Kobe Bryant: Leaving a Complicated Legacy That Has Been Marked By Rape Culture

The tragic passing of Kobe Bryant, along with his 13 year old daughter Gianna Bryant and seven others, has caused heavy ripples of grief throughout the world as many continue to come to terms with the devastating news. Amid the outpouring of remorse for the tragic event and Bryant’s family however were criticisms of Bryant due to his past.

In 2003, Bryant was accused of rape by a 19-year old woman that worked as a front desk clerk at the Lodge & Spa at Cordillera in Edwards, Colorado. As a result, Bryant was charged with one count of felony assault, to which he pleaded not guilty. In September 2004, Bryant’s accuser refused to testify in court and officially dropped the case. The case was ultimately solved out of court in 2005 through a civil lawsuit brought by the accuser.

Bryant was asked about concerns for his image two weeks after settling the lawsuit by the LA Times. He had this to say:

“No and yes. It’s important that the image that’s out there is the real image of who I am as a person, not something that’s fabricated, not something that’s gossip, you know what I’m saying? From that standpoint, I care about it.”

Bryant went on to address the encounter between him and his accuser, expressing that he understood that they viewed the event differently.

“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. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter.”

On Sunday, as the news broke, while most, even those who weren’t particularly fans of the late basketball legend, showed a flux of respect and condolences through social media, others did not bother to mince words as they talked about the allegations brought against Bryant in the past.

Hours after news of Bryant’s death broke comedian Ari Shaffir said in a Tweet,

“Kobe Bryant died 23 years too late today. He got away with rape because all the Hollywood liberals who attack comedy enjoy rooting for the Lakers more than they dislike rape. Big ups to the hero who forgot to gas up his chopper. I hate the Lakers. What a great day.”

Comedian Ari Shaffir

After fierce backlash, the comedian later apologized and made an effort to explain his “joke”, stating in an Instagram story,

“Every time a beloved celebrity dies I post some horrible sh*t about them. I’ve been doing it for years now. I like destroying gods. And right when a famous person dies they’re at their most worshipped.”

Due to death threats following the comedian’s comments, his shows with the New York Comedy Club has been canceled.

While the allegations might have affected Bryant’s reputation at the time, even tarnishing it in the long run in the eyes of some, the aftermath of the case followed a familiar pattern that we’ve seen before with other controversial sexual assault cases such as those involving Michael Jackson and R. Kelly. In each case, all men faced allegations that were widely publicized and eventually dropped. While the stain of those allegations became a permanent mark on their reputations, each eventually moved on and continued to have very successful careers.

It’s phenomenons like this that frustrate those that refuse to overlook the murky fragments of Bryant’s past.

When it comes to famous figures whose names are synonymous with “legend”, like Kobe Bryant and Michael Jackson’s still are and R. Kelly’s once was, our culture has an unfortunate tendency of overlooking the issue, outright victim shaming their accusers, and then conveniently moving on.

Only recently, after last year’s #MuteRKelly movement and Lifetime’s Surviving R. Kelly documentary, which spotlighted the stories of numerous women that claimed to be sexually and physically abused by the singer, has Kelly proved to be the lone exception to this norm.

Following the documentary, Kelly saw his career drastically affected as his songs were pulled from streaming services, other artists swiftly cut ties with him, and was eventually dropped from his record label. Ultimately, charges were brought back up against Kelly, who is currently being held in a federal prison in Chicago where he is awaiting trial, in February 2019.

R. Kelly during hearing at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse in Chicago

It has taken nearly two decades, since Kelly’s alleged crimes first came to light, for the singer to face any significant backlash. Which is rare when it comes to men that match the influence and popularity Kelly once had in the music industry.

Like Kelly’s accusations though, it seemed that many of us had buried the existence of the allegation against Bryant somewhere in the back of our brains, only to have it dug back up as a result of his death. The same could be said for the public’s response to the sexual abuse allegations against Michael Jackson, which were recently revisited and addressed in the 2019 documentary Leaving Neverland.

As sad and ironic as it is, while tributes to Bryant and his love of being a father to his four daughters, along with his work of supporting women in sports, was being highlighted by fans and those who knew him, the issue of those rape allegations was also causing a conflicting discussion.

Some might say that bringing up the events marring Bryant’s past are unnecessary or even cruel, considering he’s no longer with us. After all, conversations like this have the ability to tarnish a legacy. Despite that, the discussion, though an unfortunate one, is necessary.

Death doesn’t make the issue of sexual assault simply vanish. It’s frequency, along with our culture’s reaction to it and it’s victims, is still an epidemic that plagues us.

It also goes without saying that death does not absolve us of the wrongs we committed in this life. Especially if those wrongs leave behind victims who continue to be affected by their trauma.

As hard as it is to acknowledge in the face of Bryant’s recent passing, part of Bryant’s legacy is and will always be embedded in the convoluted trenches of rape culture, guilty or not.

Therefore, it seems only fair for people, who want to hold accused rapists like Bryant accountable rather than have the truth silenced or overlooked, to express their lack of empathy for the situation.

For many others though, those that followed Bryant’s career and and saw him as a pillar in the world of basketball but also acknowledge his past, their grief for Bryant is sure to be painfully conflicted.

Though there are those that believe that Bryant isn’t worth mourning, it’s impossible to deny that he made an impact and will be missed by many, especially the family, friends, and fans that he leaves behind.

On Wednesday, Bryant’s widow, Vanessa Bryant, posted a statement to her Instagram about her family’s loss and thanked the public for their support, saying in part,

“There aren’t enough words to describe our pain right now. I take comfort in knowing that Kobe and Gigi both knew that they were so deeply loved. We were so incredibly blessed to have them in our lives. I wish they were here with us forever.”

No matter where you stand on the matter of the allegations against Bryant resurfacing in light of his passing we should all remember this:

Despite what many of us think we know about Bryant and his past, it is not an excuse to forget that there is currently a wife, three girls, and a number of other people that are dealing with a significant loss and that the least we can do is have empathy for their sorrow.

References

Dwyer, Colin and Anastasia Tsioulcas. “The Allegations Against R. Kelly: An Abridged History.” NPR. https://www.npr.org/2019/01/11/683936629/r-kelly-allegations-an-abridged-history. Web. 27 Jan. 2020.

Henson, Steve. “What Happened with Kobe Bryant’s Sexual Assault Case.” The Los Angeles Times.https://www.latimes.com/sports/story/2020-01-26/what-happened-kobe-bryant-sexual-assault-case?_amp=true&__twitter_impression=true .Web. 27 Jan. 2020.

Kelly, Emma. “Comedian apologises for joking Kobe Bryant ‘died 23 years too late’ and ‘got away with rape’” Metro UK. https://metro.co.uk/2020/01/30/comedian-apologises-joking-kobe-bryant-died-23-years-late-got-away-rape-12150809/ .Web. 30 Jan. 2020.

“Vanessa Bryant: ‘There aren’t enough words to describe our pain right now’.” ESPN News. https://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/28595386/vanessa-bryant-there-enough-words-describe-our-pain-right-now . Web. 30 Jan. 2020.

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