Kobe Bryant’s Image Repair


by Kat Largent

Kobe Bryant on the bench after calling a referee a gay slur. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters.

In 2011, Kobe Bryant yelled a gay slur at a referee in the heat of being called for a technical foul. He was fined $100,000 by the N.B.A. commissioner. At this point in the season, his team, the Lakers, were already struggling purely from a standpoint of the number of losses they had accrued, and Bryant’s outburst did not help gain the type of publicity they wanted.

My partner, Chase Strickland, and I have gathered some scholarly journal articles as well as some news articles. These articles cover the incident itself, image repair tactic theory, image repair in sports and various other dimensions that tie into this incident. Though Bryant is a high-profile athlete with a name well-known even to those who aren’t sports fans, there is a surprising lack in literature about his image repair strategy.

Chase and I will attempt to help fill this gap, drawing from existing image repair theory and using it as a framework to analyze Bryant’s attempts to regain the public’s favor. We will look at what happened, what strategies others have used in similar situations, what Bryant did in response to his image crisis, and what he might have done differently to achieve different or better results. Ultimately, we will judge whether or not his image repair strategy was the most successful in achieving goals by looking at how long it took for the public to view him favorably again.

We will look at news stories published on Bryant before, during and after the outburst, forming a timeline of public perception of Bryant. If news outlets return to favorable coverage fairly quickly, we will deem his image repair efforts effective. If it was a slow process, however, with mentions of the outburst seeping into other stories about him long after the event itself occurred, we will judge his efforts ineffective or less effective than they could be.

Watch a clip of TMZ covering the outburst:

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