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Opinion: You Can Feel Sorry For Kobe and His Victim at the Same Time

In lieu of Kobe Bryant’s passing and sexual assault awareness week, survivors may be revisiting their assault at a higher rate than usual this week. 

Media has done a poor job of reporting Bryant’s legacy: i.e. beloved father, husband, and professional basketball player. What some are forgetting – nay, omitting – is Bryant’s alleged sexual assault.

I’m not suggesting we play God when someone dies by taking each error and shortcoming to the judgement room. That’s not a journalist’s job. However, it is crucial to acknowledge them in reflection posts and pieces about his life. 

A legacy is what one leaves behind. Bryant is survived by a wife and three daughters. He holds five NBA championships and two Olympic gold medals. He changed the game of basketball for many basketball players and fans alike — along with the life of the woman he was accused of raping in 2003. 

The #MeToo movement is no longer letting us forget that sexual assault survivors are often overlooked and – at the hands of powerful, wealthy, rich men – left without justice. 

So. Imagine a woman is in the wake of her trauma. She is assumed to be satisfied with the outcome of her sexual assault allegation because of the settlement. She is tasked with seeing the face of her abuser taped to each timeline. She sees him adorned with love and respect for his basketball skills and character.

I’ll let that marinate as I introduce my condolences. 

I was saddened to learn of Bryant’s death. I was shocked to learn his daughter was with him, along with their friends and the pilot. I do not believe people should not be saddened by Bryant’s death. I do not scoff at the thought of his family mourning his passing. Like many people, I was reminded of the fragility of life and the sharp wound it creates when ended unexpectedly. Like many, I heaved a sigh of grief.

But his death prompted a multitude of pains. With death comes the celebration of life. For a figure with the popularity and influence Bryant has, there was no shortage of praise to accompany the grief of colleagues and fans. 

So. The woman we’re imagining – who is very real, whether her abuser’s name is Bryant, Allen, Weinstein, or Cosby; coach, teacher, pastor, or boss – faces the celebration of a man who took something from her. What we’re witnessing is the discussion of one’s great contribution to the athletic and entertainment world without acknowledging the damage he may have caused. She has a very different relationship with him compared to the fandom he performs for and the family he serves. 

And now, we’re allowing athletes, actors, directors to not be accountable for their actions because they can be excused so long as they are one of the greats. So long as they are influential. So long as they are valued by the public. And in that, we are telling the woman she is not. 

I’m not saying Bryant could not have learned from his mistakes. Nor am I saying he did not feel remorse. But we cannot equate one learning a lesson to how the target feels, having been on the receiving end of the violence. Bryant is behind Mamba for Life, while his victim could be dealing with trauma for life.

We can mourn the loss of life and those left behind. But we must also empathize with the woman who is forced to see her abuser blown up to this larger-than-life figure. We can tell her we see her. We can believe her the next time. And we can promise her we will try to do better at holding people accountable the next time around. 

I am sorry for the loss the Bryant family is facing. I am sorry a wife has lost her husband. I am sorry daughters have lost their father. I am sorry siblings have lost their brother. I am sorry friendships have been tethered. 

I am sorry for his target and all other sexual assault survivors. I am sorry we are not good at criticizing the people we love. I’m sorry they must watch the world celebrate their abusers. I am sorry they are not taken seriously. I am sorry. 

 

For sexual assault support at Carleton, call 613-520-5622 or visit: https://students.carleton.ca/services/sexual-assault-support-services/

For sexual assault support in Ottawa, call (613) 234-2266 or visit: https://sascottawa.com/

 

Journalism & Poli Sci '20. I love books, goats, breakfast foods, and spend too much time refreshing my blog: https://sherlynassam.wixsite.com/sail