News of Kobe Bryant’s death a week ago left two distinct audiences with contrasting sentiments.
Devoted fans of the former NBA player deeply mourned his loss. To them, Bryant was a superstar who had transcended the game. Athletes of his caliber don’t come around very often, and he had a public persona to match.
But members of a smaller demographic don’t want this outpouring of adulation to keep Bryant’s more menacing side hidden from view. What he is reported to have done to a young woman in 2003 is troubling, and this part of his life deserves consideration as well.
Bryant was accused of raping a 19-year-old employee of an Edwards, Colo., hotel. After checking in, he asked the woman to give him a tour of the facility. She said she was very excited to meet him.
They ended up alone in his room. He began kissing her, and she enjoyed it.
But things took an ugly turn at this point. The woman told police Bryant prevented her from leaving when she told him she didn’t want to have sex.
She said he began to take his clothes off and started groping her. She also said he grabbed her by the throat and choked her — not to where she couldn’t breathe but enough to frighten her into submission.
Bryant reportedly asked the woman several times if she was going to tell anyone what he was doing, and she said she wouldn’t. She said that he tightened his grip around her neck each time she responded.
The woman told police that Bryant then raped her. He warned her not to tell anyone what had happened, and she left.
Bryant lacked credibility when telling his side of the story. When questioned by police the following day, he denied several times that they had engaged in sex. But once officers told him that an examination of the woman provided a DNA sample, he finally confirmed the sexual encounter.
The physical evidence strongly supports the woman’s assertion. She had a bruise around her throat, and Bryant admitted he grabbed her by the neck. He told police this was how he and Michelle, a woman he was involved with, liked to have sex.
Medical personnel ruled that the woman had vaginal injuries consistent with non-consensual intercourse. These were said to have been inflicted within 24 hours prior to the examination.
And the woman’s blood was found on her underwear and on Bryant’s T-shirt. It’s obvious that Bryant was physically aggressive with her. His claim of consensual sex does not stand up to scrutiny.
Bryant was charged with sexual assault and false imprisonment. Then his attacks on the woman began again, this time to her reputation.
Members of his defense team started dragging her through the mud. They peddled stories about her previous problems with depression and suggested she was sexually promiscuous.
During the investigation, the woman said she had sex a few days before the incident with Bryant. His defense team said her vaginal injuries could have occurred then. But medical authorities said her injuries were too recent to have been inflicted before the encounter at the hotel.
Before the trial began, the woman said she wasn’t going to testify. She had already filed a lawsuit against Bryant, and it’s likely that she realized what hell she would confront in the criminal proceedings. Prosecutors dropped their case.
Bryant issued a peculiar statement when the charges were dismissed. He maintained his innocence but said he better understood her side of the story:
“Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter.”
Bryant tried to have it both ways. He wouldn’t go on record as admitting to being a rapist, but he wanted to appear sympathetic to the woman’s suffering as a rape victim. It’s like he become an independent observer offering insights on the situation.
Of course, this is utter nonsense. If he acknowledged her contention that she didn’t consent, then he must conclude that she didn’t consent. Ergo, he sexually assaulted this woman.
Bryant eventually settled the lawsuit with the woman. He regained his sparkling image and retired from the NBA in 2016 as one of the most popular athletes around.
Many of his fans want to sweep the 2003 rape allegation under the rug. Some protested bitterly when other people referenced the incident following his death.
This is unfortunate. It’s this need to worship icons that encourages superstars to commit atrocities and enables them to avoid accountability.
People with remarkable talents in the fields of sports and entertainment are placed on pedestals as they rise to fame. They begin to believe the lies we tell them that they are god-like and deserve anything they desire.
So they begin taking what they want regardless of whom it hurts along the way. And when people who have been hurt rock the boat, they are often pushed aside.
Our most popular cultural figures must remain with as few blemishes as possible. Even after their deaths, we keep the myths about them alive.
Monique Currie, a former player in the WNBA, lauded Bryant’s efforts to promote women’s sports. Speaking on the BBC’s “Beyond 100 Days” program, she also acknowledged that people shouldn’t ignore the controversy surrounding his 2003 criminal case. She said Bryant admitted “he wasn’t perfect” and that he “learned from his mistakes.”
It’s good that Currie dealt more honestly with Bryant’s past than many other fans. But she minimized the brutality of his behavior, and this contributes to how sexual assault victims are marginalized.
First of all, what Bryant did was not a “mistake.” The sex that resulted wasn’t committed in error.
He intended to force himself upon the woman and torment her into submission. He wanted to demean, dominate and violate her in the most egregious way imaginable. This was a violent crime that stemmed from a vicious mindset.
Bryant can’t be credited with taking responsibility. While he apologized to the woman, he never confessed to raping her. Good people hold themselves accountable and work to overcome their flaws — but this can’t happen if they deny that any flaws exist.
If Bryant learned anything, it was how to remain popular in the public eye after behaving reprehensibly. Sadly, our cult-like devotion to celebrities continually makes this possible.
Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.