We were all shocked when the news came. Nobody could have anticipated that the young basketball legend and his daughter could have been gone so abruptly and tragically (may their souls Rest In Peace). Although I wasn’t ever the biggest NBA fan growing up, Kobe Bryant is a name which resonated (and still resonates) very loudly in mine and many other people’s lives. He represents to so many people the value of true perseverance and hard work, having entered the NBA fresh out of high school and won himself 5 NBA championships throughout his career. But in light of his death, a compelling issue has irrefutably come up to challenge the legacy this star will leave behind.
I will admit that I had never heard about any rape accusations against Bryant… not before the night of the announcement of his death. This single realisation (whether fairly or unfairly) caused me to stop and question everything I had believed about Bryant being a model father and husband, particularly for the Black community. Undoubtedly, Twitter was a battlefield that evening, with an overwhelming number of tweets on one end mourning his wife and family’s huge loss, while on the other, some people chose to stand in solidarity with the rape victim and remember her case during this time, as well as the other families on the plane who were not receiving the same kind of attention from the media or anyone else.
The truth is, I still don’t know how to feel about the entire ordeal, even now that the shock has subsided and the noise has died down.
Our present-day society has a way of choosing to ignore certain character flaws in celebrities because of the fact that they are famous; a kind of willful indifference to the whole picture that makes up who the person is. It’s evident in the way people still dance to R Kelly tracks despite the disgusting allegations made against him – or the way Michael Jackson is still idolised even after we found out about the various child molestation accusations tied to him. What a mess.
This obviously calls to question whether an artist can really be separated from their craft; whether what they create isn’t necessarily defined by who they are when no one is watching. I mean, to be fair, we all presumably present ourselves differently when we are in different social settings (at work, out with friends, at church, or at home with our partners) – but no one, and nothing, exists in a vacuum. In the end, the different versions of ourselves all come together and sometimes the resultant image isn’t pretty.
(Un)fortunately, death has a humorous way of combining people’s split images into one grand picture of who they really were. Personally, I think it’s unfortunate that it isn’t more of a popular practice to talk about both the good and the bad of a person in their eulogy (boy would funerals be a MOVIE), because it’s seen as “impolite” to speak negatively about the deceased. But the truth is no one lives a perfect life, and to portray an image of perfection solely because a person has been laid to rest is simply painting the burnt pot gold. Yes, it might be unfair to remind mourners of the faults of the bemourned during their grief, but people do need to be faced with the reality of the kinds of legacies they too will leave behind when they pass on.
Look at the case of Robert Mugabe. His death literally caused the entire nation to become divided because of how exactly he was going to be remembered – as a hero or as a villain. Yes, he provided opportunities for Black empowerment and land ownership like Zimbabwe had never seen before, but he also robbed these same people of their lives and dignity when their political views did not align with his own. Yes, he left Zimbabwe with the reputation of having one of the highest literacy rates in Africa, but he also donned us the reputation for some of the highest rates of brain drain from skilled professionals being forced to leave and work in foreign countries. In some ways he was a hero, but in others, he definitely fell short.
Whether or not people choose to celebrate Kobe as a hero is really none of my business, but we cannot ignore the life of the woman who has had to deal with the trauma of having been violated by an idolized celebrity. The trauma of forced silence on account of the attacks and death threats that would ensue from his multitude of fans and worshippers if she publicised her case. Moreover, our idolisation of celebrity characters should not assume that they are immortal, living without fault or blame, especially when clear evidence is invoked to prove they are not.
My opinion? Balance. It’s necessary to see celebrity figures for what they are – human, and inherently faulty at that. The way to do this is by removing them from their pedestals and seeing them just as you and I see each other – made by God of the same flesh and spirit. The sooner we can start doing that, the sooner we will be able to listen to both sides of a person’s life story and comprehend it as being a part of who they are. With no resentment towards the messenger (like this young lady) who brings a different perspective about their personal experiences with that person, and no judgement for the people who choose not to perceive him as a hero. Because he was a hero alright, just not mine.
What’s your take on this topic? Is Kobe still a hero to you or not? I would also encourage you this week to think about the kind of legacy you will leave behind when you go one day… will it be an inspiring one? As usual, thanks for reading loves; any comments and feedback are always welcome! Don’t forget to follow my IG (@african_sunflower) and catch up with my latest post here.