Messy legend of the mamba
In 2003, Kobe was accused of sexual assault. He eventually settled out of court, the terms of which were never made public and he issued a public apology.
Kobe Bryant (41), basketball legend, died last month in a helicopter crash which also claimed the life of his daughter, Gianna (13), and seven other passengers.
In the aftermath of this tragedy, there was a torrential outpouring of grief, love and affectionate tributes.
Many basketball players, celebs and fans shared their favourite Kobe story, which were touching, funny and inspirational for the man was a giant and one of the all-time greats in his chosen sport.
Kobe was cheered for his fanatical commitment, willingness to work harder than everyone else and undiminished love for the game to the very end.
His daughter had showed promise as a basketball player too and Kobe had been coaching her team in addition to investing himself towards improving conditions in the WNBA.
For this and more, he was revered and rightly so, but his legacy is not free of complications.
In 2003, Kobe was accused of sexual assault.
The charges were later dropped when the victim refused to cooperate with the prosecutors.
Kobe eventually settled out of court, the terms of which were never made public and he issued a public apology admitting that the victim had not considered their ‘encounter’ to be consensual.
When this case was brought up amidst the glowing tributes, the backlash was immediate.
A Washington Post reporter, Felicia Sonmez, who had tweeted the link to an article about the case, shortly after the news of his passing broke, was suspended and then reinstated after massive public support in her favour.
Anchor Gayle King was buried under an avalanche of outrage, criticism, and death threats for bringing up the incident during the course of an interview.
Actress Evan Rachel Wood was not spared either when she tweeted, “He was a sports hero. He was also a rapist. And all of these truths can exist simultaneously.”
All of this is proof if any is needed that conversation around sexual assault, especially if dizzying levels of celebrity are involved, is going to be polarising and difficult.
This is particularly true in the social media space where everything falls into binaries of good or bad, right or wrong and where everyone is expected to pick a side.
But despite all this it is necessary to have these debates. We just need to focus on nuance and dial down the outrage considerably to prevent it from becoming a no-holds-barred fight unto death.
Many felt that Kobe Bryant had gotten away with a serious crime. That the loss of a few lucrative endorsements and his eviction from the jury at an animation festival in 2018 after a petition insisted on it in the wake of the #MeToo movement just did not cut it.
His supporters, however, argued that he not be reduced to the sum of his worst deed, especially since in the intervening years he worked with his wife Vanessa to support various charities and address issues like homelessness, and emerged as a champion to promote women’s sports.
As always, people on either end of the spectrum make some valid points which deserve to be acknowledged.
If we can do that without the ugliness of name-calling, trolling and threats to life and limb, we can consider ourselves to be decent people who have done the right thing by a sexual assault survivor as well as a recently deceased, remarkable sportsman who also happened to be a flawed human being.
And the last holds true for all of us.
Which is why it is not our place to judge or condemn but to try and choose sensitivity and compassion over anger and hate.
Anuja Chandramouli, Author and new age classicist