On Jan. 26, Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash outside of Los Angeles. His daughter Gianna, among eight other people, were also killed. Details about his death and his accomplishments have flooded the media, making it almost impossible to read anything else.
The attention makes sense. To many people, Kobe Bryant was a hero. Bryant was one of the kings of basketball, with five championships, 15 All-Star Game appearances, and multiple MVP awards under his belt. Alongside his Academy Award and countless charitable acts through The Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation, Bryant had an extensive list of titles associated with his name. However, one title stands out from the rest.
Kobe Bryant: role model, basketball star, humanitarian and alleged rapist.
The infamous case
In 2003, Bryant was accused of raping a 19-year-old woman in his hotel room. Although Bryant maintained his innocence, police found blood and semen evidence, as well as physical trauma that suggested an assault on the woman. Despite being charged, the case did not go to trial after Bryant’s accuser refused to testify. As reported in The Daily Beast, the woman had filed a separate civil suit against Bryant and agreed to drop the charges if he apologized to her. Through his attorney, Bryant released an apology:
“I want to apologize directly to the young woman involved in this incident. I want to apologize to her for my behavior that night and for the consequences she has suffered in the past year. Although this year has been incredibly difficult for me personally, I can only imagine the pain she has had to endure […] 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.”
I understand that to many people, Kobe Bryant was a legend. However, this should not take away from the severity of his actions and the years of trauma that he created for the woman. His death should not serve as an opportunity to erase his past mistakes and glorify his character into a god-like stature.
The dismantlement of Bryant’s case followed a surge of hatred and emotional abuse aimed at his accuser on social media. Bryant’s legal team used a combination of victim-blaming and slut-shaming to emotionally distress Bryant’s accuser. Bryant’s attorney, Pamela Mackey asked: “Could it be that [the accuser’s] injuries were caused by having sex with three men in three days?” This treatment built up until the victim dropped her criminal case. On top of this, since Bryant was never convicted, many of Bryant’s fans continued to argue that he didn’t do it. In response to that, here is a statistic from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network:
“Only 23 per cent of sexual assaults are even reported to police. Only 4.6 per cent lead to an arrest. Only 0.9 per cent get referred to prosecutors. Only 0.5 per cent lead to a felony conviction and less than that are incarcerated.”
The toxic dialogue surrounding Kobe Bryant fans serves as a reminder of the dangerous nature of fan culture. The severe consequences of that worship have led to these instances of victim-blaming. What is disappointing about this situation is not about what it means for Bryant but rather about what it says about our society.
This fandom behaviour is not exclusive to basketball. In July 2018, Jacob Hoggard, lead singer of Hedley, was charged in relation to three incidents from 2016 involving a woman and a girl under 16. Following these charges, social media was flooded with the hashtag #IstandwithHedley and #JusticeforJake, despite Hoggard turning himself in for his alleged crimes. As someone who grew up listening to Hedley, the news devastated me. However, it never crossed my mind that these women were lying about Hoggard’s actions. The aggressive devotion of the “Hedley Army” is a perfect example of how easy it is for the public to return to the comfort of victim-blaming when the truth is a little too hard to handle.
This worship allows artists to abuse their support while continuing to prosper under their privileged positions. These scenarios bring up the question of what the real problem is. Is it that we live in a society where sexual assault isn’t treated as a serious crime? Or is the issue with the rampant aggression of fan culture and the devotion involved with it?
Kobe Bryant is not my hero. Just because he was famous, talented and an icon for many people, that does not take away from the despicable, horrible thing I believe he got away with. This truth may not be popular but that does not change the fact that it happened and will be a part of his legacy forever.