Editorial: Kobe Bryant

Lyle Griggs

On January 26th, a helicopter carrying basketball legend Kobe Bryant crashed into a mountainside near Calabasas, California, killing everyone on board. In the days that followed, coverage of the tragedy was widespread and fans of Bryant flooded social media with tributes. But inevitably, a few less-adoring people reminded the world of the star’s complicated past, specifically allegations that Bryant committed rape in 2003. Given the recent rise of the #MeToo movement, it seemed likely that these allegations would dominate or at least greatly taint news coverage of Bryant’s death. Instead, the few who brought up the alleged crime were shut down. A reporter for the Washington Post, for example, was suspended after merely retweeting a story about the allegations, and television personality Gayle King faced death threats and public condemnation after her interview questions about the rape case surfaced. 

This public reaction against discussion of Bryant’s imperfect legacy is deeply disheartening. It encourages ignorance and emboldens those who turn a blind eye to sexual assault. To tiptoe around such accusations of rape is to ignore the importance of verbal consent, which Bryant, by his own admission, did not obtain. I fear that the general public’s adoration of Bryant may reduce the rape case to a footnote.

Unfortunately, history justifies that fear. In the past, tragedy has often altered a celebrated figure’s legacy, concealing the less-appealing, darker bits in favor of the good. Former President John F. Kennedy’s 1963 assassination had a similar cleansing effect. Kennedy’s short presidency was certainly not perfect, nor was he particularly admirable; he cheated on his wife, abused drugs and pragmatically hesitated on the issue of civil rights. But tragedy erased most criticism–shortly after his assassination, 65% of Americans polled claimed to have voted for him, although just under 50% actually did. To this day, popular polls rank Kennedy as the best modern president. Even I admit to viewing Kennedy’s presidency through rose-colored glasses; nobody who has seen footage of his assassination is unaffected.

But I hope, despite discouraging recent events, that people are smarter than they were after the Kennedy assassination. As far as I can tell, Kobe Bryant was a great father, a giving person and a celebrity who seemed less corrupted by fame than most. Nevertheless, he was no saint. No matter the circumstances of his death, we must remember his life in his entirety, uncensored by grief.