This isn’t really even that much about sports. I just felt like a short monologue about the odd culture we live in, much aided and abetted by the 24/7 news cycle and social media where, as we know by now, anyone can be a media. News travel across the world faster than families of the victims have been contacted.
I don’t follow basketball – in all honesty I have more interest in the outfits of the famous courtside spectators than the game itself. At the same time I do acknowledge and understand the hugeness of this particular game. Its beauty and grace and influence in fashion and pop culture. I do understand the superstar status of its male gladiators and their stupendous wealth, which they of course fully deserve by literally being at the top of their game.
Sports professionals retire early and often have another career in philanthrophy, coaching and inspiring millions of kids to play sports. They are also often recruited as global thought leaders because of their superstar status and also because (hopefully) they have many thoughts. This is all extremely commendable. And the world loves a do-good celebrity a very long time.
Then sometimes they die in the most tragic way.
We live in one giant communal living room called the social media where everything is claustrophobically urgent and no nuances exist. We collectively switch into our mourning a global loss-mode before we – or indeed the families of the victims – have the most basic facts of what has happened. A legend has died, that’s all there is to it. This is understandable.
Personal grief, anger, happiness and frustration shall be screamed into the social media echo chamber immediately or it shall forever be lost.
There’s no speaking ill of the dead, this is very basic manners. Unless it’s someone like Michael Jackson or maybe Pol Pot, but not a sports hero, sorry, a legend. Washington Post journalist Felicia Sonmez was suspended when she tweeted an article (not written by her) about the 2003 case where Kobe Bryant was accused of raping a resort employee.
People on social media collectively lost it and went after Sonmez who had to leave her house amidst death threats. For some inexplicable reason her employer would not stand up for her and help her. It’s hardly her fault Bryant was accused of rape 17 years ago. She was reinstated in her job after two days, but her suspension is significant.
(I will not go into the details of the rape case here, everything is available online should you have an interest. I limit myself to the following remarks: the case was dropped because the 19-year old woman finally refused to testify following a gung ho intimidation and smear campaign by Bryant’s army of lawyers. She was paid an alleged 2,5 million of hush money in a separate civil case against Bryant. Bryant admitted consensual adultery and in a press conference apologised this minor happenstance to his wife with a 4 million diamond ring and – wait for this – by learning to play the piano by the ear so that he could perform Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata “I’m So Sorry” to his wife. Moral compass: impeccable.)
I have read many Bryant-obituaries, mostly written by sports editors (who tend to be mostly men) looking for the various euphemisms used to describe the impact that the 2003 case had on Bryant’s image. He was no saint (because clearly everybody who does not rape automatically is one), he had his complications, his image was tarnished in the early aughts, his marriage stood the test of time and media scrutiny.
The obits all focus on the impact the 2003 case had on Bryant’s image, but there’s hardly any elaboration on the substance of what he was accused of.
The point Sonmez was making was to remind us that “Any public figure is worth remembering in their totality. Even if that figure is beloved and that totality upsetting.” (Her tweet accompanying the link to the article she shared.)
I do not wish to generalise male sports gladiators and the countless cases of sexual abuse attached to them. Not every gladiator. But there are many, and many of them appear almost immune to the judicial system, such is the protection their immense wealth provides them.
Life is complicated. The fact that rapid-firing from the lip, as we do in the social media whenever we experience an emotion, has quickly become the norm in many other, more traditional media, and sadly also IRL. I’m not catholic so I don’t know how the saint-business operates, but Bryant was no saint and neither are the other dead (or alive) celebrities and superstars.
Given that lynch mentality (leading to suspension of journalists whose very job it is to provide objective information) following the death of a sports legend is justified by his overall significance, it is ironic that his alleged, serious criminal wrongdoings are considered to have no significance at all.