I’m Not Wrong for Not Mourning Kobe Bryant
But giving people room to grieve doesn’t require feeling the same way they do.
When news of Kobe Bryant’s death in a helicopter accident yesterday started taking over my social media feeds, my first reaction was… not much. Like any time I heard his name over the past 16 years, I thought about the rape case against him. I’m the first to admit that I’m not a sports fan, and his accomplishments as a player don’t mean anything to me. I also don’t hang out with a lot of people who are hardcore sports fans, so having an emotional attachment to an athlete is kind of a foreign concept.
I am a raging feminist, however, so a lot of my time is spent focused on rape culture, misogyny, feminism, and all of the things that come with it. I read books like Missoula for fun (if you can call reading enraging books fun), and write about my experiences moving through the American life as a woman. When someone is accused of sexual assault, especially someone in the public eye, I feel like they have responsibilities around it and deserve to be held accountable.
I had a strong gut reaction to seeing Kobe fawned over.
In the same way that people who cared a lot about Kobe reacted with vitriol to the mention of the rape case, I had a strong gut reaction to seeing him fawned over. The day was difficult for a lot of people in a lot of different ways. For me, it was difficult to see someone who had raped a woman and not done much to contribute to dismantling rape culture praised so much. My sympathies went first to all of the sexual assault victims for whom the collective grief of the other side was potentially extremely triggering.
I’m not wrong. But if today you’re mourning a public figure who meant something to you… you’re not wrong either. The world isn’t black and white, and people are complicated. They change and grow; and let’s be honest, I didn’t know Kobe Bryant personally and neither did most of the people who are sad about his death. It’s not wrong for me not to want to celebrate him. Calling anyone who is mourning him a rape apologist isn’t accurate. Ignoring his accomplishments completely is also probably not fair.
It’s okay for you to say he was a hero to you, it’s also okay for others to say he was not one to them.
The question of what we do with people who have problematic pasts is a difficult one. Can people change? Surely they can. The human brain and its capacity for growth is full of grey areas and intricacies, and there’s no way for me to know whether Kobe Bryant changed. If he did, that’s great.
However, recognizing that Kobe Bryant was accused of rape and several other problematic things during his career is not wrong just because he died. We all create our own legacies, and these were actions he took. If it’s okay for you to say he was a hero to you, it has to be okay for others to say he was not one to them.
He will be remembered largely as a hero, and using my voice to point out that that he was other things too isn’t disrespectful. It’s just factual. It doesn’t feel right to me to ignore it. But the idea that anybody who’s feeling sad right now about losing someone they looked up to is doing something wrong? That doesn’t feel right to me either.
Yesterday, I posted on my Facebook from my point of view, saying “Kobe Bryant wasn’t a hero. He was a rapist. People die every day and it’s sad but his death isn’t any sadder than anyone else’s and he doesn’t deserve further adulation.”
I was called vicious, and on another post I commented on I was called screeching, disrespectful, and not “woke.” People said I was defining him as a rapist, and I guess I was. I didn’t mention his basketball career or family life. I also didn’t say he was trash, or deserved to die, or should burn in hell, or anything like that. I pointed out that he was not a hero to me and that I didn’t feel he deserved more than other victims of tragedy.
I won’t apologize for speaking out loud about the fact that I’m not mourning. When someone chooses a life in the public eye, they are choosing a life where people are going to talk about their legacy. Good or bad, alive or dead. And if people are going to call someone a role model that has behaved in decidedly un-role-modelish ways, it’s not wrong to point it out.
I just wanted to express the fact that it didn’t seem fair to me that this death was so much more acknowledged and talked about than any other.
What I didn’t want was to have arguments about whether or not “he wasn’t convicted” is a valid argument (it’s not). I wasn’t in the mood for another fight about rape culture or innocent until proven guilty, especially since I was dealing with several comments on other posts in that vein. I just wanted to express the fact that it didn’t seem fair to me that this death was so much more acknowledged and talked about than any other.
Eight other people died in that helicopter crash. Can you name them? Are you praying for their families? Or the eight people who died in a marina fire in Alabama Sunday night? What about the 31 people who have already died in mass shootings in the US this year? An elementary school principal in my community was murdered by her husband earlier this month and none of them are on the national news or being lauded so widely.
My friend Phoebe put into words part of what I was feeling: “We have a weird thing about venerating famous people after they die even if they hurt others — but that’s not fair to their victims. It attempts to erase their truth and delegitimize their trauma. Rachael, myself, and others do not remind people he was a rapist to negate his exceptional talent; we do it to remind his victim that we still see her, still believe her, and will not forget — because she never will.”
Because of my life experience and the words of other survivors, I know that this is true. There are people out there who are hurting because they are reminded of their traumas, and of the lack of accountability and consequence rapists suffer in our culture. I won’t ever let them be forgotten.
Because of some of the comments left on my post and other posts online, I know that there are people out there who are hurting because they lost someone they cared about. For whatever reason, this athlete meant something to them and affected their life in some way. My intention with my post was not to make those people feel like they were doing something wrong. Ultimately, was I causing others to feel like they were not allowed to mourn?
After thinking about it, I decided that I didn’t want that to be the vibe I gave off. Whether or not I think someone is worthy of adulation doesn’t change the fact that people are experiencing hurt and pain. Feelings are complicated, and grief is a shapeshifter, hard to see, hard to get a handle on. And I am sorry that people are feeling that. I can be compassionate to those people even if I don’t feel it too.
I ended up deleting my post, as well as my comment on another post about Kobe’s death. Why? Because I’ve found that sometimes, even if I don’t think I’m wrong, I don’t like the energy something is creating. That post was creating too much negative energy, and there is just enough of that in the world already.
So many times, it seems we are expected to make a choice about who we hold space for in our hearts. The reality is, we have the capacity to have compassion for more than one side. Instead of making anybody else wrong, we can work to change the world for the better by acknowledging each other’s feelings.
Giving people room to grieve doesn’t negate the work I do in trying to leave a better world through talking about rape, misogyny, sexism, and other social issues.
Instead of attacking each other, we can just realize that people feel different ways. Giving people room to grieve doesn’t negate the work I do in trying to leave a better world through talking about rape, misogyny, sexism, and other social issues. Acknowledging that even if I’m sad about something, not everybody is doesn’t make my grief less important or real.
I can have sympathy for Kobe’s wife and other children, and for the families of the other crash victims and have compassion for the sexual assault survivors who are triggered by seeing his face plastered everywhere they turn. We’re all in this together.
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