Kobe Bryant & Imperfect Heroes

Not too long ago, I went down an internet rabbit hole. I noticed that Kobe Bryant was trending and I wondered what had happened. A few clicks later, I learned that he had posted a picture caption on Instagram which some perceived to shame a member of the girls basketball team he coached for her lack of dedication. Kobe made clarifying statements, but as what happens in today’s culture of outrage, the fires were already stoked. The memes were multiplying. His caption, which he explained had been about the girl’s growth, had taken a dark twist and he was the object of the Internet’s wrath.

This week Kobe Bryant’s name is trending for a far different reason. It’s not famed Internet fury accompanying it- rather shock & despair. The world was stunned by his sudden death alongside his daughter Gianna and seven others in a helicopter crash. People lamented a life lost too soon. They remembered Kobe’s accomplishments as a basketball player, father, friend and community leader.

As I think of it now, my heart hurts. A wife who has lost her husband. A mother who has lost her daughter. Little girls without a sister or father.
Celebrities, athletes, politicians, and ordinary people have all come out in droves to share their sympathy and about Kobe’s impact on their lives.

And yet in the midst of that there are some disgruntled whispers – “you know Kobe was accused of rape, right? is it okay to celebrate him? Is it okay to mourn him? He may have done something really bad.”

A Washington Post reporter was suspended after she tweeted old articles about the rape case. I’m not arguing whether it was right or wrong for her to post the articles or whether or not her suspension was warranted. But what I do know is people are very uncomfortable with imperfect narratives so we try to automatically dismiss them. We want to either demonize or deify – yet, on this side of eternity, we will always live in the awkward middle.

Our heroes are flawed. In one of my favorite books, Josh Riebock wrestles with the two very different men his dad was. He was one person when under the influence of alcohol and someone completely different at other times. At last he comes to a realization:

For the first time in my life, my dad isn’t a hero or a monster to me. He’s something in between; he’s just a man.”

Josh Riebock, Heroes and Monsters

We know all too well from the pages of Scripture that the world is full of imperfect people. Of people who are broken and who made huge mistakes – yet are still used for good. Perhaps there is no clearer example than that of King David – a man who abused his power to take advantage of a woman, who killed and lied. We shouldn’t gloss over and ignore those glaring imperfections. Rather we recognize that those imperfections are what make David human – and the fact the he was used in spite of those imperfections is what makes God far greater than our human understanding.

So can we celebrate Kobe Bryant? Can we mention his shortcomings? I think the answer to both of these questions is yes. We can recognize that Kobe Bryant accomplished great things. He loved his family. He touched countless lives. But I think it’s also okay (and perhaps even freeing) to acknowledge the Kobe isn’t perfect. We may never know the whole story. We don’t diminish the pain of people he hurt. But what we also know that Kobe reminds us that imperfect people can be used in big ways.

So next time, we’re tempted to join either the Internet firestorm of defense or attack I hope we’ll remember that we’re all ultimately, like Kobe, just people, so we mourn, we celebrate and we daily acknowledge we will never be the one perfect person who walked the earth, but we can learn about Him from the many imperfect people on this journey with us.

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