Monday, January 27, 2020

Kobe Beefs

I put my foot in it.


On the same event.

Me putting my foot in it is not rare. I am, after all, both a husband and a boyfriend; it goes with the territories.  But it's unusual in the extreme for me to do it twice in rapid succession concerning different aspects of the same issue.

When news first broke of Kobe Bryant's death, it was reported that he "and five other people" perished in a helicopter crash. Those five other people have names, you know, I said to Kathy. And maybe a half hour later, we learned that Bryant's daughter Gianna was among the casualties. But still no word on "the four other people" (who eventually became seven other people), And at first Gianna Bryant was referred to simply as "Kobe Bryant's daughter".

I admit it: I overreacted. Celebrity culture has always bothered me, and here (I imagined) it was intersecting with another irksome thing: the minimization of women.

Maybe it's because I know and care about so many strong, resilient women that I chafe every time I see one referred to as the possession of a man. You don't see this often with men: even in cases where the woman is extremely famous, the men in her orbit are not often referred to as her possessions.

It just rubs me the wrong way. Eva is of course "my wife" and Kathy is "my partner", but both of them are many things besides...and I'd argue most of those many things are more important.

It's still going on today: I saw where the "father of child killed in crash that killed Kobe Bryant" spoke out about the tragedy. Boy, that's a long string to tie the nameless child to the famous person and thus make her relevant, isn't it?

Upon posting my initial reaction on Facebook, I found some people agreed with me, but several others took me to task. Perhaps they were waiting to notify next of kin before releasing the other names, I was told. Okay, but that just pushes the question back a bit. Why not wait until all next of kin were notified before breaking the story? (Oh, Ken, you sweet, sweet summer child, do you have no idea how news even works?)

I do, and I hate it. Most of what's reported on is not news, in my opinion. Unless you work for a given company, why would you care if that company appoints a new CEO? I'll grant you that a man choosing to give up the Royal Family is news -- it doesn't happen often, and it does have implications for world affairs -- but is it truly worthy of the 24/7 barrage of stories we've all been subjected to since it was announced? (For the nothing it's worth, I am emphatically on team Harry and Meghan, in no small part because Harry's mother was killed by people trying to make news out of nothing).
Oh, and I would be rabidly in favour of Twitter shutting down donald trump's account. (I don't capitalize his name because in English, you capitalize proper nouns and there is nothing proper about donald trump.)

I'd go so far as to say that Kobe Bryant's death shouldn't be news, either.

I can sense the outrage at that statement. I will tell you that I didn't know Kobe Bryant. At all. Even today, the sum total of what I know about the man is that he played for the Lakers, was one of the best ballers of all time, had four daughters, one of whom was killed with him. And one other thing I'll get to in due course.
I didn't know Kobe as a person. Most of the people mourning his death didn't. This is on me, I know, but absent that connection, I have real trouble mourning for someone. I like to think I am consistent about this: I feel the same way about all sports figures, all actors, all musicians: these are all people who have, to various degrees, vicariously enriched million of lives. The last death in the music world that rocked me was Roxette's Marie Fredriksson, before that Spirit of the West's frontman John Mann, and before that, Leonard Cohen. But those hurt for a day or two--again, I didn't know any of these people as people. And death is part of life, something that's self-evident to me but seems to be a rude shock to most others. We're all going to die. Our deaths are not newsworthy, in my view....but what we do with our lives is.

But back to Kobe Bryant. It turns out that TMZ broke the story before the Los Angeles Police Department had notified anyone's next of kin...yet another black mark in a long history of black marks against that site.

Now, here's where I'm wrong.

How else are you going to refer to Gianna Bryant other than as Kobe Bryant's daughter? The young woman was 13, and by all accounts was something of a basketball prodigy herself, but how many people know her name outside of a connection with her father? Until yesterday, how many people knew her name even in connection with her father? Can you name his three other daughters? (Bianka, Natalia and Capri, and I had to look that up.)
Whether I like it or not, Kobe Bryant's fame eclipses that of anyone in his circle by about thirty orders of magnitude. Of course people are going to be referred to not as distinct human beings with names, dreams and qualities of their own, but in relation to him. And, as a couple of women friends of mine pointed out, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being referred to as someone's daughter, or someone's mother. Those can be, and usually are, things to be very proud of, I'm proud to be my father's son; that wouldn't change if my name were Kendra and I was his daughter instead.  Were my father famous beyond the corner of Near Northern Ontario he patrolled and pranked for an entire career, I would be just as proud to be related to him, albeit I would also be trying my damnedest to make a name for myself independent of his. (Doesn't help that I, like him, am named Ken Breadner...)

And the untimely death of a legend, even if he was legendary at something as utterly inconsequential as bouncing a ball, is news, however I may feel about the matter. It's not up to me to decide if something is newsworthy or not. People who aren't me have an insatiable appetite for the most trifling gossip about the lives of the rich and famous. These people are no more (or less) human than the rest of us, but I'm clearly wrong there, too.

Ohhh, this gives me an excuse to bring up another of my pet peeves. Have you ever noticed that the "World's Sexiest Man" always seems to be a Hollywood celebrity? What are the odds? There are about 3.776 billion men on the planet and by some miraculous coincidence, the sexiest ones are all crammed into one city. So says People magazine, but let's remember, that magazine only cares about famous people.



