What Kobe Bryant Doesn’t Get About Trayvon—or Colorblindness

The NBA All-star is entitled to his opinion about Trayvon Martin. But he should know what he’s talking about before he chastises his pro-athlete colleagues.

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Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers addresses the media before the 2014 NBA All-Star game at the Smoothie King Center on February 16, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

CHRISTIAN PETERSEN/GETTY IMAGES

Come on, Kobe Bryant. If you're going to play the colorblind card, then at least try to think through what you're actually saying.

And if you don't want to be pigeonholed for your outlook on race in America, then maybe you shouldn't pigeonhole your NBA colleagues when they express their views.

No professional athlete—black, or otherwise, including you—is under any obligation to speak out or offer his opinion on the issues of the day. But if any athlete—including you—decides to get into the pundit business, then he should make an effort to be well informed about the subject.

This time, though, I'm not sure that you did.

For anyone who missed it, in a New Yorker profile when Bryant was asked about fellow All-star LeBron James and his Miami Heat teammates donning hoodies last year in a photo to show support for Trayvon Martin's family, Bryant reacted thusly:

"I won't react to something just because I'm supposed to, because I'm an African American," he said. "That argument doesn't make any sense to me. So we want to advance as a society and a culture, but, say, if something happens to an African American we immediately come to his defense? Yet you want to talk about how far we've progressed as a society? Well, we've progressed as a society, then don't jump to somebody's defense just because they're African American. You sit and you listen to the facts just like you would in any other situation, right? So I won't assert myself."

I'm sure he thought—and probably intended to sound like—he was taking a balanced approach, effectively saying, "Just because I'm black doesn't mean I come down on the side of any and every cause associated with another African American."

OK, Kobe. That's fine.

And, almost as surely, he's saying that if we've made any strides toward a colorblind society, then just like everyone else, black folks have to "listen to the facts."

Also fine.

But without relitigating the acquittal of Trayvon's killer, George Zimmerman, the "facts" remain that an armed adult shot an unarmed teenager after following that teenager down the street at night and was still at the scene with his gun when police arrived. But that armed adult wasn't charged with a crime until there was a national outcry.

Yes, people were outraged by the Zimmerman verdict. But the frustration expressed by so many Americans—not just African Americans—was that before Zimmerman was even charged, the cops seemed to accept his version of events at face value.

Even if you accept the jury's verdict—and the assertion that the prosecution didn't prove its case—it's hard to imagine the episode playing out the same way if the roles were reversed.

So even if Bryant has his doubts, personally, about what actually happened—which he's perfectly entitled to—his suggestion that anyone else who rallied to Trayvon's cause did so only out of some knee-jerk racial solidarity is, at best, a gross misunderstanding of the way the Zimmerman controversy escalated and, at worst, Bryant's own knee-jerk evaluation of the impact of race in our judicial system.

That's not being fair and balanced; that sounds like someone who wasn't paying close attention. Plus, Kobe misunderstands what "progress" means in this case.

If his overriding concern is how much we've progressed as a society, then it's unfortunate that he's assuming LeBron was just jumping on the Trayvon bandwagon because he's black. After all, if Kobe has the right to sit the controversy out, then James has every right to jump in.

No one asked Bryant to "assert" himself here. But he did—so did James. And in our ongoing conversations about race, it wouldn't mean we've progressed if James had held back on his own views out of fear that he wouldn't come across as colorblind.

And if Bryant were as forward thinking as he appears to think he is, he'd see that.

Read what Bryant had to say in response to the backlash here.

David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.

Like The Root on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.

Like The Root on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

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