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Kobe Bryant’s great legacy includes a sexual assault allegation, critics point out

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WATCH: Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash in California on Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020 – Jan 26, 2020

Warning: This story contains details some readers may find disturbing. Discretion is advised. 

Former Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant was one of the best basketball players of all time before he died at the age of 41 in a helicopter crash.

Tributes to his life have been overwhelmingly positive, but some have called for a darker chapter of his story to be acknowledged amid the fanfare: He faced a rape accusation in 2003, though the charges were later dropped.

Fans, athletes and celebrities focused on Bryant’s many accomplishments following his death on Jan. 26, in a crash that killed eight others. They also hailed him as a devoted husband and father.

READ MORE: Pilot flying Kobe Bryant tried to fly higher to avoid clouds, investigators say

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However, thousands of people have also called for the rape allegations against Bryant to be included in the final story of his life, no matter how messy or soon it might seem to bring up such a difficult topic.

“What happened is tragic. I am heartbroken for Kobe’s family,” tweeted actor Evan Rachel Wood, who has been an outspoken advocate for sexual assault survivors.

“He was a sports hero. He was also [an alleged] rapist. And all of these truths can exist simultaneously.”

Wood added to her message on Monday amid backlash over her comments.

“It was a reminder that everyone will have different feelings and there is room for us all to grieve together instead of fighting,” she wrote.

“Everyone has lost. Everyone will be triggered, so please show kindness and respect to all.”

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Lawyer and feminist Jill Filipovic called the rape allegations an important but “inconvenient” part of Bryant’s legacy, which she says should not be ignored.

“Out of some mislaid definition of ‘respect,’ we are so excellent at sidelining the inconvenient parts, at least when the inconvenient parts are women we’ve made invisible and the one inconvenienced is a man we would prefer to keep admiring, without complication,” Filipovic wrote in a post on her website after Bryant’s death.

“This is all key to Kobe’s story.”

READ MORE: These are the other 8 victims who died in the Kobe Bryant crash

Canadian actor Lucy Decoutere — who accused radio host Jian Ghomeshi of sexually assaulting her in 2014 — joined tens of thousands of social media users in tweeting and sharing messages about the allegations against Bryant, who has never been convicted in court of sexual assault.

“If you don’t rape anyone when you’re alive no one will bring it up when you die,” read one tweet that Decoutere shared.

SB Nation writer Zito Madu posted a lengthy Twitter thread discussing the long-simmering anger around the case on Monday. “It’s not unfair that some are still bitter about that and what it says about our world and how we value women,” he tweeted.

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“I wish people would realize it’s possible to both honour his legacy AND recognize that sexual assault was part of it,” added Abby Honold, a sexual assault survivor-turned-advocate in the United States.

“You don’t need to pick between feeling devastated for Kobe/his family and censoring his history.”

Nevertheless, those calling for the case to be included in Bryant’s obituary faced intense criticism from others, who insisted it was “disgusting” or “too soon” to talk about such things.

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The Washington Post has come under fire after placing reporter Felicia Somnez on leave in response to her tweets about the Bryant allegations. Somnez was among the many Twitter users who shared a link to a Daily Beast story about the rape allegations from 2016. She reportedly faced intense backlash and death threats for sharing the details.

Here’s the basic information about the case.

2003 rape allegation

Kobe Bryant paid a visit to the Lodge & Spa at Cordillera hotel in the Rocky Mountain town of Edwards, Colo., on June 30, 2003. While staying there, Bryant went on a tour of the property with the 19-year-old woman who was working as a clerk at the front desk.

The woman later went to Bryant’s hotel room at what she said was his request. She told police in a statement that she willingly kissed and hugged Bryant, but didn’t want to go any further than that.

She said she tried to leave but Bryant grabbed her by the neck, bent her over a chair and raped her while repeatedly saying: “You’re not going to tell anybody about this, right?”

The victim claimed she told Bryant “No” at least twice.

Bryant, who was 24 at the time, was charged with one count of felony assault on July 18, 2003.

