Dr Boyce Watkins: Is it fair to compare Kobe Bryant to OJ Simpson?

Published On March 29, 2014 | By Big BOSS | News, Pro Sports, Strictly for the brothers

by Dr Boyce Watkins

I am good friends with former NBA player Etan Thomas.  I consider Etan to be one of the great athletes of our generation not just because he was an outstanding performer on the court, but also because he excels just as much off the court.  His promotion of fatherhood and conscientiousness in the black community is a throwback to a time when athletes fully understood and embraced their power to enhance the collective good.

Etan brought something to my attention the other day with a status he posted on his facebook wall.  It had to do with sports columnist Jason Whitlock and his appearance on ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption.”

During the appearance, Whitlock compared Kobe Bryant to the infamous OJ Simpson.  The comparison was made in response to Kobe’s decision to remain apolitical on most matters, particularly those of race.  Unfortunately, Kobe made the unwise choice to suddenly use his voice when it came to disrespecting the legacy of Trayvon Martin by saying that he wouldn’t support him just because he’s black.

It’s sad that Kobe doesn’t understand a few simple facts about Trayvon’s situation:  Trayvon was supported by a broadly diverse, international coalition of concerned citizens and activists who couldn’t understand why he had to die.  Trayvon had no weapon, he was stalked and killed in cold blood, George Zimmerman was acquitted and later proved that he was indeed the violent maniac that everyone believed him to be.

People didn’t just support Trayvon because he was black.  They supported him because he was an innocent reflection of the horrific racial injustice that black people have suffered since the day we arrived on slave ships.   But of course, Kobe is busy dribbling basketballs for white people, so he wouldn’t know anything about that.

When I heard about Jason Whitlock’s comparison of Kobe to OJ, I could see where he was going:  They both built their careers out in Los Angeles, where poor black men are being beaten by the LAPD and wealthy black men are treated like post-racial royalty  They were both extraordinary athletes, at the top of their respective professions.  Neither of them cared to spend much time connecting to the black experience, since black trauma can be downright depressing.  Oh, and they were both caught up in the criminal justice system, each being acquitted for heinous crimes against white women.

But let’s be fair here, Kobe Bryant can’t quite be compared to OJ.   First, there wasn’t much public outrage when Kobe’s case was dropped because a lot of people doubted the accuser’s story.  OJ, on the other hand, was blessed by the amazing legal skills of Johnny Cochran and was followed by a lynchmob for the next 20 years.  Secondly, while Kobe was smart enough to clean up his image and get back on track, OJ is right back in prison years later.  Third, it’s hard to compare anyone to a man with a drug problem that the world strongly believes to have murdered two people, who was later convicted of a string of other disturbing crimes.  Fourth, while Kobe never asked the black community to support him during his trial, OJ suddenly realized that being black might be an asset, not a liability.

But as I said, I can see where Whitlock was going with the comparison, and truth be told, I’m not all that interested in protecting the image of an athlete who has made it abundantly clear that he doesn’t care a whole lot about black people.

With that being said, OJ might be a harsh comparison for Toby, I mean Kobe.  A more accurate comparison might be Tiger Woods:  Another apolitical sexual deviant who has done all he can to run away from matters of race.  Also, similar to Kobe, Tiger didn’t try to play the race card when it turned out that he kept his own personal collection of dirty blondes to keep him fulfilled outside his marriage.   In fact, his decision to sleep with adult film entertainers without using a condom is very similar to Kobe’s admission that he too had unprotected sex with a woman he’d met an hour earlier.

I won’t get into judging what anyone does in the bedroom.  But you would think that just a few years after Magic Johnson announced his HIV diagnosis, brothers would be a little more careful.  If you’re going to cheat on your wife, at least try not to murder her in the process, your kids might be a little upset with you.

Kobe isn’t going to change anytime soon, and  none of us should wait around.  Also, we have to give him credit for being consistent with his denial of race and not leaning on his blackness during times of need.   At the same time, both he and Tiger Woods have never cared much for being black, carrying their dark skin around as if it were shallow baggage and a meaningless liability.  But being black can be extremely beneficial when selling yourself to the world as an athletic mandingo.

It’s unfortunate to see black men who don’t care much for other black men, but this is what America produces when black paren’t don’t intervene.  Men tend to be replicas of their fathers.  The commonality between Kobe and Tiger’s fathers is that both of them were more concerned about teaching their sons to become extraordinary athletes than they were about teaching them to become extraordinary human beings.  As a result, both men dominate on the playing field, but also show the kind of arrogance, selfishness and ignorance that ultimately makes them worthless to the millions of people they could have affected.

Maybe they should have been raised by Etan Thomas or Muhammad Ali.  They would have then had the chance to become great.

Dr Boyce Watkins is the author of the lecture series, “The 8 Principles of Black Male Empowerment.”  To have Dr Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here. 

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