Kobe Bryant’s Controversial Legacy

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Kobe_Bryant_7144.jpg: Sgt. Joseph A. Leederivative work: JoeJohnson2 [Public domain]

Kobe Bryant was accused of sexual assault after his helicopter crash.

By Ada Fulgham, The Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science

While so many lament his death and praise his incredible legacy, I can only imagine what Kobe Bryant’s sexual assault accuser feels like knowing that the side of Bryant that fueled her nightmares ever since June 30, 2003, as well as the crimes he allegedly committed against her that day, are being swiftly wiped out of existence by faithful fans and blind followers.

This systematical erasure of history is fueled by the group mentality that we as humans take on whenever our celebrities get into hot water, or in this case die, and all that’s left is a golden, faultless hero.

On January 6 of this year, Kobe Bryant’s helicopter crashed in California, killing him and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, as well as 7 others. After the news of his death was released, millions poured onto social media platforms to share memories of the 5-time NBA champion and commemorate the horrendous tragedy that took away one of the top players to ever enter the court.

Joining the voices were also those who renounced the word ‘hero’ as a descriptor for the late basketball star, and for valid reason.

In 2003, while a 25-year-old Bryant was passing through Edwards, Colorado, he stopped to stay at a resort hotel where his later alleged rape victim, a 19-year-old girl, was working late. After arriving, Bryant allegedly requested that the girl show him around the hotel and lead them both back to his room. This series of initial events was relatively innocent, but the alleged rape that followed, and the 14-month trial, has always been viewed as a “stain” on the Black Mamba’s otherwise legendary public career.

After months of Bryant’s defense and the media attacking the Bryant’s alleged rape victim, she stepped down and denied to testify again. The emotional and psychological damage she must have undergone as only a 19-year-old girl is immense-no matter if her accusations are to be believed or not, because despite the mounted evidence, some still think victim-blaming is a better alternative than admitting their hero’s crimes.

Bryant’s continuous pleas of ‘not guilty,’ while his defense abused her further, perhaps, than what Bryant had done already, pushed his victim past anything a person should endure; his defense bombarded her with attacks on her mental capabilities (saying her word wasn’t to be trusted and she was a danger to herself), sexual history, and even went so far as to repeatedly release her name, leading to more attacks by the media.

Bryant added in petty abuse, saying that his accuser “wasn’t even pretty.” After death threats by fans and more abuse by the officials involved in the case, the trial ended and everything went back to normal-for some.

While Bryant was left virtually unscathed, having apologized like the devoted and cordial man he was always known as, his alleged victim was left with the lasting scars that end up defining the lives of most sexual assault survivors. Bryant would make it to three other NBA finals after that, losing only a few endorsements…and the girl in Colorado would be as good as gone.

And while I can understand that this is a trying time for many followers of Bryant, and that his death should be given time to be properly mourned, there is also room to acknowledge the extent of both his positive and (very) negative actions throughout his life. Like actress Evan Rachel Wood, herself a sexual assault survivor, said: “What has happened is tragic. I am heartbroken for Kobe’s family. He was a sports hero. He was also a rapist. And all of these truths can exist simultaneously.”

This story was originally published on The Vision MSMS on February 13, 2020.