“First, 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 … Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did.”

The words from Kobe Bryant’s apology statement following the sexual assault charges against him carry even more weight now that he’s gone. And with this tragedy, the debate about his controversial past is more prominent than ever.

Bryant, human like all of us, has done both good and bad. In 2004, Bryant was accused of sexually assaulting a woman and there was extreme controversy given who he was and his status as an amazing basketball player. The charges were dropped, and learning from this major setback in his life, Bryant took steps in becoming a better person. He established his philanthropic foundation created with his wife, Vanessa, that would help homeless youth in Los Angeles and participated in multiple other organizations that help the disenfranchised. Bryant explained himself, saying, “ … Because the whole process for me was trying to figure out how to cope with this. I wasn’t going to be passive and let this thing just swallow me up. You’ve got a responsibility: family, baby, organization, whole city, yourself — how do you figure out how to overcome this? Or just deal with it and not drown from this thing? … So I was bound to figure something out because I was so obsessively concerned about it.”

It’s now 2020 and the world is mourning the death of a beloved human. With his death, every aspect of Bryant’s life has risen to the surface and there have been many articles debating the “forgotten” sexual assault case. Which brings us to the question: Is it appropriate to look past the problematic past of a celebrity when they die, or should that be part of the conversation while people mourn?

While the answer varies depending on the person and situation, problematic pasts should be a part of the conversation because it’s a healthy way for society to grow and reflect. As people and a society, when we discuss topics, we learn from other people’s opinions and ideas; they can give us clarity or a new perspective. Bryant reflected on his actions, took responsibility and worked on himself to become a better person and not let one event label him for life.

There are many celebrities who don’t have the courage and strength of character that Bryant did.

There are numerous incidents of documented, and probably 10 times more undocumented, cases of sexual assault within Hollywood and by celebrities. “A survey has found that 94 percent of women employed in the American film industry have experienced sexual harassment or assault. Conducted by USA Today in conjunction with the Creative Coalition, Women in Film and Television and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, the survey had nearly 850 respondents across many branches of the film industry … and the vast majority reported some form of sexual misconduct.” Ninety-four percent is a ridiculously high number and it is sickening to see how prominent it is within Hollywood. Celebrities are looked up to and should be held at a higher standard since so much attention is paid to them. The question is, why are there still so many celebrities who get away with this appalling behavior?

For example, comedian Louis C.K. was accused of sexual harassment and masturbating in front of countless of women. In a New York Times article, he admitted, “These stories are true,” and after laying low, he was able to return unscathed. A more recent New York Times article was titled: “Louis C.K., Back on Tour, Looks to Accelerate His Comeback.” C.K. is performing again, as if nothing happened. The fact that he’s working again soon after admitting to harassment is troubling, and it appears that our society is letting him off the hook easily. Another example is Adam Gotsis, defensive player for the Denver Broncos. Gotsis was accused of rape in 2013 and while the case was dropped, Gotsis made no apparent effort to apologize or recognize how serious the subject of rape is, only stating that he’s ” … relieved that everything has been taken care of … that it’s over with and I can just focus on football now.” Gotsis is still playing for the Broncos, and by letting him continue to play, we just excused the whole accusation — which is wrong because issues like that are to be taken seriously and not swept under the mat.

As we mourn Bryant, we should look up to him and see how he took the initiative to grow and improve. Because, it is true, actions speak louder than words and not everyone has the strength to acknowledge their flaws like Bryant did. But as an op-ed writer, I am asking my audience to think: Why is it that celebrities seem to get “excused” for their problematic actions because of their status? Why do we, as a society, let them?

Willa Scolari is an undeclared sophomore.