A few months ago, I published a column criticizing the overwhelming willingness of the media — and society in general — to protect the images of famous men by sweeping charges of sexual violence under the rug. I was prompted by the popular response to quarterback Peyton Manning’s final game at Super Bowl 50. Americans praised him for his amazing career and his all-American image, yet his alleged sexual assault case went virtually unmentioned.
It saddens me that I am sitting here months later feeling compelled, again, to write about the exact same thing. But mostly, it angers me.
Widely respected basketball player Kobe Bryant played his last game with the Los Angeles Lakers April 13. In the weeks surrounding the historic game, the media celebrated the athlete’s impressive career and the unique legacy he will leave with the NBA.
His praise has been abundant, and is greatly deserved when looking at what he has done on the court. But I am disappointed — though admittedly not surprised — that the media has glossed over the legacy of the star’s 2003 rape case.
In 2003, Bryant was accused of raping a then 19-year-old concierge at a hotel in Colorado. This case had the potential to be another high-profile celebrity case, but the accuser dropped the charges after the emotional stress of the trial.
What’s even more frustrating to me is that I am not even a sports fan and even I knew that Bryant was retiring, yet I had not even heard about this case until a member of The Pendulum’s staff forwarded an article written by Lindsay Gibbs of Think Progress about the case.
One of the most prevalent rape myths in cases like this is the idea that the victim is lying about the incident in hopes of either tearing down the celebrity’s career or reaching a celebrity status themselves. People so often try to find a motive for the accusation, but Bryant’s career is relatively unharmed. He’s still on the covers of magazines and Nike is still running ads praising his achievements. The victim was the one hurt through all of this.
That being said, I don’t think the media should call Bryant a monster either. Vilifying rapists only perpetuates the popular idea that rape is always aggressive, violent or black and white. Far more often than not, rape and sexual assault cases lay in a large gray area where the absence of consent is not always obvious. What the media should be doing is simple: Talk about it.
The real problem here is coverage. When the assault happened in 2003, the media portrayed the rape with a frame of victim blaming and accusations of lying. This story framing only serves to perpetuate such rape myths and consequentially makes it impossible for the victim to continue with the case.
Now, 13 years later, the media willfully neglects the importance of talking about this case when talking about Bryant’s legacy. It’s like it never happened.
For victims of rape, there is no going back to who they were before. There is no living like it never happened. There is only life before, and life after. Assailants are so often able to move on, but they leave a mark on their victim forever, and that problem deserves to be talked about as well, if not more.
At the end of the day, the only thing I can say is that I’m angry. I am so angry that I am writing about this again. Most of all, I am angry because I know that no matter how many columns I write, the media and society at large will still work to protect the good names of assailants.
The victim’s life was changed forever. That deserves a headline, too.