Trayvon Martin died at the hands of vigilante George Zimmerman more than two years ago, but he continues to haunt the American dialog on racial relations. The latest public figure to raise the ghost of Trayvon Martin is NBA superstar Kobe Bryant who, though he has made no explicit public comments on the case until now, breaks that apparent silence in the current issue of The New Yorker Magazine — in a surprising way.
Bryant was asked about his views, not specifically on the Trayvon Martin killing, but on the response from other NBA players, specifically the Miami Heat. The Lebron James-led Heat posted a team “hoodie” photo to display solidarity with Martin, who it was reported at the time was slain in part because he was wearing a “hoodie” sweatshirt that Zimmerman interpreted as suspicious.
Bryant told The New Yorker that he felt that the reaction of James and his teammates to the Trayvon Martin killing was evidence of “a lack of progress” on the part of African-Americans, and that he felt they were responding simply on the basis of the fact that Trayvon Martin was black.
“I won’t react to something just because I’m supposed to, because I’m an African American. 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?”
Though in truth, as Bryant continued, he appeared to be searching for a justification of his his own lack of response to the Trayvon Martin case, as much as he was criticizing the Heat’s actual Trayvon Martin response.
“Don’t jump to somebody’s defense just because they’re African American,” he said. “You sit and you listen to the facts just like you would in any other situation, right? So I won’t assert myself.”
Bryant was immediately the subject of heavy criticism for his remarks.
So to be clear Kobe Bryant was largely quiet when Trayvon Martin was killed but now he wants to disparage the Heat for taking a stand? Ok
— Johnny Hampton (@Jthethird) March 27, 2014
If there was any question as to why Kobe Bryant is so hateable, despite being one of the world’s most gifted athletes, he answered it today.
— Jamilah Lemieux (@JamilahLemieux) March 27, 2014
He also had defenders.
Gained so much respect for Kobe with his comments on the Trayvon Martin case
— Joey Piazza (@JPiazza23) March 27, 2014
One Twitter poster, former Bill Clinton White House aide Keith Boykin, found that shortly after the jury verdict clearing Zimmerman of murdering Trayvon Martin, Bryant posted a response of sorts — a quote from 19th Century African American leader Frederick Douglass.
— Keith Boykin (@keithboykin) March 28, 2014
The 35-year-old Bryant himself later took to Twitter to make clear where he stands on the Trayvon Martin case.
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) March 27, 2014
Had the Los Angeles Lakers great made his position on Trayvon Martin more clear at the time the case was going on, however, he may have been spared some of the anger directed his way today.