A tragedy is defined as “an event causing great suffering, destruction, and distress, such as a serious accident, crime, or natural catastrophe.” There is no question that the loss of nine people in a helicopter crash, including three 13-year-olds, is a tragedy worthy of grief, anger, and remembrance.
Kobe Bryant, the NBA MVP with a 20-year career with the Lakers, was one of those lives lost in the crash, at only 41 years old. The public response to the tragedy has been overwhelmingly heart-wrenching, with celebrities ranging from Beyoncé, to Justin Timberlake, to LeBron James posting about the loss of their dear friend and inspiration. James wrote in an Instagram caption, “I promise you I'll continue your legacy man!” The hashtag “Gigi4Life,” in reference to Gianna, Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter who was also killed in the crash, concludes the emotional post.
Amidst the notable accomplishments of this truly legendary athlete, it is important to acknowledge the entirety of his actions. The legacy he left behind is a different legacy for different people. My heart hurts for his wife and daughters, who must now navigate a world without two of their closest family members. My heart hurts for those who knew him as a friend. My heart hurts for those who saw him as a champion of commitment and athleticism, as someone who represents success to underprivileged and aspiring kids. But at least one person was hurt by Bryant when he was still alive. My heart hurts for her as well, as she continues to live in a world that is valorizing her alleged abuser.
Grief is such a complicated emotion that it has psychologically been broken down into five stages. We must complicate our conversations surrounding the remembrance of lost celebrities, and participate in conversations that can range and vary in the same way the emotion of grief does. We can be respectful in all capacities, including the recognition of wrongdoings from public figures who have been lost to us. It would be unproductive to siphon the entirety of Bryant’s life into the incident from July 2003, when he was charged with sexual assault by a 19-year-old employee of the Lodge and Spa in Edwards, Colorado. However, it would be equally reductive to ignore the intricate realities of his past. The one-dimensional binary of siding with a survivor or an abuser is rarely that simple, and defeats attempts at difficult conversations.
A then-24-year-old man, Bryant gave a half-apology to his victim, citing a belief in her consent despite her account of the incident, before the case was dropped. The woman facing Bryant was dragged through the muddy underbelly of media outlets after already living through the trauma of her assault and having her reputation obliterated. The trajectory of Bryant’s career barely lagged during the brief period of time where he was expected to go to trial, right before the case was dropped, a verdict never given.
Powerful men are rarely held accountable for the damage their bodies cause, and the glory of status tends to occlude the less fortunate people caught in their whirlwinds. In an age that is becoming increasingly more sensitive to this unfortunate dynamic, it is time to recognize Bryant’s greatness on the court, and importance to his family and friends, while maintaining space to also concede his culpability. Ultimately, forgiveness lies in the hands of Bryant’s victim, but conversations that allow for all arrays of responses to this legacy’s death is something everyone can participate in.
Fame, money, and masculinity obscure guilt. We can continue to work against this while acknowledging the nine people who were tragically lost, and the fact that none of them deserved to die in such a way or so early in their lives. To center only one aspect of a person’s past is to ignore our capacity as human beings to change, to empathize, and to grow.
SOPHIA DUROSE is a College junior from Orlando, Fla. studying English. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.