Agitation as online world grapples with Kobe’s legacy as star and accused

Gelo Gonzales
Agitation as online world grapples with Kobe’s legacy as star and accused
On Twitter, those bringing up the rape allegations against the former NBA great are swiftly lambasted

MANILA, Philippines – They were always going to come up. 

The 2003 rape allegations against the now tragic figure Kobe Bryant are popping up in small corners here and there, a day after the fateful helicopter accident in Calabasas. 

The most high-profile instance belongs to Washington Post reporter Felicia Sonmez, who has perhaps unwittingly put herself at the vanguard. A tweet, posted hours after the crash, linking to an article about the 2003 rape case triggered massive enmity in Twitter, with users berating the reporter for her perceived insensitivity and poor timing. 

The tweet earned the reporter a suspension for supposedly failing her company’s ethics code and jeopardizing the work of her Washington Post colleagues, at least according to managing editor Tracy Grant. 

The colleagues, on the other hand, do not appear to agree, petitioning to have the reporter reinstated. The move to have the reporter on “administrative leave” drew outrage, this time from fellow Post journalists – more than 200 of them. An anonymous source told Vanity Fair: “There’s incredible outrage. The outrage is like nothing I’ve ever seen here…People just feel like it was way over the top.” 

The Washington Post Guild issued a statement supporting Sonmez:

 

Erik Wemple, a media critic, ran a piece on the Post website itself, called the suspension “misguided.” “What did Sonmez do to deserve this brushback? She tweeted out a very good story from the Daily Beast,” said Wemple. The Daily Beast story was written by Marlow Stern. 

Grant, the managing editor, was also reportedly concerned that the tweet pertained to a subject matter that was outside the reporter’s coverage area. To which Wemple clapped back: “…if journalists at The Post are prone to suspension for tweeting stories off their beats, the entire newsroom should be on administrative leave.” 

Other reporters and public figures have also come out with their own tweets that resurface the 2003 case. They’ve all been met with the same reaction that Sonmez faced. 

There’s Addy Baird, a political reporter for BuzzFeed:

 

Nathan McDermott, also a political reporter, one for CNN: 

Actress Evan Rachel Wood: 

As was the case with Sonmez tweet, the timing, according to many of the Twitter users replying to the posts, could have been better:

 

While there are those arguing that the case had been dismissed, and therefore immaterial, one gets the sense that a considerable portion do not deny that the rape case is part of the Kobe mythos – the big, bulging black eye in an otherwise sterling resume, that through purposeful strategy and the blinding sheen of medals and trophies, has managed to generally stay out of public view. It’s not so different from us giving Manny Pacquiao a pass for his various gaffes because he remains an entertainer in the ring – a sort of gladiatorial immunity, untouchable as long as you’ve got the crowd behind you. 

So when is the right time to discuss the Kobe case? Well, how much heat can you take? It’s an inconvenient truth, but one that can’t be reduced to a mere footnote as we form and cement our views on Kobe’s true, overall legacy as we speak. That statue is being sculpted right now – of a sportsman nonpareil but one that, we must remember, a human who at one point caused significant pain on another. 

A parting thought taken from the aforementioned Eric Wemple: “The backlash that alighted upon Sonmez stems from the ancient wisdom that urges folks not to speak ill of the dead. It’s a fine rule for everyone except for historians and journalists, upon whom the public relies to provide warts-and-all look-backs on the lives of influential people.”

“Bryant clearly qualifies, as does the particular incident that Sonmez was flagging in her tweet: Though precisely what happened in that hotel room may never be known, as [Marlow] Stern concedes, there’s a lot that is known.” – Rappler.com

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Gelo Gonzales

Gelo Gonzales is Rappler’s technology editor. He covers consumer electronics, social media, emerging tech, and video games.