When Kobe Bryant died, African Americans lost a beloved and influential member of their community and Americans of all colors lost a major role model. Kobe Bryant made blacks walk taller because he represented a man of extraordinary athletic accomplishments as well as a man of admirable moral values. Recently, CBS posted a clip from an interview in which Gayle King asks WNBA player Lisa Leslie about the 2003 rape allegation against Kobe. King herself posted a video expressing her alarm at the clip because it was taken out of context of the larger interview, and CBS released a statement agreeing it was a mistake.
However, without finding out any facts or contacting King, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson and Snoop Dogg immediately released vitriolic personal attacks on King reminiscent of Trump’s attacks on Megyn Kelly and Rosie O’Donnell. Both men responded to the video by calling King a “bitch,” among other insults. While it’s clear that 50 Cent and Snoop Dogg were reacting from a place of deep grief, their personal emotion doesn’t justify such a public and misguided attack.
When a man calls a woman a bitch because she does something he doesn’t like, he is nourishing the already rampant misogyny in society. But when a black man does it, he is perpetuating negative stereotypes about how black men perceive and treat women. That is harmful to the entire African American community. Snoop Dogg has 39.1 million followers on Instagram and 50 Cent has 25.3 million followers on Twitter. When they send out to their followers a threatening and abusive tirade, they are influencing a younger generation of men to continue to refer to women who don’t do what men want as bitches. Worse, King started receiving death threats.
Several celebrities came to King’s defense, including Oprah Winfrey, Sen. Cory Booker, former National Security Adviser Susan Rice, and others. To his credit, Snoop Dogg has since apologized for his comments, admitting he overreacted: “I would like to apologize to you publicly for the language that I used and calling you out of your name and just being disrespectful.” He also said, “When you’re wrong, you gotta fix it.” That’s something Kobe would have agreed with.
Fame is unforgiving. Most people who make mistakes in their lives have a degree of privacy within which they can heal and redeem themselves. With the famous, nothing is forgotten and rarely is anything forgiven. Kobe did indeed go through an accusation which he said was consensual, but still was adultery. That was 17 years ago, when he was only 24. The case was dismissed and Kobe redeemed himself many times over with his exemplary life since. To me, Kobe was even more exceptional because he learned from his mistakes and devoted himself to being a better person. Few have that kind of strength, courage or commitment. We can love and respect Kobe without canonizing him as perfect. Death often immortalizes the ideal rather than the real. But it was the real Kobe, flaws and all, that we should love.
Kobe would not have appreciated the attacks against Gayle King because he knew they perpetuated a climate of disrespect that would be physically, mentally and socially harmful toward all women, including his wife and daughters.