Dear Kobe Bryant,
You have been a polarizing figure in sports for one reason or another since you entered the NBA as a precocious teenager back in 1996. You have never had a problem biting your tongue and are a much sought after interview for any journalist. It has also been speculated that you are less connected with the African-American community because of your upbringing in Italy and a Philadelphia suburb, as well as your current multi-million dollar contract. But when news began to flourish on Twitter as to your alleged inflammatory comments to New Yorker magazine regarding the black community and its initial reaction when the Trayvon Martin case first broke, you described it as a "snap judgment" filled with emotional vitriol.
The quote was in response to the interviewer's question as to what you thought about the Miami Heat donning hoodies to express solidarity with the slain Florida teenager back in 2011. The following is your response:
"I won't react to something just because I'm supposed to, because I'm an African-American. That argument doesn't make any sense to me. So we want to advance as a society and a culture, but, say, if something happens to an African-American, we immediately come to his defense? Yet you want to talk about how far we've progressed as a society? Well, then don't jump to somebody's defense just because they're African-American."
I read that quote over and over again looking for a reason to get mad, to align myself with the great black journalistic minds and thinkers of my occupation who are a breath short of calling for a boycott of all things Kobe related based upon your comments. But I found none. Mr. Bryant, I feel that your quote has been taken slightly out of context. You took to Instagram with the famous quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” That was really slick the way you used MLK’s quote to clarify your point. You took to Twitter as well.
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) March 27, 2014
If someone used your quote in New Yorker magazine and subsequent overtures on social media to form a lasting opinion, then they never liked you in the first place. It is prudent not to react simply because someone is African-American. It is a good idea to wait for the facts to get out before any conclusions can be made.
However, one wonders if your point of view would have been more razor sharp and “uncompromising.” I thought uncompromising was too much of a strong word at first, but decided to leave because, to me, all your talk sounds like another person telling black people to give those who abuse us the benefit of the doubt, while this country consistently gives us very little of that. I’m sure you can relate, right?
During the 2003 trial that ensued due to claims of sexual assault against you, there were many African-Americans who spoke out in your defense, Kobe. To many, it looked like the case of a white woman wrongfully accusing a black male of rape for monetary gain. This has happened many times before, and since your trial. But should we all have waited for all the facts to fall in line? I am curious to know at what point you feel it is safe to step in and defend African-Americans. I’ll go out on a limb and say very few people are more in need of defense and positive PR than blacks in America.
As is the case with the modern media, African-Americans are painted in a less than flattering light across the country, especially males. While I am not one to say that you are less African-American than I for expressing your opinion, I will say that your mindset is not indicative of that of other blacks, in part, because of your status in society. You’re practically an honorary white man due to your bank account and status as an all-time elite athlete. No one should expect you to fall in line with people you can’t relate to. I wonder if for a second you ever thought that the prosecutors came after you because of your standing as a black male.
Because of the plethora of negative examples of African-Americans being victimized in the United States, both pre-civil rights era and presently, black people are extremely sensitive to instances of injustice because historically our wishes have been minimized and marginalized in this country. I wonder if you can relate to that. I don’t believe it is a knock against you as a person if you cannot relate, but I still wonder.
You spoke of how some African-Americans spoke out and reacted early in the Trayvon Martin case is indicative of a greater societal flaw. One in which all would be better off not siding with, or defending someone, based only upon race without waiting for all the facts. However, public opinion is the only tool available to a people who historically don’t have much else to sway government and judicial officials. When celebrities step in and lend their notoriety to a cause, the people involved therein are galvanized and strengthened to see it through. It is a great idea thing when athletes show solidarity for a noble cause.
Jim Brown once said some things about you that were considered disrespectful by many on The Arsenio Hall Show back in December, 2013.
“He’s somewhat confused about our culture. Because he was brought up in another country…If I had to invite people to that [black athlete] summit all over,” Brown said, referring to a summit held in the early 70s regarding Muhammad Ali’s refusal to fight in the Vietnam War. “There’d be some athletes I wouldn’t call. He’d be one of them.”
Hello, Kobe. Are you confused? I can’t sit here and say that you are with any certainty. And it would be irresponsible for me to assume so simply based upon your comments. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t remind you that Trayvon Martin was 17-years-old at the time of his death, the same age you were when you were drafted by the Charlotte Hornets. If some random community watch volunteer approached a 17-year-old Kobe and confronted him, from what I know of you being quick and flip with the mouth, you would have responded with consternation, just like Trayvon. And you would've likely been shot too. Assuming you survived, one wonders what your mindset would've been then.
This is America, Kobe. Free speech is protected by the Constitution of the United States. However, there is no protection for the speaker from the consequences of free speech. I would also be negligent if I didn’t mention that American racism, both from other black people and our fellow countrymen as well, is as prevalent today as it has ever been. Part of me is okay with you not being able to relate. But I wish the rest of us black folk could be so blessed as to live in your gilded castle in the sky as well.