Nine people were on the helicopter that crashed outside the enclave of Calabasas, California, on Sunday. The helicopter had reportedly taken off in dense fog en route to a girls’ basketball tournament in nearby Thousand Oaks, California, where some of the passengers were set to compete. Among those on board were Kobe Bryant and his daughter, 13-year-old Gianna Bryant, an aspiring basketball player.
In the wake of his untimely death at 41, the world has felt a range of emotions- disbelief, shock, sadness and, for some, anger. Obituaries for Bryant rolled in the hours following the crash, and most of them focused on the parts of the story that were easiest to understand and remember - the tragedy of his sudden death, the beauty of his athletic skill, and his parenting.
But one of the most significant episodes of Bryant’s public life was pushed aside. In 2003, a then 19-year-old girl accused him of raping her in his room at the Colorado hotel where she worked.
The rape accusation defined Bryant’s career. First, it was the subject of the criminal trial, in which Bryant had denied having any contact with the accuser, then changed his story when confronted with evidence by the police. Evidence such as the bruise on her neck, consistent with her claim that Bryant had choked her, as well as the tears and bruises on her genitals, his semen inside her, and her blood on his shirt.
During the criminal proceedings, the media and Bryant’s legal team used the accuser’s real name repeatedly and dragged out details of her sexual and psychiatric history as evidence that she couldn’t be trusted. She was hounded by the media, labelled as slutty and crazy, and further threatened by his fans. Eventually, she stopped cooperating with the investigation.
After the case was dropped, Bryant issued a lengthy statement, apologizing to the woman and acknowledging her perspective of their encounter, which is farther than most public apologies go. “Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual,” he said in the statement, “I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did.”
Now that Bryant is dead, it is likely that for her, the traumas of the trial and media attention will be fresh wounds. She may be hounded online or asked for comment by reporters. She might receive threats. At the very least, she will be reminded of what were probably the worst months of her life.
For her, we can wish security, peacefulness, love, and supportive surroundings in what is probably a more distressing time for her than we can imagine. We can wish her safety, and privacy and good health.
But to those mourning for Bryant as they remembered him – as an athlete or a philanthropist, or as the icon for skill and success – these wishes can seem very inconvenient, even insulting to their grief.
It would be irresponsible to excuse or gloss over Bryant’s treatment of this woman. But it is also reductive to focus only on this behaviour when reflecting on his life and death. But most of those who are grieving Bryant, are perhaps not thinking about his accuser at all. It was just one of those things that, unfortunately, "happened" in his life.
Bryant, older and mature, became an official ambassador for women’s sport, coached his daughter’s basketball team and took pride in being a “girl dad.” But none of his commitments–to his children, to women’s sports, to a more equitable world–negate his accusation. We must confront the tragedy that Bryant and his family have met with, understand the greatness he exhibited on the court, while also remembering the hardships a 19-year-old girl had to face.
It is true and one of the main understanding of feminism, and a general understanding that people are capable of change. That we can forgive those that have wronged, but that power lies only with the 19-year-old girl in this case. So while we mourn the tragic and untimely death of a legendary basketball player, let us not forget the woman who had to live through a lot of trauma.