CBS This Morning host Gayle King has become a trending topic after a clip of her asking WNBA legend Lisa Leslie about Kobe Bryant’s 2003 rape trial and whether it tarnished his legacy.
She has been widely lambasted for the line of questioning, being called insensitive and exploitative as it came just two weeks after the retired Los Angeles Laker’s untimely death.
The situation is a reminder that no matter the case, no matter the controversy, no matter the initial victims, we will always find a way to make sure black women feel our wrath with nobody to defend them but themselves.
Snoop Dogg has led the charge, going to Instagram in a profanity-filled tirade, even going so far as to threaten King. Basketball great LeBron James, who has done a marvelous job of eulogizing Bryant and speaking to the pain we are dealing with, reacted to the interview via Twitter:
— LeBron James (@KingJames) February 6, 2020
I think that’s why the clip of King and Leslie bothered me (besides Leslie’s response that she never witnessed Bryant to be a rapist, thus that exonerates him from guilt): Of all the days of endless coverage of Bryant since his death, why is it that two black women are the ones having to reckon with his past? This is a conversation men are obligated to initiate. We have to address the culture that makes it OK to ignore the elephant in the room.
I understand that Bryant has only been dead for less than two weeks and we are still mourning, but there was never a time when it was OK to truly reckon with our feelings about him. It wasn’t the right time when the charges were dropped. It wasn’t the right time when he retired. It wasn’t the right time when he won an Oscar while the award show was promoting itself as a supporter of the #MeToo movement. And now it’s too soon after he has died. Also, the “why wait until he died” argument is a fallacy. Women have been addressing Bryant’s accusations this whole time. We just weren’t listening.
We (myself included) have to take time in our healing to try to understand why we either forgave Bryant or never bothered to hold him accountable. It’s fair to believe that the work Bryant put in for women in sports in the years since the rape allegation have shown true contrition and rehabilitation, but nothing will erase that night and the way his defense team further victimized that woman and tarnished her reputation. To demand silence over the case does an injustice to the victims of sexual violence as well as the work Bryant did to try to make it right.
We cannot let our love and defense of Bryant turn into the same perpetuation of rape culture that made Colorado, where the alleged sexual assault occurred, acceptable for so many in the first place. We can’t go back to the same dangerous “she dropped the charges so he’s innocent” tropes that have let far too many guilty men go free. We have to be more nuanced and intentional than that. Because, let’s be clear, the biggest victims of rape culture in the end will always be black women. Every time. So it’s our responsibility as men to stop it for their sakes. Even if that feels uncomfortable and painful. If we believe Bryant did enough to make things right, then we need to talk about the true steps of reckoning he took and how that can look for more men.
Bryant’s death has caused more collective tangible pain in black men than I’ve ever seen. My friends are in pain. My Morehouse students are aching. We’ve never experienced anything quite like this: A celebrity of this magnitude so prevalent in our lives and our collective consciousness suddenly erased.
I think part of the reason this is so hard for black men to cope with is that we don’t have anyone to be angry at. When Nipsey Hussle or Tupac Shakur or Biggie Smalls or even Michael Jackson or Prince died, we had shooters, betrayers and pharmaceutical companies to direct our anger toward. Bryant died when a helicopter fell out of the sky. We have no place to put our anger. We have nobody to vow revenge upon. Now, thanks to the King interview, we have a target.
And as is often the case, we’ve found a black woman’s shoulders to rest our angst.
Here’s the message for Snoop et al.: If you truly believe in the work Bryant did to rejuvenate his legacy and make things right for his past sins, then you have to also believe that he would be vehemently against lashing out at a woman doing her job. If you truly think that Bryant spent the last 17 years of his life trying to undo the harm he caused, then you have to believe that speaking violence against King would go against what he stands for. If you truly think that Bryant is the man we wanted him to be at his very last moments, then you have to believe that he was someone willing to topple rape culture and the way we excuse those who perpetuate it by silencing the concerns of those most impacted by it. Addressing Bryant’s past and the efforts he made to right them aren’t tarnishing his legacy.
But ignoring the holistic Kobe Bryant, though, is the surefire way to undo the efforts he made at the end of his life to truly change the world.