Trigger warning: Mention and details of sexual assault
Edited on Jan. 31 to match in-print version.
Former NBA player Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash on Sunday. He was 41 years old.
Others who died in the crash included Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter Gigi, as well as some of Gigi’s peers and basketball coaches.
Soon after the news of Bryant’s death began to spread, numerous tributes, homages and articles recounting Bryant’s illustrious NBA career began making their rounds. The Grammys even opened their ceremony with a tribute to Bryant by Alicia Keys to kick off the night. Noticeably absent from much of coverage and look-back on Bryant’s life was the fact that he was credibly accused of raping someone back in 2003, as reported by the Daily Beast and many other news outlets.
Bryant was arrested at the time and charged, but the charges were dropped after the victim decided not to testify against him. In 2005, a civil case was brought against Bryant and settled out of court.
According to several news reports, Bryant, who was 25 at the time, had checked into a hotel in Edwards, Colo., a few days before he was scheduled to have surgery nearby. There, he flirted with a 19-year-old hotel worker who later gave him a tour of the hotel. The woman, according to police reports referenced in The Daily Beast, then accepted Bryant’s invitation to his hotel room where they began talking and eventually kissing. Once Bryant began to grope her and take off his pants, the woman said she tried to leave. It was at that point that Bryant forced himself on her, began choking her, raped her from behind and then told her, “[This] is just between the two, the two of us, nobody is gonna know about this, you’re not going to tell anybody.”
In the hours after the assault, the woman did everything one is “supposed” to do when raped.
She went to the police and recounted her story. She did a rape kit.
The hospital examination found that the woman had a bruise on her jawline, and small amounts of blood were found on Bryant’s clothes. The woman also suffered several lacerations inside her vagina, ones that the detective said were “consistent with penetrating genital trauma” and “not consistent with consensual sex.”
When initially arrested for assaulting the woman, Bryant denied having had sex with her at all. It wasn’t until detectives told Bryant that the woman had consented to medical examination, that Bryant admitted to having sex with her. He argued that it was consensual.
And yet, the victim’s statement referenced in The Daily Beast’s piece states that every time the victim said “no,” she said that Bryant tightened his hold around her neck.
In his own public statement, Bryant continued to defend his position.
“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,” his statement said.
In the public frenzy that followed, Bryant was staunchly defended by his fans while the victim’s name was leaked numerous times. She received death threats. He received MVP awards. She was slut-shamed by Bryant’s lawyers. He lost endorsements but almost immediately got them back. She went away quietly. He became a sports legend.
When I first posted angrily on Facebook about how Bryant doesn’t deserve anyone’s grief, I got a lot of pushback. People unfriended me. One person even personally reached out to say that I could no longer use them as a professional contact.
Arguments were made in Bryant’s defense.
“His daughter died, too.”
“He’s not even in the ground yet.”
“It’s too soon.”
“Maybe he didn’t do it.”
“Maybe he didn’t do it.”
“Maybe he didn’t do it.”
Let’s take a look at that one.
Now, it’s not lost on me that Bryant is a black man accused of raping a white woman. The fraught and often times insidious history of white women accusing black men of rape is a well-known and disturbing pattern in our country. Often times these historical accusations were false and led to the systematic lynchings of black men time and time again. But I would argue that there’s another important dynamic at play here.
Bryant wielded the power and prestige as one of the most famous, successful basketball players in history. In the years prior, from 2000 to 2002, he helped lead the Lakers to three consecutive NBA championships. At 23, he became the youngest player to win three championships. Besides, Shaquille O’Neal, his teammate, and Michael Jordan, he was arguably the most famous athlete in the sport. Possibly all around.
Now, we all know, or should know, how power and influence can be used to change outcomes. That’s how serial rapists like Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby got away with assaulting women for decades.
Sure, Bryant didn’t rape several women, he was credibly accused of raping one. But his power, built-in credibility, status and wealth cannot be denied when contemplating this case.
According to a police report obtained by the Daily Beast, Bryant even copped to this idea of using his wealth and power to make the case “go away.”
“I should have done what Shaq does,” Bryant said, “Shaq gives them money or buys them cars, he has already spent one million dollars.” The report added, “Kobe stated that Shaq does this to keep the girls quiet.” (Also, if this is true, why hasn’t anyone reported on Shaq?! Another story for another page.)
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, only 23 percent of sexual assaults are even reported to police. Only 4.6 percent lead to an arrest. Only 0.9 percent get referred to prosecutors. Only 0.5 percent lead to a felony conviction and less than that are incarcerated.
Given these statistics, it’s not hard to see how difficult it would have been to report Bryant to the police in the first place. Then to try and take him to court? It’s no wonder the woman eventually decided to settle out of court.
In fact, one commenter on my Facebook post said that she ran a nonprofit that helped survivors of sexual assault at the time of Bryant’s case. She noted that both during and after the spectacle, that many women dropped their charges. A news report by Think Progress noted that sexual assault reporting declined dramatically at the alleged victim’s school, the University of Northern Colorado, in the aftermath of the hearing.
For those who say it’s disrespectful to bring up the case so soon after Bryant’s death: How do you think the survivor feels today?
People have complicated relationships with flawed celebrities. We like to put them on pedestals because they not only are extremely talented, but give us hope and aspiration. Every time a kid throws a balled-up piece of paper into a nearby trash can and yells, “Kobe!” is an example of that.
I’m not black. I will never know what Bryant meant as a figure in the black community. Those who have pushed back on my comments likely had very particular and complicated feelings of their own about the now-deceased basketball legend.
I don’t admire Bryant. Others do because we are all complex.
But just because people are famous and talented doesn’t mean they get to get away with doing horrible things. Bringing up those horrible things isn’t disrespectful; it’s the truth. It may feel inconvenient to you, but it’s what happened.
I don’t mean to cause harm to the black community by bringing it up. But people should be remembered fully and this rape allegation is a part of Bryant’s history and life.
And that should never be forgotten.