I grieve Kobe Bryant as a rape survivor, but also as a parent, a partner, and a basketball player
It was my partner, the father of my two sons, who told me that Kobe Bryant and six other people — including his daughter, Gianna — had died in a helicopter crash on Sunday, January 26th. “They’re reporting that Kobe Bryant died!” the text read, sent just as soon as my 1-year-old woke up from his nap. I have since realized that Bryant died with his second daughter in his arms at around the same time my second son was in mine, fighting sleep.
After the shock subsided, I thought about survivors of sexual assault—survivors like me. I knew, as the “in memoriams” and tributes to Bryant poured in, that the 2003 allegations against the athlete would be glossed over or ignored entirely in favor of his impressive career stats. I knew any mention of Bryant allegedly raping a 19-year-old in a hotel room would be met with unmitigated anger, and that we would be accused of speaking ill of the dead, disrespecting the families of the lives lost, and committing outright slander. I knew that even though Bryant issued a very public apology after he settled with his alleged victim out of court—an apology in which the star acknowledged that he understood she didn’t view what happened in that hotel room as consensual—she would once again be labeled a liar, with her character, sexual history, and mental health attacked all over again. The case would be re-tried in the court of public opinion, double jeopardy be damned.
I mourned for all of us survivors of sexual assault—the one in five women and one in 71 men—who want our own stats taken into account. I grew angry that the five swabs inserted into my vagina during a rape kit; the two years it took for that kit to be processed; the five bruises my assailant left on my body; and the years of sleepless nights, anxiety, PTSD, and depression would never matter as much as five NBA championships, 81 points in a game, or two Olympic gold medals. I cried for the survivors who were taking silent stock of the people in their lives who argued that the allegations simply didn’t matter since Bryant had gone on to do such incredible things, whispering to themselves, “I guess I can’t tell them, either.”
But I am more than just my sexual assault.
My initial reaction, as visceral as it was valid, was not the only reaction I had to Bryant’s death. I am also a mom, and I cried knowing the athlete probably died holding his daughter, consoling her in her final moments while he carried the weight of the horrible knowledge that there was nothing he could do to save her.
I cried for Vanessa Bryant, Kobe’s wife, who is now tasked with raising three daughters without their dad, her husband. I thought of my 1-year-old, who at this very moment is laughing with his father, memories of both parents slowly solidifying in his still-forming mind. My son has a chance to remember his dad — the creases of his smile, the sound of his laugh, the width of his shoulders when he is hoisted onto them. Vanessa will have to create those memories for her youngest daughter, using only those that her husband left behind.
As a sister, I sobbed for the two young girls who thought their sibling would be coming home after another basketball game, the sisters who will now likely catch themselves sometimes still looking at the door, waiting for Gigi to open it. When my younger brother joined the Marine Corps at the tender age of 17, I forced myself to consider the real possibility that he would die, a thought that would render me incapable of leaving the comfort and security of my bed. But death is a known possibility for soldiers boarding planes, not young teenage girls preparing for basketball games.
As a former basketball player and avid fan of the game I once dedicated so much of my youth to, I also wept for the loss of a legend. Every time I saw a current player pay tribute to their hero, faced with Bryant’s mortality after years of watching him fly through the air as if propelled by superhuman strength, I broke down. He elevated a game that is accessible to anyone with a slab of pavement, a hoop, and a ball. And in the wake of his death are the untold possibilities he could have provided for the WNBA, an organization he was championing on behalf of all the little girls who, like Gigi, looked at the game and said, “You don’t need no boy for that. I got this.”
Mentioning Bryant’s rape allegations now is met with fury and vitriol (one Washington Post reporter who re-tweeted an article about them was even briefly suspended from her job as she was inundated with death threats and near-constant online harassment), but those are just some of the many responses people have to a life as incredible as it was imperfect. Yet we, as a collective, often consider sexual assault survivors to be one-dimensional human beings, our lives completely defined by the trauma we’ve endured. And so, it’s assumed that there’s only one way those like myself can feel about Bryant.
But I am not one-dimensional.
I can mourn someone who meant so much to a game I loved, to the Black community, to friends and family, and I can still want survivors to matter, too. I can mourn the potential of three 13-year-old girls on their way to a basketball game, and the potential of a 19-year-old woman in a hotel room. I can mourn the lives lost and a life ruined by a calculated smear campaign and blind fandom.
I can mourn a future in which Bryant and Gigi and the other seven people onboard that helicopter still exist—the possibilities of their presence endless—and mourn the future so many of us would have had if systemic sexual violence simply did not exist. I can be a victim of sexual assault and also a mom, a sister, a partner, a fan, and a human being.