Legacy: Stardom and Scandal


Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

To many, Kobe is an inspiration. To others, Kobe was a guilty man who used his stardom and wealth to avoid punishment. Who is correct? Both are. (Graphic by Justin Prather | Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Carlos Padilla


Legacy. Every person leaves one. Whether good or bad, a token is left by the individuals that history remembers. For many, few legacies shine brighter than those of athletes and coaches. For children, the names of these men and women are ingrained into the mind. Murals and statues pay homage to the greatest. 

The names and feats of these individuals are comparable to myth and legend. No longer are they mortal. Great sports heroes are modern-day deities. However, is legacy something best viewed only through the rosy lens of euphoria? 

The recent passing of five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gigi has reignited a longtime debate. While Laker and basketball loyals mourn the loss of an icon, an outspoken group has few tears to spare for the Black Mamba. Many have taken to social media to remind the populous that while Bryant may have been a hero to many, he was not perfect. Critics mention the infamous sex scandal of Kobe’s younger years. 

Bryant was arrested in 2003 after a 19-year-old hotel worker accused the star of rape. Bryant later admitted to sexual contact with the woman, yet claimed it was consensual. The case was dropped, due to Bryant’s accuser refusing to testify in court. Bryant and the woman later settled outside of court with Bryant issuing a public apology. 

While legally innocent, the incident understandably tarnished Bryant’s reputation. Despite never being involved in any further controversy, many still see Bryant as a prime example of the preferred treatment of the rich and famous in the legal system. 

Now that the star is gone, his legacy has been brought into greater prominence. While undeniably one of the best players of all time, can we as a society pardon the actions of a man accused of such a crime? Does the work Bryant did on the court, along with his achievements after his retirement, bury such a significant blemish? There is no easy answer. Bryant is not the only star whose past has caused their legacy to be complicated. 

Legendary Cinncinatti Reds first baseman, Pete “Charlie Hustle” Rose, is known for not only his superb talents on the diamond but also for being the recipient of a lifelong ban from baseball. 

It was revealed that while a manager and player for the Reds, Rose bet on games. This was prohibited by the MLB to “preserve the integrity of the game.” Rose was suspended and later banned for life. What was once a hall of fame career is now eclipsed by scandal. While Rose holds the record for most RBIs in a season, games played, at-bats, hits and singles, his face will never be in Cooperstown. 

While the betting scandal rocked the sports world at the time, baseball has seen larger scandals in recent years. The late 1980s saw a wave of steroid use sweep the league. Players such as Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Roger Clemens smashed league records, only to later admit to the use of performance-enhancing drugs. How could Bonds use illicit substances to boost his game and still be eligible for the Hall of Fame, when Rose will never have a chance? 

Baseball is not the only sport witness to scandals. Reggie Bush, a Heisman Trophy winner, received thousands of dollars in gifts and cash while a student-athlete at USC.

(Graphic by Justin Prather | Daily Utah Chronicle)

Perhaps the biggest college football scandal of all time took place at Penn State. Assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was found guilty of sexually abusing underage boys. Not only was Sandusky found guilty, but legendary head coach Joe “JoPa” Paterno was accused of covering up the behavior for over 30 years. Paterno was revered throughout the country and still holds the second-most wins of any college football coach, yet his name has all but been erased from the sports world.

Then, the O.J. Simpson case shocked professional football. While found not guilty, the former running back is considered by many as guilty of the murder of his wife and best friend. Six-time Super Bowl winner Bill Belichick has been accused of deflating footballs, stealing signs and intentionally rigging headsets to malfunction. While Belichick has a spotted past, many still consider him one of the greatest coaches of all time. 

Athletes and scandals often seem to be linked. When a titan falls, it shakes the community to the core. Yet, as in the case of Kobe, should scandal be the defining part of a person’s life? 

There is no easy answer. 

To many, Kobe is an inspiration. To others, Kobe was a guilty man who used his stardom and wealth to avoid punishment. Who is correct?

Both are. 

Every person brings their experience and values to the table. Each individual has things they care about more than others. While survivors and allies of sexual assault may see Kobe as a rapist, a 15-year-old athlete may see him as an inspiration. 

It is all about perspective. As norms change, scandals from the past may be forgiven, while actions today could be seen as scandalous. The legacy of stars is never set in stone. One must try and balance the man with the myth. The human from the diety. 

In the end, there is no correct answer. The only thing to do is respect all and allow every individual to place a player’s legacy in the proper place in their minds. 


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