Op-Ed: Why the Media’s Treatment of Kobe Bryant’s Death is Controversial

Trigger Warning: mentions and details of rape and sexual assault

Kobe Bryant was many things: a father, a husband, a basketball player, and a rapist. Yes, a rapist. When I had brought this up to people I know, I was met with shock and disbelief. Many of them had no idea that Kobe Bryant was accused of raping a teenager, despite him being a public figure. And many of them were resistant to the criticism that followed his behavior, claiming that it wasn’t fair to bring something like this up after someone had recently died. 

Kobe Bryant’s death was followed by a massive flood of sorrow for his loss and of celebration for all of his accomplishments, but one thing stuck out to me. Many called him a hero. However, my opinion is that he is far from it. In July 2003, a case against Kobe Bryant claiming sexual assault was filed, but the NBA player reached a settlement with the victim before the case went to court. During this time, the victim was mocked and ridiculed by many, and the media especially was not kind to her. 

The survivor was a 19-year-old hotel employee. Bryant didn’t initially admit to having sex with this woman, until he was informed that there was DNA evidence— and then it was all tears over his “adultery.” What adultery would ever be more important than the violation of a young woman’s body? 

In the end, the victim didn’t receive much but an apology and a civil settlement, which said: “I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter.” 

That “apology” feels closer to gaslighting, which is the manipulation of someone until they begin to question their own sanity. What he essentially said was, “I’m sorry that your misunderstanding of my actions caused you pain.”

What kind of misunderstanding would cause both emotional and physical trauma, which was used AGAINST the victim in the case? Let’s not forget the death threats she started receiving from his fans. And how is it possible to paint someone who so mercilessly destroyed a young person’s body and mind in such a heroic light? 

And in return for her lifelong trauma, what did he lose? He temporarily lost some brand deals, but in the end, ESPN said that the scandal awarded the athlete with a new kind of “sizzle.” 

Bryant is considered “brave” and even a “hero” for his apology, as though his “character development” is somehow more important than the pain he caused to a barely legal woman. The media forgave him for his actions. His career did not suffer whatsoever in the long-run, and he was able to go on to live a wealthy, privileged life.

Vlad TchompalovAnd while the entertainment industry seemed to have forgiven and forgotten Kobe Bryant’s violent act against women, one important fact still seems to have been missed: Kobe Bryant’s victim is the only person who has the right to forgive his actions, and it is not up to the media or those who consume it to deem him “forgiven,” as she was the one who suffered first hand from his assault. 

Something I often think about is when it becomes appropriate to separate the art from the artist. Sometimes, it could be okay. But with the concerning and notorious mistreatment and harm of women both in the media and in real life, I do not feel comfortable. Kobe Bryant died with millions to his name and left behind a reputation that only wants to give him accolades for his countless accomplishments in basketball. But all of this leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, along with the frightening notion that women’s lives don’t matter.

I want to end this on the following note: As you mourn someone you might consider an idol, please also keep in mind the life he may have destroyed before he lost his own. It is a legacy that is just as important. 

 

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