Speaking of "ugh", let's talk about Felicia Sonmez. She's been suspended from her job as a Washington Post reporter. We're not entirely clear on why: one version of events suggests it's because she tweeted a picture of her professional inbox, containing death threats; the other version is that she was suspended for the same reason she's getting death threats. Namely, she dared to post this link.

I sure hope that the suspension was for posting a picture of her inbox. I wouldn't be suspended for that....I'd be fired, instantly, and quite possibly face stiff civil and criminal penalties. The alternative....if she was suspended for posting that particular chilling in the extreme.

Because I don't follow celebrities, I must admit until this morning I had forgotten, if I ever knew at all,  that in 2003 Kobe Bryant confessed to committing adultery with a 19-year old, gifted his wife with a $4 million ring as an act of atonement, and settled a civil lawsuit against his accuser. These are known facts, beyond dispute, and they don't magically go away just because Kobe Bryant won a whole bunch of medals in his sport...or died in a helicopter crash in foggy conditions that had grounded other choppers, for that matter.
Beyond those known facts is the allegation Kobe raped the woman, an allegation Bryant, to his credit, addresses in that linked article.

Really, that apology was quite a bit better than the usual run of fake contrition you see. He didn't come right out and say he raped the woman, but he did say everything but, acknowledged the effect it had on her and her family, and then committed to doing better.  ONLY in the matter of that apology, he treated her better than the media did.

That woman had been tarred and feathered by the same media that's lionizing Kobe today, in much the same way Bill Cosby's accusers were called attention-seeking sluts and worse. I probably heard about this in 2003 -- just as it's not often a basketball legend's life ends in a helicopter crash, it's not often a basketball legend faces the prospect of life in prison -- but as this had zero impact on my life or the lives of anyone around me, it was likely shoved out of my mind quickly by things that did.

My first inkling, or reminder, came from The Handmaid's Hammer on Facebook. It went a little further than Felicia Sonmez did.

"'VIOLENT RAPIST DIES VIOLENT DEATH'. There, fixed the Kobe Bryant headlines for you."

Harsh. But is it true?

We don't know for sure. We know Bryant had a victim and that, by his own words, he engaged in non-consensual sexual activity with her--which he first, conveniently, claimed was entirely consensual.  We know that there is no such thing as "non-consensual sexual activity" in the same way that there is not "breathing swimming and non-breathing swimming". The latter kind of swimming is not swimming at all, it's called drowning...and the latter kind of sexual activity is not sexual activity at all, it's called rape.

Violent? He admitted he left a bruise on her neck...and that this wasn't the first time he had done so:

At one point, when police described the accuser as “attractive,” Bryant corrected them. “She wasn’t that attractive,” said Bryant. Then, when officers asked him about “finishing,” he replied, “I didn’t finish a fucking thing,” adding, “I jerked off when she left.” When asked by officers if he’d ever cheated on his wife before, Bryant replied, “Um, yes, with one other person. And she could actually testify I do that um, I do the same thing, I hold her from the back, I put my hands (inaudible).”


“Her name is Michelle,” continued Bryant, adding she’s a “frequent” partner of his.

Michelle, needless to say, was not his wife either.

As an aside: I realize there are women who consent to being choked, and that supposedly it's some kind of sexual thrill to be choked...and I still marvel at the number of rapists who compound their rape by physically assaulting their victim as well.

I'm not going to get into the way Bryant's defence team besmirched his victim, because if I do that I just might explode. Let me try to walk this back just a little bit.

If Bryant's wife could forgive him for the adultery, I can, too. I rather think sports stars such as Kobe Bryant face a lot more temptation than your average schlemiel walking down the road. How did Eva put it in reference to Tiger Woods? "Pussy gets thrown at him from passing cars." I'm not going to excuse the adultery, but for damn sure I understand  it.

Rape, however, is a whole different beast. For me, it's unforgivable: it and molestation and murder of children are probably the only crimes I can never justify under any conditions whatsoever. While Kobe was never convicted of rape in a court of law, I find that confession to be confession enough.

Whether you do or not really isn't important, NOT because I alone know what happened in that hotel room but because what's at issue here isn't the alleged rape but the possibility that it's unmentionable because the man's dead.

Oh, really? We're told this is because his family is grieving. I wonder if his victim is grieving, too.

As Felicia Sonmez insisted,"any public figure is worth remembering in their totality". 

I'm not the only person on earth saying that suspending Sonmez was wrong. Here's one of her colleagues at the Post arguing the same thing...and seeming to make it clear Sonmez has been punished for the tweets. As if ten thousand death threats aren't enough. Jesus jumped up Christ in a sidecar, what the hell is wrong with people? You can disagree with her tweets all you want. You can call them despicable, garbage journalism, and all the rest. But uttering death threats? Over a link to a story that, you'll pardon me, is NOT made up? And then her bosses essentially side with the people uttering the threats. I couldn't work there any more if that happened to me. And I'd go out with legal guns just a-blazing.

I would say that like most of us who aren't Fred Rogers, Kobe Bryant's legacy is complicated. Denying that, whitewashing that, may spare his family some pain--but he didn't seem to consider his family at the time, did he?

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