I received two private emails from people who were upset with my choice of Kobe Bryant as a role model for leadership. They were not arguing with Kobe’s work ethic and his turning to a coach to improve his skills. They instead said that his whole character was problematic for them. They pointed out that Kobe had been accused of sexual assault and although not convicted accepted responsibility for it. Kobe released a statement at the time that began: “I want to apologize directly to the young woman involved in this incident. I want to apologize to her for my behavior that night and for the consequences she has suffered in the past year. Although this year has been incredibly difficult for me personally, I can only imagine the pain she has had to endure.”
I shared my thoughts with these two women, and feel it’s right to publicly share this, my own mea culpa:
“Thanks for writing me. This incident, like so many, was for me a blip on the radar screen (I hardly took note) – I’m not excusing myself, just explaining. Had I known/remembered this, I wouldn’t have written about Kobe but would have found a less problematic example.
Kobe’s apology read quite powerfully. It sure is hard to know when an apology is real, isn’t it? As a social-political matter, I am against holding people like this on a pedestal. Thus, I don’t think Pete Rose should go into the Hall of Fame. Nor should the steroid users. On the other hand, as a personal matter, I hope Kobe’s statement accurately reflects his heart and not just the smooth words of a great PR person (who no doubt was paid for the craft of writing). I believe (and am grateful!) that God creates room for penitence and a new start. I’m very uncomfortable judging anyone else. It’s hard enough knowing whether my own heart is clean and my behavior sufficiently reformed.