Kobe's Complicated Legacy

Susan Estrich
Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Nine days after the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, the Los Angeles Times — which treated the crash as if the entire city were on fire, taking down the paywall on digital stories about him in a transparent effort to boost its circulation numbers — finally got around to acknowledging that Bryant’s legacy might be “complicated.”

Not for everyone, mind you, and certainly not for the fawning newspaper.

To quote the headline (that was below the fold, of course, and then removed from its homepage within a day), “For Survivors of Sexual Assault, Kobe Bryant’s Legacy Is Complicated.” Another edition noted, “survivors struggling with Bryant’s legacy.”

It’s our problem. It wasn’t a story about what Kobe did wrong but about all of us poor survivors, or at least the few they bothered to talk to, huddled before their televisions, wondering when someone would mention it.

Our problem. Poor survivors.

The “allegations” were given short shrift. After all, the charges were dismissed. He didn’t think he did anything wrong, even though he had to acknowledge that she didn’t consent.

Having sex with a 19-year-old who doesn’t consent is called rape, or, if you prefer, felony sexual assault. The force comes when you, a professional athlete, shove her on a bed, tear off her clothes and have sex with her. I wrote a book about this — 35 years ago. By the time the girl left his hotel room in tears, Kobe had already called in the handlers and the lawyers. He tried denying that he had sex with her, notwithstanding bruises and blood. When that didn’t work, he admitted that he never asked her for consent. His lawyers challenged the charges. They lost.

It was Kobe’s best season. He would come back from the court hearings to a standing ovation at the Staples Center, where survivors like me found themselves cringing in their seats. Like the survivors in today’s paper.

I was teaching a workshop at Harvard to rape crisis counselors from around the country. I asked the men and women in the audience — experts all — what they would do if their daughter were to come home and tell them what Kobe’s victim had said to her parents. “Would you call the police?” I asked. Not a single hand went up. We knew what would happen, and it did.

The criminal charges were dismissed one week before opening arguments in the trial because the girl and her family were too afraid to pursue them any further.

There was a price on her head ($3 million). Her name and address were everywhere; the family had to move away and go into hiding to protect her safety. The civil case was settled. Kobe paid and issued an “apology” saying that he then understood that she didn’t consent.

Of course, the LA Times is not alone in being a fan site, rather than a newspaper. The Washington Post last week put a reporter on administrative leave for having the “poor judgment” to tweet a link to a 2016 Daily Beast story (that was accurate) about the rape charges against Bryant. According to Tracy Grant, one of The Post’s managing editors, her tweet “undermined the work of her colleagues.” How so?

And then there was the usually fearless Gayle King. She blamed CBS News (whose president, Susan Zirinsky, happens to be the smartest and most experienced leader in television news) and issued a statement saying she was “mortified” to find a clip of her asking Lisa Leslie, a former basketball player and friend of Bryant’s, about the rape allegations.

King: “It’s been said that his legacy is complicated because of a sexual assault charge, which was dismissed in 2003, 2004. Is it complicated for you as a woman, as a WNBA player?”

Leslie: “It’s not complicated for me at all ... I just never see — have ever seen him being the kind of person that would be — do something to violate a woman or be aggressive in that way. That’s just not the person that I know.”

For this, King was vilified, and she and CBS apologized.

As for The Washington Post, it ultimately concluded that the reporter’s tweet (and the hate mail she received) did not in fact violate the newspaper’s social media policy.

Now that’s a relief. Maybe someone will even print this column.

(To find out more about Susan Estrich visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.)