I really thought hard about what figure I wanted to use to illustrate my metaphor. I settled on Kobe Bryant–basketball phenom, and international icon. Bryant has garnered much of his popularity through his illustrious basketball career. Since being drafted 13th overall in the 1996 NBA draft, Bryant has put together almost two-decades of Hall of Fame assured numbers. He has scored almost 33,000 points, grabbed almost 7,000 rebounds, and dished out over 6,000 assists. He is a 16 time All-Star, a one-time league MVP, and a two-time Finals MVP. Not to mention, he has won five–that’s right–five NBA World Championships. With numbers like this, Kobe will go down as arguably one of the top-five players of all time and is a shoe in for the basketball Hall of Fame.
All of this is fine and dandy, and if one looked at Kobe’s career in the snapshot that I just provided, they may believe that he is the epitome of an American Icon. A young kid who battled the odds at Lower Marion High School, graduates and becomes a star in the NBA. His stardom has won him international recognition, especially since he works tireless at trying to grow the game outside the United States. How much more happy-go-lucky American can you get?
As it turns out though, while Bryant, in some ways, does represent the surface oriented smiling face of American culture, he also provides a prime example of America’s underbelly.
In 2004, allegations surfaced that Bryant had sexually assaulted a 19 year old girl. In an interview, Bryant claims the sex was consensual–even though there was a bruise around the young woman’s neck and she experienced bleeding. Bryant said he was unaware of any blood, but later authorities confirmed his shirt was indeed stained with the girls blood. The charges were eventually dropped by the young woman, however some people theorize Bryant had something to do with the charges being waved.
And so, just like that, Bryant goes on playing. Now, over 10 years later, the memories of Bryant’s close call with significant jail time seem a mere speck in the totality of his legacy.
Which is so American isn’t it? It seems that our country has a clear tendency to follow this exact pattern–public icon messes up, there is a media whirlwind for a month, and then, poof, it just seems to disappear from our collective memories. And this is just one small example. Don’t forget:
America is the best nation on Earth but:
– Native American genocide happened here
– Slavery happened here
– Jim Crow lynching’s happened here
– Women and Black voting rights are not given until after the turn of the century
– Martin Luther King is a great, respected civil rights hero, who is senselessly murdered (Oh, and today people point to protesters and say they are disrespecting King’s legacy by protesting…I still can’t reason with that philosophy).
And the list continues forever.
So, why do American’s perceive themselves as superior and elite? Because that’s what we are taught all throughout school. Yes, we talk about and learn about the negative aspects of our history, but somehow these instances never detract from our overall view of the country. We simply learn about them and then proverbially “sweep them under the rug.”
Bryant, then, becomes almost as American as you can get. Rags to riches, with the privilege of living in a country that won’t hold him accountable for the wrongs he has done because we simply sweep them under the red white and blue rug, and then focus on all the gaudy numbers he has put up.
I wonder if the girl who he allegedly assaulted will watch his Hall of Fame induction speech.