In 2003, Kobe Bryant had sex with a woman – who, per Bryant’s own later statement – did not view the encounter as consensual.
Charges against him were dropped after the accuser refused to testify. He settled a civil suit with her.
In the case’s aftermath, a landmark sexual assault scandal during the emerging 24-hour news cycle, Bryant’s jersey sales plummeted and McDonald’s and Coca-Cola cut ties.
“They didn’t want the gritty s—,” he says now. “And most people still don’t.”
Creating an alternate persona, he says now, was the only way he could mentally move beyond the events of Colorado.
“I don’t know what would’ve happened had I not figured it out,” he says. “Because the whole process for me was trying to figure out how to cope with this. I wasn’t going to be passive and let this thing just swallow me up. You’ve got a responsibility: family, baby, organization, whole city, yourself — how do you figure out how to overcome this? Or just deal with it and not drown from this thing? And so it was this constant quest: to figure out how do you do that, how do you do that, how do you do that? So I was bound to figure something out because I was so obsessively concerned about it.”
“During the Colorado situation, I said: ‘You know what? I’m just going to be me. I’m just going to be me.’ F— it. If I don’t like a question from a reporter, I’m going to say it,” he says. “If they ask me a question about this thing, I’m just going to tell them the truth.”
His fist strikes the desk.
“Like me or don’t like me for me.”
With that in mind, some within Bryant’s circle suggest he has convinced himself that Colorado either never happened or that, if he continues flooding his résumé with accomplishments, the public will neither remember nor care.
If that’s Bryant’s approach, he has been successful.
He played 12 more seasons after his case, making the All-Star team each year. He won won an Oscar. He regained many of his sponsorships and remains an effective endorser in retirement.
Bryant is beloved in most circles. His “Black Mamba” nickname is generally untainted, despite its origin.
The question: Why?
In the #MeToo era, others have been castigated for far less. Bryant admitted to what I’d call a reasonable definition of rape! Yet, he isn’t shunned.
I don’t know how Bryant has internally reconciled what happened in Colorado. Calling it the “gritty s—” doesn’t indicate the proper level of introspection. Neither does lamenting how difficult the situation was for him, as if he’s the victim. There was a woman hurt in all this, including receiving death threats after she came forward.
But Bryant hasn’t directly addressed the situation publicly since his statement admitting to sex she didn’t view as consensual. The portion of Babb’s article quoted above is as close as he has gotten. Per Babb, Bryant also refused to answer more specific questions.
So, why have so many people willingly glossed over Bryant’s past?
I’m open to Bryant redeeming himself. What happened in Colorado needn’t solely define him.
But it’s part of his story. If his accomplishments in basketball and entertainment – not his explanation of what happened in Colorado and how he’s grown from it – allow the public to move on, that’d be a shame.
It is a shame.