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March 18, 2020

How do you mourn an imperfect person?

How do you mourn an imperfect person?

On January 26th, 2020 it was revealed that Kobe Bryant and his daughter were on a helicopter which crashed, killing all aboard.  Being one of the most well known basketball players, Kobe was mourned worldwide after his death - so much so that it seemed at times that the others who perished in the crash were forgotten about by anyone else but their friends and family.  His death, however, brought to light an interesting question in modern culture - especially as everything is always moving so quickly - how do we properly mourn a person who may have something in their past which is not something to celebrate?  

For those unaware, in 2003 Kobe was accused of sexual assault by a worker of the hotel he was staying in at the time.  (I want to make a quick mention here - most news articles covering this lead off with the salacious headline that the person was a teenager at the time - and then after you read it reveal the person was 19.  Technically they are correct, but they know that putting the word teenager makes it appear worse then it is if the whole article is not read.)  At first he denied anything ever happened, and then went with the defense that it was consensual.  Eventually he settled out of court with his accuser for an undisclosed amount of money.  

This article isn't to talk about the history of the accusations but instead to ask the question - how do you mourn a person who has been accused of something  horrendous in their past?

Now I'm not talking about someone who was in the middle of shooting up a school and they themselves were shot and killed by the police - they should be mourned as well - but in a different way.  What I am talking about is someone like Kobe who seventeen years ago was accused of something horrible, but since then has not only not been accused by anyone else, but has given back to their community by investing in others.  He started a foundation with his wife to help people in need, he was involved with Make-A-Wish foundation requests, assisted with the After-School All-Stars program, created a venture capital firm, started a multimedia production company, and established Kobe Inc. to own and grow brands for the sports industry.  Now not all of what he did was for the benefit of others - and some of it made him very wealthy - but the goal that he had for all of this was to be known for and make an impact in more than just basketball.

So how do you mourn a person like this?  A person who has made a critical mistake in their past but has taken action since then to try to make the world a better place?  Is it fair to remember all the good they have done or is a good thing to mourn them while remembering also the bad they have done?

I would argue that if you mourn a person, you should remember both the good and bad that the person has done.  None of us as humans are perfect, as much as we may try to project an aurora of confidence and inerrancy. As a Christian this is not a new thought for me at all, and is something I am comfortable accepting of those around me who are fellow Christians as well as those who aren't.  The rest of society, however, seems more than content with picking just one part of a person's history and making their entire lives about that one singular aspect.  Instead of looking at the person as a whole they tend to focus in on one micro aspect and expand it as though their entire life was that one action, thought, word, lyric, or controversy.  This is bad in that we (as a society) tend to over praise those who are seen as "good" and condemn those who have publicly done "bad" things in their life.  We forget that life sometimes is typically found in the grey, somewhere between good and bad.

I find it funny that in almost all aspects of life people say that humans are generally good - and that when given the option to do good or evil they will gravitate toward the good.  But after a person dies - if they are known to have done even one very publicly bad thing they are forever labeled by that thing and it always seems to come up as a black cloud over their legacy.  

That being said, I do believe there is a small window of time right after a person dies that bringing up the bad they did in their lives is tacky.  Let the people who love this person - warts and all - mourn without the constant barrage of news, media, negative news, and hatred.  After a sufficient time has passed, it is then appropriate to bring up all that the person is known for - both the good and bad.  It is only through those times where we can rationally talk about a person as a whole that we can truly mourn and remember a person.

Legacy is not just the good things a person has done - it is also the bad, the mundane, the exceptional, and the controversial.  In other words - it is not the scrapbook version of the person - it is the whole person.


  1. https://heavy.com/sports/2020/01/kobe-bryant-rape-case/
  2. https://thegrio.com/2020/02/14/charles-barkley-says-kobe-bryants-nba-career-and-rape-case-are-both-part-of-legacy/
  3. https://madamenoire.com/1129024/a-black-woman-just-gave-the-sermon-we-needed-on-covering-kobe-bryants-death-sexual-assault-case/
  4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Je1mjF_xy84
  5. https://themighty.com/2020/01/kobe-bryant-death-sexual-assault-allegations/
  6. https://thinkprogress.org/the-legacy-of-the-kobe-bryant-rape-case-6a42f159be7b/
  7. https://www.11alive.com/article/news/nation-world/kobe-bryant-death-sets-off-conversation-about-past-sexual-assault-case/507-d75ede8d-6b02-45a7-8381-4b4594eacf13
  8. https://atlantablackstar.com/2020/02/12/school-principal-steps-down-after-implying-kobe-bryant-deserved-to-die/
  9. https://www.11alive.com/article/news/nation-world/kobe-bryant-death-sets-off-conversation-about-past-sexual-assault-case/507-d75ede8d-6b02-45a7-8381-4b4594eacf13
  10. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/kobe-bryant-sexual-assault-allegations-legacy_n_5e349e7dc5b611ac94d495d3
  11. https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/kobe-bryant-died-inspiration-many-not-all-we-can-t-ncna1124311
  12. https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nba/lakers/2020/01/31/kobe-bryant-accuser-who-claimed-was-raped-wont-speak-publicly/4622924002/
  13. https://pagesix.com/2020/01/28/outrage-after-evan-rachel-wood-calls-kobe-bryant-rapist-just-hours-after-his-death/
  14. https://www.thedailybeast.com/kobe-bryants-disturbing-rape-case-the-dna-evidence-the-accusers-story-and-the-half-confession
  15. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/02/06/gayle-king-responds-angry-backlash-over-her-coverage-kobe-bryants-death/
  16. https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2020/jan/27/kobe-bryant-death-legacy-nba-basketball-sexual-assault-allegations
  17. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/28/business/media/felicia-sonmez-kobe-bryant-tweet.html
  18. https://www.azcentral.com/story/entertainment/media/2020/01/29/kobe-bryant-sexual-assault-case-reporting-isnt-wrong-its-journalism/4605683002/
  19. https://www.marketwatch.com/story/post-reporter-put-on-administrative-leave-after-tweeting-about-kobe-bryants-rape-case-in-wake-of-his-death-2020-01-27
  20. https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2020/jan/27/kobe-bryant-reporter-suspended-over-sexual-assault-case-tweet-washington-post
  21. https://time.com/5773151/kobe-bryant-rape-case-complicated-legacy/
  22. https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=2468568510125956
  23. https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-02-04/kobe-bryant-sexual-assault-survivors-legacy
  24. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/27/sports/basketball/kobe-bryant-rape-case.html
  25. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kobe_Bryant_sexual_assault_case