Life After Room 35

Kobe [Bryant], who had his case dismissed in criminal court because the accuser refused to testify, later admitted, at the time during the sexual encounter, he believed that the sex was mutual but acknowledges that [the accuser] did not view the encounter as consensual. (Sounds strange, right? Well, it is.)

The sports world has had a dozen plus years to digest the Kobe accusation. Before the Oscars, the case was, for better or worse, an afterthought. Coupled with the fact that Kobe never had a history of trouble before the case and never got into any trouble or had any additional sexual abuse claim since, all seems to be forgiven. (That and winning championships doesn’t hurt either.)

Between Kobe and Ray [Rice], who’s situation was handled correctly? Kobe was still allowed to play in the NBA during his case. He eventually went on to win multiple championships, NBA awards, an Oscar and is now gaining an impressive post-basketball career. Rice was immediately cut from his team, effectively blackballed by the NFL, atoned for his sins but still no team would sign him. Where’s the justice for Ray? Does he deserve any at all?

These words that I wrote in March 2018 are no less true today than they were 22 months ago. Now, the world is processing the sudden death of one of the most driven and beloved American athlete of the last 25 years. In my reconciling with Kobe’s death, the question that has been embedded in my mind like a nagging splinter is, are we ready to have a nuanced and arduous conversation on when is/if it is acceptable to forgive people when they make gross transgressions?

Loving Kobe and mourning his death does not make you a bad person. Neither does hating him and continuing to champion the rights of his sexual abuse accuser. Those two feelings are contradictory but justifiable. And the world is left with more questions than answers.

You can’t escape the 2003 rape allegation when Kobe was 25 in the same way you cannot escape his tangible growth as a human, husband and father heading into his 40’s. Literally, it’s his yin and yang. And I can’t escape how, in a social climate that toiling and bubbling below the surface like an pensive volcano, it may be time to accept that no one is perfect and how it’s healthy to develop a road for people to have true redemption.

In the eyes of many, Bryant was able to redeem himself, particularly through the love and parenting of his daughters. We’d see the video clips of him instructing Gianni, his eldest daughter, and working with her to craft her basketball skills. We’d read the Instagram post of him congratulating his teams on victories or never being satisfied with 6th place. In the words of Kobe:

As parents you’ve have to lead by example. If you want your kids to do whatever it is you want to accomplish in life, you have to show them. I have four girls, so my mission is to make sure women have opportunities. Our daughters will grow up understanding that they can be strong, they can be independent. They can be fierce.

His growth as a man felt real, especially when he left the spotlight of the NBA and took on a mentorship role behind closed doors:

When you get older you start to understand that really it’s about the next generation. That these championships do come and go. But the most important thing you can do is to pay everything that you’ve learned forward to the next generation to come. And that’s truly how you create something that lasts forever.

For as obsessed as Kobe was with winning, to say the words “championships do come and go,” especially when everyone knew his goal was to surpass Michael Jordan’s six total championships, is unfathomable. I never expected that of the man. And that’s why I love him.

Hearing the news of Kobe’s death left me thunderstruck. A part of me is still in denial that he’s gone. But that grief does not dismiss my sympathy for his accuser. If her accusations are true, then she’s lived with the night in Eagle County, Colorado and the subsequent pre-trial, where her sexuality and mental health were weaponized against her, every day for nearly 17 years. To deny her existence and story is ignorant and dangerous. To deny Kobe’s legacy and life after 2003 doesn’t tell the full story. So where do we go from here?

Are we ready to settle this moral cognitive dissonance or are some things to heinous to let go?

Personal note: Typically, my writing process follows one of the two paths: either I know the point I want to make and I’ll build the road to get there or I know where I want to begin and I let my writing guide me to a conclusion that I’m not fully sure of. The latter is a bit more scary and rewarding because I don’t know where I’ll end up. The day that Kobe passed, I started writing something that felt, to be as naked as possible, dull and rudderless. So much so that I scrapped the idea and left a few sentences in my drafts. With a few days passing and being reminded of the events in Colorado, it weighed on me how much Kobe’s narrative was so far removed from 2013, even before his passing.

This piece isn’t meant to convince anyone or, more importantly, myself on how I feel about Kobe, one way or the other. To me, however, his death represents something larger in our society: who gets to decided who gets forgiven and who doesn’t? If me asking the question seems dismissive and tone deaf, I greatly apologize and the error is my own. It’s a question that I can’t shake and probably has no answer. Feel free to comment below and let me know where you stand on Kobe, his passing or if I’m headed in the wrong direction.

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