When Kobe Bryant, along with his 13-year-old daughter and seven others, tragically died in a helicopter crash in late January, shock rippled through Los Angeles and the world. When an icon dies, the loss is felt whether you are a fan or not. Bryant was one of the greatest athletes in the world. His success and contributions to the sport of basketball and the city of Los Angeles were significant.
When a legend dies, especially one who is held in high regard, it can be difficult to bring up the worst of their deeds. However, for the sake of legacy and respecting those they have hurt, we must.
In 2003, Kobe Bryant was accused of raping a 19-year-old woman while traveling in Colorado. While the case was eventually dismissed due to the accuser's decision to not testify in court, the memory is still there for those who remember. While Bryant has always maintained that the encounter was consensual, in his official statement he acknowledged, “that she did not and does not view this incident the same way [he] did.” Kobe Bryant was a legendary man. He was revered on and off the court and did many great things for basketball and the Los Angeles community, but we cannot ignore this terrible deed.
I understand the emotional connection that young people today have with Bryant. He was a figure in countless lives, and for many of us, Kobe has been around since before we can remember. His career began in 1996 and spanned 20 seasons, so we have witnessed the polished height of his career while being too young to remember the rougher early years. For us, his name has always been synonymous with basketball and his presence has been felt consistently, whether we actively pursued it or not. Furthermore, 2003 was well before the vast majority of us followed headlines, so the posthumous reminder of his accused sexual assault feels to some almost like a smear campaign to tarnish his legacy.
While it is shocking, unfortunate and makes us rethink an idolized man, we cannot ignore what Bryant was accused of. We cannot let the story of his accuser die with him, and we need to use the 2003 situation to create our complete opinion of who he was. No person is perfect, we all do great things and we might do terrible things, but the sum of our actions is how we decide who we are. Just because Bryant was larger than life, doesn't mean that we get to avoid conversations about how complicated of a public figure he actually was. It seems that we are not willing to engage with this difficulty.
Consider what happened to Washington Post reporter Felicia Sonmez. After tweeting a link to a story covering the 2003 case, Sonmez was swiftly attacked on Twitter then suspended from her position at the Post. The response to Sonmez was absurd, and clearly represented the public's refusal to include the accusation against Bryant in his legacy. We need to remember this period of his life, if not to respect the victim’s story, then to add depth to the image Kobe has created.
Many of us current students do not remember who Kobe was before 2003. According to articles and reports, Kobe was seen as a “good guy,” an NBA Golden Boy. People recognized his “goodness” but wanted him to embrace his dark side, a harsher, more intense sports mentality. Bryant made headlines, but often for panned projects or familial drama. Kobe had an okay image, but it was not the squeaky-clean Mamba mentality we see today.
After the allegations, and the subsequent media circus, Bryant had to work in overdrive to reconstruct his image. He almost embraced the allegation in a way, using it to rid himself of the golden boy plainness that previously plagued him, and adopting his wildly successful “Black Mamba” brand. He also became more active in publicly repenting for his behavior. After being fined for using an LGBT slur during a game, Bryant publicly partnered with Pro-LGBT organizations and called out the use of offensive language against the gay community. Even more recently, Bryant became more politically active. He called out President Trump on Twitter and became a vocal advocate for the WNBA.
With all of these changes, it can be easy to divide Bryant’s career into the time before the allegation, and the time after. But, subsequently forgetting about the allegations is not the right approach. We can still appreciate the good Bryant has done, but it should not cancel out the rape allegation. Up until his death Bryant continued to avoid talking about the case and was intentional about leaving it out of his legacy.
We must discuss the allegation. We cannot fully evaluate Bryant’s life and legacy without it. While it may be difficult, especially to those of us who were too young to really know Bryant’s early career, avoiding it not only hurts his accuser and other victims of sexual assault, but also denies acknowledgement to a pivotal moment in his career. Kobe was an inspiration to many, but not to all. It is not an affront to bring up the bad things in someone’s career; it allows us to create true objective opinions on who we want to respect and support. Hiding aspects of someone’s life does not make them a better person – it strips them of their humanity and ability to change. Kobe Bryant was not a hero or a myth. He was a person. We must not forget that.
This is the opinion of Alyssa Story, a freshman film, television and media studies major from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Tweet comments to @LALoyolan or email email@example.com.