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In Support of Gayle King, Black Women, and All Women

Early last week a clip of Gayle King interviewing former WNBA star Lisa Leslie was released by CBS News and in the clip, King questioned Leslie about Kobe Bryant’s 2003 sexual assault case and how that impacts his legacy. This is two weeks after the tragic death of Bryant, his 13 year-old daughter Gianna Bryant, and 7 others in a helicopter crash.

The clip debuted on Tuesday and by Friday the wrath of twitter, particularly Black Twitter, was still being felt with the majority stating that King was out of line in her questioning. People stated it was disrespectful to talk about Bryant’s sexual assault case so soon after Bryant’s death. The backlash has grown to misogynistic vitriol levied at King with people issuing death threats and calling her all types of bitches and hoes including rapper Snoop Dog who called King a “funky dog-head bitch” in an Instagram tirade. There are two things that the collective dismissal of Bryant’s sexual assault case and the cancellation of King have in common; both represent the dismissal of women, particularly black women.

I’m a fan of basketball, although my brothers would call me a fake fan because I really only tune into the games during the playoffs. Either way, I enjoy basketball and I grew up with it. I was in the room when my brothers had debates about their favorite players. I attended The University of Connecticut, known for their basketball teams. When I think of the best players to play the game, in my childhood it was Michael Jordan, my adolescence it was Kobe Bryant, and in adulthood LeBron James holds the title. So when the news broke of his death, I felt the overwhelming impact and I mourned with the rest of the world.

Maybe it was the fact that Bryant was taken so young; only 41, recently retired and writing a new chapter in his life. Maybe it was the oddity of his death. Heroes don’t die in helicopter crashes. Heroes are indestructible. Heroes take control in dire situations, making the impossible happen saving the mere mortals around him. Maybe it was the fact that his daughter, a basketball prodigy, had perished along with him. It was all of these reasons and more as to why we mourned Bryant so deeply and why we, particularly the black community, are so protective of Bryant and his legacy.

Bryant was many things: NBA Champion, Olympic Gold Medalist, Oscar winner, philanthropist, advocate of women’s sports, husband, and father to four daughters. Bryant was also complex and had faults as we all do; his faults were just publicly displayed as most celebrities have to endure. Two things can both be true at once; We can mourn Bryant while still being critical about the man he was.

In 2003, Bryant then 24, was arrested in Eagle, Colorado for allegedly raping a 19-year-old woman. The case was eventually dismissed after the victim refused to testify. The case was later settled out of court. In an unprecedented move, especially in a pre #MeToo era, Bryant issued an apology to the alleged victim. His apology fell short of an admission of guilt but he thought critically enough to understand that although he perceived that night as consensual, the victim did not. Bryant’s case was the first high-profile sexual assault case in the past decade; if we don’t have nuanced conversations about his case then we miss the opportunity to discuss victim blaming, the media’s role in sexual assault cases, and rape reporting; all of which played out in a major way during Bryant’s case.

It could be observed that much of what we celebrate about Bryant was impart because of how he bounced back from “Colorado.” How Bryant showed up as a father to his four girls and his advocacy for women in sports may be a reflection of a change in perspective he had towards women after his case. We also can’t exalt “Black Mamba” without recalling how Bryant acquired the nickname to begin with (Bryant gave himself the nickname as a means to overcome the aftermath of the sexual assault case). Either way, Bryant’s redemption cannot be discussed without the catalyst of his redemption.

For these reasons I believe King had every right to ask Leslie her opinion on Bryant’s case. As a female basketball player, a black woman, and a friend of Bryant, Leslie would provide a unique perspective on the case. It’s unfortunate the entire interview was diminished to a salacious question that was tailor made for click-bait. In its entirety, King allowed Leslie the opportunity to paint a complimentary and nostalgic view of Bryant and even included some of her own fond memories of him. Even when King pushed back on Leslie’s take on the Colorado case, Leslie was still able preserve the legacy of her friend.

But whether or not you agree with Gayle’s line of questioning, the vitriol being levied at her crosses a line and exposes misogyny at its worst. The hate spewed at King is a means to silence her, literally, with people calling for her job, starting campaigns to cancel her, and threatening her life. This is the same silencing that the alleged victim in Bryant’s sexual assault case experienced in 2003 and is probably reliving in the wake of Bryant’s death. We may currently have more high profile sexual assault cases like Harvey Weinstein, Jeffery Epstein, and Bill Cosby; but in 2020 we still refuse to believe women. A lot has changed since 2003, but we still have a long way to go and closing the chapter on 2003 doesn’t help us get to our destination.

The situation with King displays the nuance of the intersection of race and gender. King was applauded for her interview when she held R.Kelly’s feet to the fire, but in this instance, where she was essentially doing the exact same thing, she’s become the latest victim of cancel culture. Black women are held to a higher standard yet are given no grace if we falter. The backlash was particularly coming from the black community and black men. With Oprah Winfrey’s involvement in the Michael Jackson and Russell Simmons documentary (the latter she backed out of), this has been perceived as an attack on black men. Black women are continuously asked to align their allegiance to their black identity and the black community and forgo their gender identity. Often times we do pick our race, we are often the ones to stand up for black men and go to bat for our community but lack the same support in return. Instead of being critical about King’s work, spectators reduced her to a bitch and hoe. They threatened her life, further reducing her humanity to something that is expandable.

I look at all the hate spewed at King and I think about the alleged victim in Bryant’s case and what she had to endure and I wonder if this is really about the legacy of a basketball player or a reaction of the internalized hate towards women? As much as I spoke about Bryant in the piece, I ask that we think about the women. The women who don’t tell their stories, the women who do tell their stories and are silenced, and the women who champion those women even when faced with scrutiny. We are at a crossroads where #MeToo can’t just be a hashtag. We need to see active allyship towards women and women of color.

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