Death is a part of every aspect of our lives. Nobody in this world is perfect, and nobody is expected to be. Nonetheless, all people, whether citizens or celebrities, should be subject to repudiation for their mistakes. However, when celebrities pass on, many are glorified, portrayed as perfect beings. While celebrities deserve the honor and recognition for their accomplishments, they should not be idolized as paragons, with their previous wrongdoings disregarded and completely forgotten.
The recent death of Kobe Bryant falls under this sentiment. Since the accident, he has cemented his legacy as one of the best basketball players in the world and an individual who constantly gave back to his community and cared for others. While this characterization of Bryant may be true, there is no doubt that he has committed a fair share of his own wrongdoings during his lifetime which includes his sexual assault case earlier in his career.
In 2003, Bryant was accused of sexual assault and false imprisonment by a 19-year-old woman working at a hotel in Colorado and was later charged. He denied these claims, first saying that she had only shown him around the hotel, but later stated that they had consensual sexual intercourse, asserting that he was guilty of adultery but not sexual assault. The accuser eventually decided not to testify a week before the trial started after being the center of a media frenzy and the target of criticism by the public. While the entirety of this case is shrouded with mystery, Bryant issued an apology to the accuser, saying that although he thought their encounter was consensual, he understands that she did not.
After his death, any mention of his sexual assault case was harshly criticized. A CBS interviewer, Gayle King, asked Bryant’s longtime friend and WNBA player Lisa Leslie if his legacy was complicated due to the case. In the interview, Leslie said that the case was not something that should be hung over his legacy. In addition, the question brought a wave of backlash towards King on social media, and she responded on Twitter that the interview clip was taken out of context. A Washington Post writer was also suspended after she tweeted about the case shortly after his death, which led to death threats by fans. Although the writer may have received an adequate punishment for her actions due to her quickness to discredit his character after his death, it also raises the question of when the dead should be recognized as individuals who have flaws rather than a godly figure who had committed no wrong in their lifetime.
Kobe Bryant’s legacy will always paint him as a once-in-a-lifetime athlete who constantly gave back to his community through basketball. However, his legacy that revolves around being an athlete should remain separate from Bryant as an individual from when he was alive, a person who had made mistakes regardless of the truth to his sexual assault case. An objective look at Bryant’s legacy must recognize that he made mistakes throughout his lifetime and minimize the glorification of him as a divine figure as it has the potential to hurt victims of sexual assault.
Another celebrity who was exonerated after death was XXXTentacion. XXXTentacion, born as Jahseh Onfroy, was the rapper of SAD!, Moonlight, Changes, and numerous other hits that lead to an immense fan base, making him a well-known icon in the rapping industry at the youngage of 20. He was unfortunately killed in an attempted robbery at a motorsports store in Deerfield Beach, Florida. In the wake of his death, he left behind one of the most controversial legacies in the music industry. It had been known that Onfroy had allegations of assault and murder placed against him, including the assault of his former girlfriend, Geneva Ayala, who had been pregnant at the time. Onfroy had been awaiting trial for the abuse of Ayala along with five other felonies at the time of his death-including one for beating a gay inmate at the juvenile detention center he was being held at near his death. At the time of his death, he had a total of 12 felony charges in his last three years. However, in response to his deaths, fans disregarded these allegations and portrayed Onfroy as a role model.
Fans followed a pick-and-choose policy about what they wanted to remember; pulling out specific moments that did not reflect a rapper who faced 12 felonies, such as the famous “If I’m going to die or ever be a sacrifice, I want to make sure that my life made at least five million kids happy or they found some sort of answers or resolve in my life regardless of the negative around my name, regardless of the bad things people say to me.”
It is understandable why the numerous allegations were momentarily disregarded so that Onfroy could have a serious and respectful memorial, but the continuing dismissal of his clear faults is unnerving. Fans admire him and remember him as a young man who gave them an outlet to express themselves and feel like they are not alone, but they forget that behind that man was a shockingly volatile one who was accused of numerous crimes. Giving teenagers a toxic role model such as XXXTentacion gives a twisted message; if you are famous, you can be forgiven of your crimes. Not only is it harmful to young supporters who look up to him as a role model, but it is disrespectful to those whom he has hurt, such as Miss Ayala.
During one of Onfroy’s memorial, Ayala-who had come to drop off a few mementos and pay her respects-was confronted by a fan who allegedly attempted to fight her. Ayala supposedly left in tears and posted “[…] just please stop tagging me in disrespectful threads and arguments […] I lost someone close to me. Leave me alone.”
By dismissing the clear abuse that Ayala was subjected to and idolizing the person who put her through the torment, fans are unknowingly hurting a woman who does not deserve this kind of treatment. Miss Ayala along with the several other people XXXTentacion abused have the right to resent him regardless of his death, but by exalting him, they are being stripped of that right, and are being entirely disregarded.
Although there is no doubt that XXXTentacion was an inspirational artist that made a lasting impression on the music industry, his death cannot brush aside his faults. For if it does, it disgraces the legacy of those whom he abused, and it sends the wrong message to his younger, impressionable fans.
While it is important to respect the dead and honor their achievements, blowing up their characters and forgetting their wrongdoings is unfair to some of those who are still living. In the end, we should strive to remember celebrities through both their good and bad actions. Celebrities should not only inspire others for their positive actions, but their negative actions and consequences can also serve to be a lesson to those who look up to them. It is best to accept a person as who they are, triumphs and failures alike, and we should remember them as human beings rather than diluted versions of themselves.