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District Attorney Mark Hurlbert announces that sexual assault charges have been filed against Los Angeles Lakers basketball star Kobe Bryant, at the Eagle County Justice Center in Eagle, Colo., Friday, July 18, 2003.
District Attorney Mark Hurlbert announces that sexual assault charges have been filed against Los Angeles Lakers basketball star Kobe Bryant, at the Eagle County Justice Center in Eagle, Colo., Friday, July 18, 2003. AP Photo/Ed Andrieski

Bryant insisted that the sex was consensual in a tearful news conference alongside his wife, Vanessa, whom he married two years earlier. The news conference was held on the night the charge was announced.

“I’m disgusted at myself for making the mistake of adultery,” he said. “I love my wife with all my heart.”

READ MORE: Who is Vanessa Bryant? A timeline of her relationship with Kobe

He added that he was “innocent” of any rape charges.

One week later, Bryant famously presented his wife Vanessa with an eight-carat diamond ring. The ring was worth US$4 million, the jeweller told the Los Angeles Times.

A $4-million, eight-carat purple diamond ring is shown on the hand of Vanessa Bryant, wife of Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant, at the Teen Choice Awards at Universal Studios in Los Angeles, Saturday, Aug. 2, 2003.
A $4-million, eight-carat purple diamond ring is shown on the hand of Vanessa Bryant, wife of Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant, at the Teen Choice Awards at Universal Studios in Los Angeles, Saturday, Aug. 2, 2003. AP Photo/E.J. Flynn

The case goes to court

Bryant pleaded not guilty when the criminal case went to trial in Colorado.

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The prosecution and the defence spent 14 months going over the victim’s claims, debating her sexual history and arguing over DNA evidence amid intense media scrutiny around the NBA superstar at the centre of the case.

Prosecutors ultimately dropped the criminal case on Sept. 1, 2004, citing the victim’s unwillingness to testify.

“The people have filed a motion to dismiss this case based on the fact the sole victim at this time is unable to go forward,” District Attorney Mark Hurlbert told the judge at the time.

READ MORE: Kobe Bryant fans flock to vigils held for basketball star

The woman’s attorney, John Clune, cited several issues in explaining her decision.

“The difficulties that this case has imposed on this woman the past year are unimaginable,” Clune told the judge at the time.

He said she was disturbed by several mistakes in the trial, including the release of her medical history and her name, despite laws that protect the identity of alleged sexual assault victims.

“It is in her sincere belief that when this case ends she does not want to be brought back into the criminal process,” Clune said.

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The victim faced angry backlash and multiple death threats after her name was released, the Washington Post reported in August 2004.

READ MORE: Alicia Keys, Boyz II Men perform emotional Kobe Bryant tribute at Grammys

Bryant apologized to the victim through a statement read by his lawyer in court.

“Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view the incident the same way I did,” the statement said.

“After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter.”

Bryant settled a civil case involving the rape allegations for an undisclosed sum in March 2005. He did not admit any guilt in the settlement.

Allegations resurface in 2018

The #MeToo movement inspired a new wave of backlash against Bryant in 2018, when he won an Academy Award for his role in the animated short film Dear Basketball.

The Animation Is Film Festival rescinded an invitation to Bryant in October 2018 following a petition to remove him from the festival’s jury.

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Backlash following Bryant’s death

Emotions were running high in the wake of Bryant’s death, with many on social media eager to smack down any discussion of the 2003 rape allegations against him.

“Please Twitter, I’m begging you,” wrote user Will Applebee on Sunday. “Nothing about the rape allegations, or anything else of his you have a problem with. Just let people honour the man.”

Others suggested that Bryant’s athletic achievements should not completely drown out the allegation against him.

“‘Believe women’ (except when he’s really good at sports),” tweeted user @AgentTinsley, while sharing a story about the allegations against Bryant.

Editor and writer Danielle Campoamor tweeted her sympathies for all the victims and survivors of abuse.

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“If you want to mourn Kobe, fine. But it’s also OK for rape victims to object to treating an accused rapist as a hero when he dies,” user Sandra Newman tweeted.

“Rape matters. It’s OK for people to treat it as very important.”

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With files from The Associated Press