Trigger Warning: Sexual assault & death of attacker
I first learned about Kobe Bryant after I heard he was dead. As someone who does not follow sports, the name was vaguely familiar, but I knew nothing about the individual. Then, I learned he raped a woman in 2003. The woman reported to the police that Bryant had sexually assaulted her, which led to a public scrutiny of the case. Bryant later stated that he believed the interaction was consensual but recognized she did not. The case never went to trial because the accuser did not want to testify, but a settlement was reached. To me, an employee of the Rape Crisis Center, an admission that fits the definition of rape is sexual intercourse without the complete and eager consent of all parties for the duration of the act.
As an avid reader of the news, I found few articles which recognized the pain he had created which frustrated me. Often in America, celebrities are forgiven for rape, upholding the view that sexual assault is a big deal. Our news outlets should support survivors of sexual assault in all stories published.
I was ignorant and promoted a narrative that cannot exist in our world.
Kobe Bryant was human, which does not excuse the fact he was a rapist, but he was more than just that. Bryant was an activist for racial equality and an icon to the Black community. “I’ve grown up watching Kobe Bryant and seeing him continuously strive for excellence,” said Commissioner Salim Adofo of the National Black United Front. “He’s been an example of what we can do as a community. Seeing a lot of violence in Washington, D.C. everyday and seeing how he resolves conflict, we can learn a lot from him.”
What I and other white individuals have failed to recognize is the need to let the Black community mourn the loss of Bryant without the constant reminder of his flaws. Is there a need to remember all of Bryant, not simply his positive impacts? Yes. However, his mourners deserve a space to grieve.
Bryant’s family and friends also deserve to be supported during this harrowing time. Gianna Bryant, Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter, was also killed in the crash. The death of a child is horrific and painful in any and all scenarios. When the death is public and marred with the mistakes of a beloved family member, that pain only increases. Gianna must be given respect. She was an inspirational young woman who will be missed and does not deserve to be remembered with anything less than unconditional love.
Sadly, she has been dragged in the dirt by allies of survivors. A mural in Austin, Texas honoring Kobe and Gianna was defaced with the word “rapist.” This is abhorrent. The memory of a child should not be degraded in such a cruel manner. Neither is this the way to honor survivors. We must hold them and lift their voices, not degrade memorials made by private citizens.
This controversy has exploded due to concerns from allies of sexual assault survivors at the one-sided narrative promoted by many media outlets. Wanting the entire narrative of Bryant’s life to be included in the public retelling of his life. The problem is these calls for a recognition of Bryant’s flaws generally did not respect a space for mourning. Part of this stems from racism. Historically, when a white woman accuses a black man of a crime, the black man is degraded. The lack of respect for the need to mourn Kobe Bryant follows that theme. Yes, the victim of Bryant’s assault deserves to be remembered, but not at the expense of allowing others the chance to grieve.
There is a way to still honor sexual assault survivors while mourning Kobe Bryant. Firstly, empathize with the victim of the assault in question. There is a large amount of news surrounding Bryant which means he and his death are unavoidable. Often times, reminders of one’s attacker brings up memories of the assault. The survivor in question cannot avoid the news about Bryant and is likely struggling. She deserves love and support. She was not given privacy during the aftermath of her rape; her name was leaked to the media and had to face the consequences on a daily basis. This is an opportunity for all of us to educate ourselves on the triggers of past sexual assault and how to support survivors. We can honor her pain and her bravery for facing this cruel world by working to ensure this pain is not repeated. We can also do so without lashing out at those who are in mourning.
By Amira Pierotti