“Shut the fuck up.” Those were the words I screamed when someone said that Kobe Bryant was dead. What the hell? How? My thoughts raced. I was in shock and couldn’t wrap my head around what I was hearing. As the moments passed, Twitter confirmed it. The news confirmed it. As I exchanged texts with the people I love, it became all too real, as did the emotions swelling inside of my body.
Kobe was a household name since I was in high school. He isn’t much older than me, and I remember he was a big deal because he was only 17 years old when he started playing in the NBA. I thought that was an accomplishment worth paying attention to. He was the biggest deal since Michael Jordan, and while I am not a big fan of any sport, it was impossible not to root for this guy. Kobe Bryant, Slam Dunk Giant.
One man at the bar I was at said, “Well, someone is glad he is dead—that girl that he raped.”
His words cut through me and I froze for a moment, letting my thoughts catch up with my feelings. I didn’t know whether to engage with him or not. I elected not to, but I was thinking about what he said. Could the woman who brought those allegations against him be enjoying the news of his death? Actually, what could she be feeling right now?
I also thought about his daughters, one who perished with him, and how he must have been thinking about their safety, coupled with the transgressions of his past. He was proud to be a dad of four daughters, and I would like to believe that based on his work ethic, his drive for excellence and covering all the bases, he recounted his interactions with women that may have been unsavory, unwelcomed, and undesirable and vowed to be a better man. I am just speculating—I have no idea if any of that is true. But what I have observed is that he was striving to be a good father AND a good man, because they are not synonymous by any stretch of the imagination.
Does Kobe Bryant dying suddenly absolve him of his past? No—why would it? But does it mean that people cannot mourn him or idolize him if they see fit? We are all a sum of dark and light; I don’t think it’s fair to anyone to live on either side of those polarities. To some, Bill Cosby, R. Kelly, Harvey Weinstein and Woody Allen are nasty men who deserve to be shamed and sentenced to die behind bars, while other people turn a blind eye to their sins and focus solely on their artistic and cultural contributions to our society. I am somewhere in between feeling disgust, disappointment, hurt and ALSO grateful for lessons from the Cosby Show and the excellent music R. Kelly has produced. However, I have a visceral reaction to his music because I cannot get the thought of him urinating and torturing young women out of my head. I am also painfully aware of what Bill Cosby did and haven’t watched any Cosby Show episodes since the news broke. There is major confusion and a struggle to compartmentalize the range of emotions around these topics within myself.
What do we do with survivors who forgive their rapists? Do we shame them? Do we accuse them of buying into rape culture and patriarchy? What do we do with our own emotions when we choose to forgive our rapists and abusers? What if we love our abusers and have a soft spot for them in our lives AND carry rage and anger towards them? It is a complicated existence when it comes to the flux of human emotions. We have the juxtaposition of intense rage and complicated compassion. We have accepted apologies but still have nightmares and PTSD.
We can mourn men and women who have done horrible things without feeling guilty for doing so. Feelings do not exist in a vacuum, and very seldom do we feel a singular thing about a topic. All of these emotions are on a spectrum, and we have to lean into our personal truths to navigate all of these intense emotions without society dictating how we should feel.