Updated: Feb 27, 2020
One would have to try incredibly hard to avoid the media celebration of Kobe Bryant after his sudden death less than a week ago. If you hadn’t heard, 41 year old retired LA Lakers legend was among the 9 victims who died in a devastating helicopter crash on Sunday near Calabasa, CA.
My heart breaks for the families of all the victims, especially those who lost their children in this tragic accident. The loss of Kobe and his teenage daughter, Gigi, will undoubtedly receive more attention due to his celebrity status but there were 9 lives cut short that day and each will be mourned by friends and family.
While millions memorialize the life of this NBA great, his achievements and failures are recounted in an attempt for quantify the impact he had while he was on earth. With all of his achievements, Kobe comes with one very dark failure. In 2003 Kobe Bryant was accused of rape. As far as rape cases go, this one was very easy to navigate, being that he admitted to intercourse that he believed was consensual. There was DNA evidence and the stories of Kobe and the victim didn't differ by much. After the defense outed the identity of the victim and used her sexual and mental health history to shame her, she decided she would not testify against him in the criminal trial. Without her testimony, the prosecution had no choice but to drop the charges. The victim later filed a civil suit against Kobe that would eventually be settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. Though he admitted no guilt, Kobe issued a public apology for his actions and the pain he has caused to the victim.
In the years following the allegations, Kobe racked up 5 NBA championships, the league MVP, an Olympic gold medal and even an Oscar. He and his wife expanded their family. At the time of his death, Kobe was father to four daughters, who seemingly were his entire world. Kobe famously bragged about being a 'Girl Dad' and talked about how he would have 5 more daughters if he could. Kobe speaks of his girls with such pride and the promise to do anything a boy can do. He appears to ooze respect for women, a strong contrast to
what one might believe of someone with a dark event in their past.
In the wake of Kobe's death, we find ourselves being divided into two
groups: adoring fans or #metoo advocate. It has become impossible
to be both these days. I have wrestled with my own thoughts and
the idea of how I can categorize the life of this man in my head. I was
conflicted.. confused.. even angry. The rape victim in me was angered
by the use of words such as "hero" or "role-model" but the mother in
me ached for his family and melted for the words he spoke for his
daughters. This inner-conflict brought me to one question.
Can a man commit a horrific crime and also be a good man?
The easy answer is 'no'. No good man would rape. But does that mean that a man who has raped can't change and become a good man? Repentance is the changing of heart, and none of us can know another man's heart. But should we be judged by our worst days? Or is a legacy the compilation of years of actions put together? Are we no better than our lowest low or can we truly learn from our failures?
I began to question myself. I was concerned that maybe I wasn't being a good rape victim. How can I claim to support victims of trauma while considering that a rapist was a good man? It has taken me more than a decade to allow myself to forgive the man who raped me. And I truthfully find it difficult to believe that he is a bad person. He made a horrible mistake. And I do believe it haunts him. But I have forgiven him. [Not that he knows that. He doesn't need to know.] And although no one is asking for my opinion on Kobe, I still have one. I believe I have forgiven him also. He did a horrible thing and I think he spent the years since proving he is more than this horrendous night.
When it comes to writing or speaking about the legacy of Kobe, I propose we utilize the system of Baseball Hall of Fame. The Asterisk has been used when statistics come into question. It is a simple "yes, but..." and I would argue that this legacy calls for a simple "yes, but..." While we should never forget or make excuses for Kobe's past, I believe we can celebrate the life of a man who appears to have done what he could to become a better person and live a better life. Kobe was everything to his family and he will continue be a hero to his millions of fans. To me, I can confidently say that Kobe will always be a legend*.