Kobe: It’s Complicated

I, like so many others, on Sunday, January 26th, heard the shocking news of Kobe Bryant’s tragic death. Then hours later the news worsened knowing his daughter Gigi, 13, was with him in the helicopter. Grief spread knowing two of her basketball peers, members of their family, an assistant coach and the pilot all perished as well. Many tears were shed that day and as the days have continued, thinking of their families, communities and the larger community worldwide Kobe specifically impacted.

The complicated part of grieving Kobe is wanting to mourn the loss, but also not ignore the biggest scandal of his life, the 2003 sexual assault charge. The case was settled out of court, but not before highlighting the issue of consent and of course calling out his infidelity to his wife. These are big deals. These are marks on a life that can’t be ignored. 

Aly Wane, peace activist, speaker and writer, posted the following on Facebook and I think his words do an amazing job of describing how complicated it can be to grieve someone who has done unforgivable things, yet also touched our hearts immensely. 

I think Kobe Bryant meant a lot to many of us Black folks, for complicated reasons.

I also believe he got away with rape.

I also think he was a great dad.

I also think he was one of the greatest players to play the game.

I also think his promotion of Women’s Basketball and the WNBA was admirable and forward-thinking.

I also loved his aerial artistry.

I also know that sexual assault survivors will be triggered and traumatized by this public lionization.

I also know that even though I resented his seeming selfishness and political apathy in his early years, he grew into a type of maturity in his personal life and in his philanthropic endeavors that surprised me in a positive way. As he grew older, he grew bolder in his political visibility in ways that I appreciated (seeing him rock the “I can’t breathe” T-Shirt to commemorate Eric Garner’s assassination by the police heartened me).

I also don’t think that this erases the deep trauma he caused.

I also believe in healing, growth and redemption.

I also cried when I heard he died, because feelings are not political agendas and many of these celebrities are intertwined in our memories in ways that bypass our frontal cortex (I’m looking at you Michael Jackson). I remember “where i was when Kobe, the athlete did [insert great athletic achievement].”

I also know that the ability to compartmentalize is a luxury of the privileged, and as someone who has not been sexually abused I have privilege.

I also know that his child died with him and that she deserved a longer life.

I also mourn for his family.

I also hold his survivor and other sexual assault survivors in the Light tonight.

I also know that the Basketball fan in me will miss him.

This is hard to process.

Please be gentle, as best you can.

And if this reflection hurts or offends, I also believe that as an imperfect human being (like all of us), I will hurt and harm people I love.

Because such is life.

And life is very, very short.   

Wane captures the circuitous rhythm in grief, especially grief of people who have made unforgettable errors. He reminds us that humans are multi-faceted and complex beings. 

Kobe was so many things and it is difficult to reckon with parts of him, but there is one part I want to honor and uphold. Kobe seemed to love being a dad to his girls. Many interviews showcase Kobe talking about the importance of being a dad to girls specifically. Perhaps it was being a father to four daughters that helped redefine his character. His oldest daughter, Natalia, was only a few months old when the sexual assault case occurred. I like to imagine he learned a lot from fathering his girls especially about empowering women. Kobe turned out to be an incredible advocate for all levels of women’s basketball, just recently naming a few WNBA players that could play in the NBA.

The attached video starts with a tear-jerker of a story from Elle Duncan, SportsCenter anchor, and continues with nods to Kobe as an advocate for women’s basketball. These were some of the beautiful qualities of Kobe. 

As Aly Wane reminds us, life is short, be gentle, and understand we are all imperfect.