Kobe Bryant’s Celebrity Shield in the #MeToo Era

What we do with Bryant’s legacy is extremely important.

Paul Thomas
6 min readJan 30, 2020


Photo by TJ Dragotta on Unsplash

I experienced the disbelief and fascination in real time Sunday January 26, 2020 (my birthday) as my friends and I walked into Catawba Brewery on the South Slope in Asheville, NC. The place was eerily quiet; soon our smartphones alerted us that Kobe Bryant had been killed in a helicopter accident.

Strangers made eye contact and talked about their shock as if we all had somehow magically been linked because we know of Bryant, because he is a celebrity.

I followed along on Twitter as the story became more garbled and disturbing. Five dead became nine, and Bryant’s daughter along with some of her teammates were identified.

Bryant is recently retired from an elite NBA career. He is too young and too well-known, it seems, for such a tragic end to his life. While the story tended to be either “Kobe Bryant and others” or “Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and others,” I sensed we all were also mourning the entirety of a senseless loss of life.

When it was revealed his daughter was on board, I felt the pain rise in my chest; I had to resist crying.

But I also immediately recognized Bryant’s death was presenting something more than a challenge about how outsized interest in celebrities exists in the U.S. Yes, some quickly noted that the attention afforded Bryant was absent when military deaths were reported — or the hundreds of lives lost daily across the U.S. due to other tragedies left mostly ignored.

But Bryant’s life and death are far more complicated than even that. Jeremy Gordon confronted it directly in his coverage for The Outline:

The facts are not up for interpretation: On June 30, 2003, at the Lodge & Spa at Cordillera in Eagle, Colorado, Kobe invited a 19-year-old employee of the spa into his room after she’d shown him around the facility. They began kissing consensually, but when he took off his pants, she tried to leave. He then groped her, ignored her multiple requests to leave, choked her hard enough to leave bruises on her neck, physically blocked her from leaving the room, ignored more of her requests to stop, and forcibly penetrated her, only stopping when she…



Paul Thomas

P. L. Thomas, Professor of Education Furman University, taught high school English before moving to teacher education. https://radicalscholarship.wordpress.com/