A note to my girls soccer team from last month:
Last week I got stuck writing my post-game message to the G10s because I wanted to say something about Kobe Bryant. The original just got too big, ambitious, and lengthy. So I tried again this week and figured I’d share it with you as well, actually I built it out a little since last night:
When we were traveling to last week’s futsal game, his helicopter had just crashed with his daughter, some of her teammates, and others on board. (I’m sure you’ve all read the details). Since then, he has been mourned and eulogized by countless people, as a devoted father and sports legend. But if you know about Kobe, he had a dark side that I can’t forget. As the father of two daughters and the coach of about 20 more girls, (35 counting you G08s) the topics of sexual harassment and assault are ones I take very seriously and that is also part of his history. Too many media outlets shoved that to one side this week, and the few people who were outspoken about it were threatened and bullied into silence. From the consensus of reports, he assaulted a young woman in a hotel room, then lawyered up, his lawyer performed some extra-legal attacks on the victim which forced her into hiding, then Kobe’s lawyer settled the case financially without admitting guilt.
But Jemele Hill, a sportswriter I admire and read often, mourned his death and added that he was a man who could learn, and change, when presented with information — for example his increased advocacy for Travon Martin. He’d recently started supporting the WNBA as well. Jemele wrote, “Once the epitome of precocious arrogance, he evolved into being a true champion for others.” And Kobe was an advocate for soccer, it was the first sport he played as a kid in Italy. He loved visiting teams like FC Barcelona and still supported AC Milan, to such an extent that they held a moment of silence in memory of him.
I can’t give him a pass for the assault of a young woman. But hearing of his continued evolution, I can’t refuse to feel sad for his sudden passing, before we might see where else his life might have led him. And I concluded that if we only mourn the deaths of perfect people, well the florists are all going out of business. I decided to view him as a dad, taking his kid to her game and they died tragically on the way, along with two of her teammates. And as sports parents, that’s something that can move us all.
I still haven’t fully reconciled my feelings on it. Like a lot of stuff in the news right now, it bothers me. I can’t change what’s happening in Washington DC. I can’t extinguish the fires in Australia, where kids haven’t been able to play for weeks. “Think globally, act locally” I keep reminding myself. I can focus on each training session, enjoying how well the girls are working. I can aim to make our time together interesting, instructive, and fun. I can try to build each young woman’s confidence and belief in her ability to improve. These things I can do. I love it when we finish after 90m and someone says “wait — is it over already?” Coaching your daughters is often the best part of my day, I’m grateful you give me that chance, and it’s how I try to make a difference in all this.