Our Culture’s Relationship with Abusive Dead Celebrities

Caroline White '21, Contributing Writer

I’ve always been taught to never let a man (or woman) make me do things that I don’t want to do or treat me in a disrespectful or violent manner. Over the past few years, the importance of respect and consent has been heavily emphasized. The Me Too Movement, started in 2006, has played a huge role in ensuring that the people in my generation feel heard, accepted, and safe in a way that older generations didn’t. I am growing up in a time where people are being held accountable for their actions, and the victims of rape and domestic violence are being brought to justice. However, in the wake of Kobe Bryant’s death, I’ve realized that our society is still unable to recognize the wrongdoings of some men; their heroes.

The day after Kobe Bryant’s tragic and untimely death, a few of my teachers took a significant chunk of class time to pay tribute to this basketball star. I am no basketball fanatic, but I listened as they and my peers talked about how he changed the game of basketball and how he was a hero. We even watched a short film written by him about basketball. It wasn’t until later that day, I learned of the rape accusations made against him in 2003.

On June 30 seventeen years ago, Kobe Bryant allegedly raped a 19-year-old girl working at a hotel where he was staying in Colorado. She reported that, after giving him a tour of the hotel, she went to his room where he raped her. Bryant was charged with one count of felony assault. After 14 months, the young woman decided she would not testify, and the criminal case was dropped due to her name accidentally being released to the public and a complication with her DNA evidence. A civil suit was brought against Bryant in August of 2004. Bryant claimed innocence but publicly apologized to his accuser, saying “Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. 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.”

So yes, the criminal case against Kobe Bryant was dropped. But this doesn’t mean that the allegations aren’t true. This all happened years ago, but the problem today is that now that he’s dead, very few people are talking about the fact that he’s an accused rapist. When he died, he was given a God-like status by many sports fans and news-watchers. His past wrongdoings were almost completely forgotten. It’s sad to say, but this happens many times when male celebrities die.

In October of 2016, Janesh Onfroy, aka XXXTentacion, was arrested for allegedly beating his pregnant ex-girlfriend who he believed cheated on him. In a secret recording, he admitted to “…f*****g her up because she made one mistake.” He went on to say how she was scared for her life, adding, “I will kill that b***h if she play with me.”

Unsurprisingly, following his death in 2018, the media remained almost silent about his alleged domestic abuse. His violent actions and words were forgiven and forgotten by his fans and the media. To me, this makes it seem like domestic violence is acceptable and is forgotten eventually.

Now let’s look at Michael Jackson, a musical genius and hero in his industry. His death was mourned worldwide in 2009. What many fans forget is that in 1993, he was accused of molesting at least four children. One victim’s family claimed that Jackson insisted on sleeping in the same bed as their son and “repeatedly committed sexual battery” on him.

When Michael Jackson died, no one remembered or talked about these disgusting allegations. He was washed clean of his various wrongdoings.

How can this be acceptable? When we as a society forget the crimes committed by our musicians, athletes, and heroes after they die, we’re saying that we accept and are okay with these vicious acts being committed. It’s time for us to come to terms with the fact that our heroes aren’t perfect. We need to recognize that the people we look up to can do horrible things to people, and those horrible things need to be a part of their legacy.

As I’ve grown up, I’ve watched various celebrities (especially men), politicians, and athletes held accountable for their wrongdoings. From Harvey Weinstein to Chris Brown, men have been spoken out against, and many punished for sexual abuse, rape, and domestic violence. However, I can guarantee that when these men die, their crimes will be forgotten and they’ll be hailed as heroes in their industries and role models to their fans.

To me, the way our society forgets about the crimes committed by famous men when they die makes things like rape, sexual harassment, and domestic violence acceptable in our culture. It enables men, especially those with status, to treat women however they want. Celebrities who are rapists and abusive in life must be remembered as such after they die. We as a society need to accept that someone can be a talented athlete or artist and still commit violent and cruel crimes. We need to learn to allow someone’s legacy to be that of a hero without forgetting that person’s wrongdoings.

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XXXTentacion Admitted to Domestic Abuse in Secret Tape

https://www.latimes.com/sports/story/2020-01-26/what-happened-kobe-bryant-sexual-assault-case

https://www.npr.org/2019/03/05/699995484/michael-jackson-a-quarter-century-of-sexual-abuse-allegations