so many cases of sexual assault could be avoided. I think this even applies to situations like with Brock Turner’s case, where it would seem like obvious common sense, but somehow isn’t when we can’t see the forest through the trees.
It’s also important in this circumstance to point out an action that sets Kobe apart from anyone else I can think of who’s been accused of sexual assault – he apologized. One can pick apart his wording, but in saying “Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did,” he admits remorse and acknowledges impact, which is in stark contrast to our society’s strict adherence to the sound legal advice of “deny, deny, deny!”
Does his apology change his actions, or the impact they had on his victim’s life? Of course not. It may be another instance of “Mamba Mentality,” but I think it shows growth on his part, and since we’re powerless to go back and change our actions, that’s all we can expect.
I want to hold space for survivors. This isn’t the canonization of an athlete who yes, inspired millions of people, but also deeply hurt at least two – his victim, and his wife. I think our society leaves a lot to be desired in terms of believing survivors of sexual assault, and I do not want my thoughts on this issue to cause us to backpedal in any way. However, that is potentially where race specifically comes into play.
I have seen many people who dragged Christine Blaisey-Ford, through the mud during the Kavanaugh case fling that same mud at Kobe, hours or even minutes after his passing. These same people mourned David Bowie, who was among many celebrated celebrities who participated in statutory rape, without mentioning any of his past transgressions, and focusing solely on how his music and persona profoundly positively impacted them.
Does that mean it’s about race?
Not necessarily, but I can’t help but think that is part of it, especially considered a couple things – Michael Vick, and Emmett Till.
As a dog lover, it breaks my heart to imagine anyone hurting animals. They are innocent and defenseless, and dogs are among the most loving creatures around. As you know, Michael Vick was involved in horrific acts of animal torture via his dog fighting ring, which is devastating and heartless. Since his conviction and serving his sentence, he has done quite a bit of work toward restitution and atonement, yet his accomplishments are constantly overshadowed by his past misdeeds, despite his work to make it better. Again, while I am sure that if he could go back and un-do what he did (which may have been a product of his environment, which was certainly shaped by systemic racism), he can’t. All he can do is his best to be better going forward, but so many of us aren’t allowing it. Could this be because of racism? I lean toward yes.
The story of Emmett Till is among the saddest I’ve ever heard. If you’re not familiar, Emmett Till was a young Black BOY who was beaten to death because he was accused of rape by a White woman Carolyn Bryant, who later confessed that she made the whole story up, and was never punished for it. Till’s mother, whose anguish I can’t begin to imagine, chose to have an open casket funeral so that people could see firsthand what had been done to her son. This is likely the most well-known of many stories in which the life of a Black man was ended, either literally or figuratively, by the false accusations of a white woman, and it is hard not to consider this trend in situations like Kobe’s. And is this an example of racism? 100% absolutely.
And it’s irresponsible, in my opinion, not to consider these factors when looking at Kobe’s legacy and how tarnished it is, or should or shouldn’t be.
Again, I do not want to further the agenda of doubting victims.
And again, I am not making an attempt to state that everyone who is playing the “why are we honoring a rapist?” Card regarding Kobe is a racist.
However, I think that it is important that when you’re deciding how to process through your grief of his passing, or your annoyance/shock of someone else’s to do some reflections on racism and the death of Kobe Bryant, with these thoughts in mind.
I mentioned in my previous blog about Kobe that I did not think it was time to discuss his allegations, and I still think it is too soon. However, I’m sharing these reflections on racism and the death of Kobe Bryant in hopes that anyone who’s contemplating making statements or social media posts full of disparaging remarks at this time do some soul-searching. Basketball fans, Black people, and above all his family and friends deserve the time to grieve for someone who meant a lot to them.
Above, I wrote that he deeply hurt two people – the victim and his wife. This brings another point, that even if he is not a rapist, he is still an adulterer. That is undeniably true, and definitely something I personally do not stand for. BUT, his wife forgave him, and presumably, he worked through the issues he had that led to that behavior. This is a circumstance during which remembering that I’m not in a position to judge, and that forgiveness is a Christian quality is key.
I also pray that whenever I pass, there’s a great deal more focus on the great things I did, as opposed to the absolute worst, especially given the ratio overall of good-to-bad, and the trajectory of learning, growth, and improvement over time.
Just as I’m holding space for survivors, I’m holding space for myself, and remembering the gray area that exists and the complexity of a multi-dimensional person’s impact, and the effects of their loss, and I invite you to do the same.
My last Kobe-centric blog post was one in which I mentioned that in addition to being certain to express love to our loved ones, we should adopt Kobe’s Mamba Mentality and go for our dreams. When I was looking for quotes of his to share, I found this one about “haters:”
It made me realize how often I play it safe with my content.
Posting anything about Kobe at all made me nervous, but as the host of a podcast called “Bold Moves,” who is constantly telling people to step outside of their comfort zones, it would be hypocritical for me not to do it.
Publishing this is scary and risky, too, even if I feel that likely, those who will read it are people on the same page as me, but as Kobe said “People don’t hate good, they hate great,” and I’m not interested in settling for “good,” I’m here to be great.
If you’re still reading, I’d love to engage in civil and respectful discussion in the comments!