Clarity, Charity, and the Kobe Bryant Legacy

January 29, 2020 12:59 pm

‘#GirlDad’ is going viral and understandably so. Asked by someone whether he and his wife Vanessa might have another child in hopes of a son being born, blessed as they were already with daughters, Kobe Bryant responded, “I’m a girl-dad.”

For Kobe, there was nothing out of balance with being a dad to ‘only’ girls – and thank heavens for that response. His late daughter Gigi backed him up too. When it was suggested that Bryant needed a son to carry on his sports legacy, Gigi answered, “I’ve got this.” From all accounts, she did. She was a gifted player, a ferocious competitor, and may well have gone on to win Olympic Golds and WNBA titles.

There’s another girl-dad I’m thinking about this morning though, and it is part of the Kobe story that needs to be noted, even now, not because I want to diminish the magnificence of a fallen star but because all girls matter.

In 2003 Kobe Bryant was accused of rape by a nineteen-year-old front-desk clerk at a hotel in Eagle, Colorado. He was arrested by Colorado police, but the charges were dropped because the victim would not testify in a trial. The woman did file a lawsuit against Bryant and a civil settlement was reached, the athlete acknowledging that what he thought was a consensual sexual encounter was not viewed in the same way by the young woman in question.

Kobe Bryant was, at the time, twenty-four years old; he was married but he was also a serial adulterer. In 2011 his wife Vanessa filed for divorce from Bryant. Thankfully, grace intervened in the disastrous course Bryant’s life had taken. That divorce was never finalized, the Bryant marriage was restored, and we have all had the joy of seeing Vanessa and the Bryant children enjoying the success of Kobe’s illustrious career. The images of the family at Kobe’s last game are still, for me, the most indelible memories of that star-studded LA night.

Kobe became a champion of women’s athletics and in a city not shy about #MeToo, Kobe was embraced as an Oscar-winning celebrity by the stars and moguls of media and movies. Kobe Bryant became a model of civility, of family love, of neighbor-love, and friendship.

Which leads to to the other Girl-Dad. The father of the nineteen-year-old Colorado concierge surely loved his daughter too and wept with her in her suffering. I’ve walked with dads in such situations, including dads whose daughters testified before Grand Juries and in trials that resulted in convictions and jail time for the assailants. No time-served, however long, undoes the pain of the girls victimized by the brutality of the men who used either the strength of their positions or the sheer power of their physicality to manipulate, overwhelm, and use the girls they hurt.

Those girls still hurt. Their dads still mourn.

Attorney and Advocate Rachael Denhollander courageously led women in the fight to expose the evil exploitation visited on young girls by Larry Nasser, empowered by the silence of USA Gymnastics. Her two books What is a Girl Worth? and What is a Little Girl Worth? tell the painful story and teach the vital lessons we need to know in order to deal with a culture of sexual violence against women. In a recent interview, Denhollander said, “The biggest hurdle that we really have to overcome in how we respond to survivors of abuse is being willing to look at the truth and being willing to examine our own biases.”

That counsel is needed right now.

I’m certain Denhollander, a devoted Christian, would rejoice in Kobe’s renewed Faith, and I’m even more sure she would want to see Vanessa and Kobe’s daughters protected from the predators that lurk in plain sight, and so would Kobe. I’m sure she mourns Gigi’s death, along with the others who perished in the crash a few days ago. I’ve often wondered what an interview with Bryant and Denhollender might have revealed about violence, forgiveness, and renewal. We’ll never know. What I do know is that she’d have tough questions for him, along with high hopes for a future world made better for women because men with power learned to treat women as God’s image-bearers rather than objects for their sexual gratification.

It’s no secret that as a sports fan, I admired the accomplishments and drive of Kobe Bryant. As a #Girl-Dad, however, I can’t forget the shadows of 2003, even as I rejoice in the grace that banishes all sins and the light that heals all our broken places.

I just want all the girls to know, especially those who’ve felt and feel the pain of abusive men, that I wish all men would not simply be #Girl-Dads, but remember that every woman is some dad’s little girl, that every girl is a Gigi, born to be a champion. Our society is better when we cherish our daughters in this way.

What Kobe has done for girls these past several years is very beautiful. His end has proven better than his beginning and I would have loved to see more chapters of that story unfold. I have to trust that others will take up that work and for the sake of the girls make sure they are safe, beloved, and celebrated. More than a fade-away jumper, that can be the real Kobe Bryant legacy.

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