on Kobe Bryant’s background


Fan’s mourn Kobe Bryant’s death at a vigil at Staples Center on January 26th, 2020. Used with permission by Fred Kearney

Allison Kim

[penci_text_block block_title_align=”style-title-left”]NBA legend Kobe Bryant was one of nine people who passed away in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, on Sunday, January 26, 2020. Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna Bryant, two of Gianna’s middle school basketball teammates, their parents, the team’s assistant coach, and the pilot, were among the other eight who investigators identified as dead. 

The Sikorsky S-76 helicopter was on its way to a basketball tournament at the Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, California, where Gianna and her teammates were to play.

Soon after, celebrities such as Shaq O’Neal, Michael Jordan, Barack Obama and Usain Bolt made statements on Twitter to express disbelief and condolences. They reflected upon Kobe’s legacy and influence not only during his basketball career but in his life outside of the courts. 

Amongst many responses immediately after Bryant’s death, Washington Post reporter Felicia Sonmez posted a (now deleted) tweet sharing the link to a 2016 Daily Beast story about Bryant’s 2003 rape case. 

The report was “highly credible” and included extensive details about the case stating that after three denials, Bryant admitted to having sexual intercourse with a 19-year-old hotel employee once police informed him they had taken semen and blood evidence. The story also included evidence nurse examiners found such as a bruise on the accuser’s left jaw from where Bryant had choked her along with several lacerations in the vaginal area, which examiners said were not consistent with consensual sex. The accuser was unwilling to testify, however, so the case never made it to trial, and the case was later settled in a civil suit. In a personal statement, Bryant acknowledged while he thought the encounter to be consensual, he understood why she thought he had raped her. 

Sonmez’s tweet referencing the accusation was met with much criticism online, and Sonmez called the backlash eye-opening with more than 10,000 people who had commented and emailed her with abuse and death threats. She was also suspended from her job and placed on administrative leave while The Post reviewed her tweets. The Post’s executive editor Martin Baron emailed Sonmez and said, “A real lack of judgment to tweet this. Please stop. You’re hurting this institution by doing this,” and managing editor Tracy Grant said Sonmez’s tweets “displayed poor judgment that undermined the work of her colleagues.”

“Any public figure is worth remembering in their totality even if that pubic figure is beloved and that totality unsettling,” Sonmez said in a two-part Twitter response to her original tweet. The threats directed toward her spoke volumes about the pressure put on people to stay silent in cases of rape or sexual assault.

The Washington Post has reinstated Sonmez, saying its review found her  “not in clear and direct violation of our social media policy.”[/penci_text_block][vc_text_separator title=”“Was it appropriate for Sonmez to post about the rape case after the death of Kobe Bryant?”” color=”custom” accent_color=”#2bb673″][penci_text_block block_title_align=”style-title-left” custom_markup_1=””]“I would understand why she would do that since it was a bad thing that Kobe Bryant did do but he has just died along with his daughter and a family having a bad memory brought up later is probably not what they need at the time. The public having the knowledge that he did something wrong is something that they should have but perhaps not so soon after. Like I’ve already said, I would understand why [Sonmez would upload the tweet] but maybe a bit more sensitivity towards the family. Women should be able to speak out about things whenever and that is something that should be acknowledged and I don’t think she should’ve been suspended from her job. Maybe they should’ve just had a talk with her about what’s appropriate after a much-beloved figure has died and then they could’ve possibly talked about later releasing the story once the mourning has settled down a bit.”[/penci_text_block][penci_text_block block_title_align=”style-title-left” custom_markup_1=””]”Not immediately after his death because no matter what people think about him death is death and no matter what his family members think about him or what the public thinks about him or his respectability he’s still dead and you have to be responsible when you’re going to say that stuff (mention the rape allegations). If the main cause of her saying that was because of Kobe Bryant’s death I don’t know if that’s a super respectful thing to do.”[/penci_text_block][penci_text_block block_title_align=”style-title-left” custom_markup_1=””]“Felicia Sonmez’s tweets were untimely. It was inconsiderate of her to tweet the story, especially when the wounds from Kobe’s death are fresh. However, it doesn’t change the fact that Kobe was charged with rape. She could have brought awareness to the issue in a more appropriate and respectful manner, taking his mourning family and friends into consideration. But it is important to recognize that there were loose ends to the incident in 2003. I do think a lot of the hate was too extreme and emotionally charged.”[/penci_text_block][penci_text_block block_title_align=”style-title-left” custom_markup_1=””]“I think personally I would’ve given it a little bit more time, but yeah, this is a response that I think most people should know. This was a public figure that many looked up to and I think that we have to have transparency on who we look up to and identify their faults and their good deeds. The timing is an issue. I would’ve waited a year, maybe a year and a half and then bring it up but [regarding] the issue of bringing [the allegations] up in general, yeah you should probably bring it up.”[/penci_text_block]