His devotion gave women much promotion.
The late Kobe Bryant was many things — a father, a husband, an Academy Award winner, a basketball icon, and so on. Nevertheless, one aspect of Bryant’s life that ought to be more widely recognized is his support for women’s sports. In an era where women as a collective are looking to make greater strides in US politics — specifically the presidency, combating sexual harassment, and fighting for fair reproductive rights, backing female athletes helps further the goal of women gaining equal access to certain opportunities as well as better treatment for this demographic.
Currently, many female athletes in various professional sports have been fighting for higher wages, greater marketing, and more promotion. Extra pay could mean access to the appropriate services needed for these athletes, such as private traveling options or better medical staff, whereas greater marketing and more promotion could lead to increased game attendance from fans and onlookers and better merchandise sales — which, in theory, should amount to higher wages for female athletes. Additionally, public opinion about women’s sports, more specifically professional women’s sports, has often been negative. Merida (2019) purported that many men often dismiss women’s sports by saying they are not as “athletic” as men’s sports. In other scenarios professional female athletes have been made to feel less than. An example of this was seen last year when a tweet from the Washington Capitals Twitter account failed to acknowledge the Washington Mystics’ 2019 WNBA Championship win, yet congratulated the Washington Capitals for their 2018 Stanley Cup win.
Having a person of Bryant’s caliber support women’s sports meant a great deal to the athletes who participated in them as well as individuals inspired by these athletes. Stories exist of the late NBA legend cheering on the USC women’s volleyball team, watching the US women’s national soccer team, and attending various women’s basketball games. He often appeared at these events with his wife and children, and more recently with his daughter Gianna who, before her death, also enjoyed playing basketball. Arguably, someone with celebrity status such as Bryant may help with the appeal of women’s sports, which is important given the impact these sports have on the women involved, such as self-esteem and work opportunities, in addition to how they affect spectators.
Dancing with the stars
Celebrities are highly valued in US society. According to Singh and Banerjee (2018), celebrities are regularly viewed as being exceptionally dynamic individuals with appealing and amiable qualities. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that fans and onlookers are often influenced by or mimic these figures. Arnocky et al. (2018) stated that today one in four advertisements uses celebrity endorsement since it is effective in influencing consumer purchasing behavior. Moreover, studies have highlighted their ability to affect smoking behaviors among college students and their usefulness as powerful public health tools (Yoo, 2016; Hoffman & Tan, 2015). Given this understanding, one could argue that celebrity support of women’s sports might help improve viewership, game turnout, and public sentiment.
Nevertheless, certain celebrities are more influential than others. When highlighting consumer attitudes toward advertisers, for example, Singh and Banerjee (2018) purported that celebrities with higher credibility can be more impactful. This means a figure who is more identifiable or trusted is likelier to affect buy-in from both consumers and onlookers in specific areas. For example, an A-list actress who has appeared in many successful movies (e.g., Viola Davis) will arguably have a better chance at convincing an audience to lead a healthier lifestyle than a lesser known actress (e.g., Crystal R. Fox). For this very reason, Bryant, with his sports acumen, legendary status, and wide appeal, is likelier to garner support for female athletes than athletes, or even other celebrities, who have not achieved as many accolades or accomplished as much.
Hoops for the heart
Prior to his death, Bryant was largely involved with women’s basketball. One can argue this was due to his daughter Gianna’s aspirations in sports. She wanted to eventually play basketball for the University of Connecticut (UConn) and showed great interest in NBA players such as Trae Young. However, the NBA legend appeared genuinely concerned with the advancement of these athletes, as evidenced by WNBA star Sue Bird who reportedly said, “Yes, his daughter started playing and he was able to teach her. That was really special, but he respected our game before that.”
First, he was a fan of the UConn women’s basketball team. This is evidenced by his tweets about the team and attendance at games. Bryant also formed strong relationships with both current and past UConn players, including Gabby Williams, Katie Lou Samuelson, Diana Taurasi, and Breanna Stewart, who he helped during her rehab process after Stewart ruptured her Achilles tendon in April 2019. Bryant’s involvement with women’s basketball comprised encouraging other college athletes as well, such as Rachel Banham during her time spent playing for the University of Minnesota and Oregon Ducks player Sabrina Ionescu, and even spread to the WNBA.
During January 2020, the month of his death, CNN claimed that the NBA legend said there are current WNBA stars that can play in the NBA. When speaking on Bryant’s relationship with WNBA players to ESPN, WNBA star Chiney Ogwumike asserted, “he was very much present at WNBA games.” Upon retiring and up until his final days, he also trained many WNBA players. In the past, Seattle Storm guard Jewell Loyd made known to the public that she and the NBA legend had “top secret” joint workouts. Moreover, he recently held a summit for some WNBA players at his Mamba Sports Academy training facility located in Thousand Oaks, California. It is worth noting that the Mamba Sports Academy also serves as a space where young girls are taught how to play basketball. Furthermore, within this training facility Bryant coached an all-girls AAU team, which included his daughter, whom he brought to multiple WNBA games.
Follow the leader
Hopefully others continue the work Bryant began regarding women’s sports and the empowerment of female athletes. The impact of his death has already inspired many to better themselves, especially male and female athletes. For example, former NBA star Gilbert Arenas recently made an Instagram post proclaiming he will begin coaching youth basketball, honoring the advice Bryant gave him about coaching in the past. Additionally, on ESPN’s “The Jump” NBA hall of famer Paul Pierce stated that the NBA legend’s death makes him want to reconnect with his father, who Pierce claims he has not seen since the age of four. Bryant’s legacy will live on in his absence, pushing numerous individuals to strive for greatness and value loved ones. One can only imagine how many will begin to support women’s sports and female athletes if the work Bryant did for both is more widely recognized and followed.
Arnocky, S., Bozek, E., Dufort, C., Rybka, S., & Hebert, R. (2018). Celebrity opinion influences public acceptance of human evolution. Evolutionary Psychology, 16(3), 1474704918800656.
Hoffman, S. J., & Tan, C. (2015). Biological, psychological and social processes that explain celebrities’ influence on patients’ health-related behaviors. Archives of Public Health, 73(1), 3.
Merida, S. (2019, August 3). Men who don’t watch women’s sports don’t know what they’re missing. Retrieved February 2, 2020, from https://www.cnn.com/2019/08/03/opinions/why-i-love-womens-sports-merida/index.html
Singh, R. P., & Banerjee, N. (2019). Exploring the influence of celebrity worship on brand attitude, advertisement attitude, and purchase intention. Journal of Promotion Management, 25(2), 225–251.
Yoo, W. (2016). The influence of celebrity exemplars on college students’ smoking. Journal of American College Health, 64(1), 48–60.