I only learned about Kobe Bryant when he died earlier last week in a helicopter crash. When I did, it was about his rape case and his basketball career in one go. My universe has left me with little space for sports, and even now it’s not a subject I’d comment on, but the case of Kobe Bryant forces us to ask uncomfortable questions of ourselves again.
A friend mourning the death of his sports superhero defended Bryant in a conversation by saying, “But he was acquitted”, and while the faith that this person has in the justice system is enviable, it is not true. The criminal case was dropped after a very public trial in which the defence team attacked the credibility of the accuser, and a later civil suit was settled out of court. Very crudely put, the case was squashed and the woman was silenced with a pay-off.
This has been a pattern in many high-profile cases, but it raises more questions than it answers about how the rich and powerful with a team of lawyers to back them can play the legal system. It also points us toward the sexist nature of the law, archaic mindsets of those who upkeep the law, and how morality creeps into what is credited as an objective, evidence-based system, things that feminist legal projects in the world are involved in.
While we are here, we must reflect upon why the onus of proof still lies on the accuser of sexual assault, and if the ‘survivor’ is always treated on par with the ‘deceased victim’ if the celebrity is treated equally with a person from a marginalised or working-class community accused of the same crime. Outside of the law, but also as something that may influence the law, is legacy — a word that has been used extensively to deceive Kobe Bryant this past week. The legacy, usually of a man, is a careful curation of life events that are deemed important enough to be threaded into the fairytale, and in the case of a sports star, it begins by making the sport more important than the women it may affect.
When we speak of legacy we speak of one man’s achievements, but could those milestones have been met if loyal fans had not carried him from one to another, protecting him along the way from anything that could taint his legacy? Is it not this conveniently styled legacy that is then held up as an impenetrable shield through which the echoes of wrongdoings will never be heard? Do we each not then have a share of this legacy, a part of each person’s whose life we immortalise and make a legend of?
If yes, then we are each complicit in letting the legacy carry on for longer than it should have, and for later using the legacy as an excuse to not hear anything that will break it. If Kobe Bryant had faced the consequences of his actions back then, the legend would have ended there. Back then, the legacy protected him, and since then, the legacy has been allowed to add to itself, and today, we say the story with a few cuts. No, I intend to take nothing away from grieving the loss of a person.
All I ask is if we allowed ourselves to grieve for a nineteen-year-old who suffered because of this man, and because more people did not than they did, and because many men get away with a legacy in making or one left behind that is fiercely protected, I insist that this is no complicated case of legacy after all — we have yet to give to cancel culture what we have given to legacy culture — it’s straight and simple.
The writer is a city-based activist, in-your-face feminist and a media glutton