The Mighty Logo

3 Things to Remember in Light of Kobe Bryant's Death

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

Multiple Mighty editors contributed to this piece.

Retired basketball star Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash in southern California on Sunday, along with eight other people, including his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna “Gigi” Bryant. The group was en route to a basketball game at Mamba Sports Academy, Bryant’s training facility for young athletes. Bryant was best known for spending his basketball career with the Los Angeles Lakers, with which he won five NBA championships before retiring in 2016.

As much of the nation began to mourn Bryant’s death, some pointed out the star’s complicated past, questioning whether or not that should change how we grieve his passing. In 2003, Bryant was charged with felony assault after a front-desk clerk at a hotel in Edwards, Colorado alleged he raped her. Bryant admitted to committing adultery but denied the rape, stating their sexual encounter was consensual. Prosecutors eventually dropped the criminal case after the woman who made the allegations decided not to testify during the trial. The accompanying civil suit settled out of court in 2005.

There’s no right or wrong way to grieve. When a celebrity dies, it can feel like a friend has died — even if you’ve never met that person. If Bryant’s checkered past makes you feel conflicted about grieving him now, here are three things to keep in mind while working out your feelings.

1. People can do both good and bad things. The two don’t have to cancel each other out.

We’ve seen it time and time again throughout the #MeToo movement — beloved figures committing unforgivable crimes, leaving us to figure out what becomes of their legacy.

Sometimes people do bad things and then go on to achieve great feats. Those accomplishments don’t wipe clean bad behavior or crime. While Bryant’s case never went to trial, the allegations against him don’t get erased because of his other achievements. According to RAINN, only 9 out of every 1,000 assaults will be referred to prosecutors and only five will lead to a felony conviction. These stats are part of the reason three out of four sexual assaults go unreported.

2. Grieving Bryant’s death doesn’t mean you don’t support sexual assault survivors.

A loss like Bryant’s can make it feel as though you have to choose between grieving the person who died and supporting sexual assault survivors. The two choices are not mutually exclusive.

Bryant will always be a basketball legend. You can share clips of Bryant and GiGi and say he was a great father without condoning his behavior in 2003. You can mourn Bryant’s loss and celebrate his achievements while still recognizing that we have a long way to go when it comes to supporting sexual assault survivors. Feeling sad over Bryant’s death or the loss his family is suffering does not mean you don’t believe sexual assault survivors.

Feelings are complicated, and sometimes emotions are tough to figure out. There are no rules for how you should feel after someone unexpectedly dies.

3. There is no right or wrong way to grieve.

If you don’t know how to feel about Bryant’s death, that’s OK. Social media makes us feel like we have to have an opinion about everything all of the time, but that isn’t the case. If you don’t want to comment on his death, you don’t have to.

You can choose not to grieve Bryant’s death but still grieve for his family, who not only lost a father and husband but a daughter and sister as well.

Beyond the Bryants, seven other people died in the helicopter crash, including two teens. You can mourn the loss of their lives and grieve for their families. Loss is a reminder that life is fragile. Acknowledging loss with sadness only makes you human.

Bryant’s past was complicated. There was good and bad. It’s OK if this loss leaves you feeling conflicted. You can say he meant a lot to many communities while still acknowledging the hurt he caused — or if you prefer you can say nothing at all. You don’t owe anyone an explanation for how you feel.

Creative commons image via genewang0123.

Image via Creative Commons/Zin Chiang

Originally published: January 28, 2020
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home