Overview of Kobe Bryant’s Image Repair

by Kat Largent and Chase Strickland

Chase Strickland and I partnered to investigate Kobe Bryant’s employment of image repair strategies. What follows is a summary of our paper.

Abstract and Intro

  • In 2011, Kobe Bryant necessitated the execution of image repair strategy when he called a referee a gay slur when the ref called Bryant for a foul during a game.
  • The NBA issued a $100,000 fine.
  • Bryant released a statement and appeared on a radio show to try to repair his image.

Literature Review

  • We used the following studies: Adrian Peterson (Winters, 2015), Michael Phelps (Walsh & McAllister-Spooner, 2011), Terrell Owens (Brazeal, 2008), Lance Armstrong (Hambrick, Frederick, & Sanderson, 2015), Tonya Harding (Benoit & Hanczor, 1994), Lebron (James Brown, Dickhaus and Long 2012), and Tiger Woods (Meng & Pan, 2013).
  • These studies deal with athletes and their image repair efforts.

Research Questions

  1. Did Bryant’s past reputation affect his image repair strategies?
  2. Were Bryant’s strategies more or less effective among the LGBT community?
  3. Did Bryant’s race impact the acceptance of his image repair?


  • We analyzed the social media accounts of both the Lakers and Kobe Bryant.
  • We listened to Bryant’s discussion in response to the event.
  • We watched the Lakers’ PSA issued after the event.
  • We analyzed articles written in response to the event by mainstream news sources as well as niche blogs.



Table we created detailing and summarizing Bryant’s image repair tactics
  • Both Bryant and the Lakers completely ignored the incident on their social media profiles, remaining silent on the issue in the days immediately following the game.
  • Bryant tried to use mortification and reduction of offensiveness when he called into the ESPN radio show.
  • He also used provocation, defeasibility and differentiation in his various other responses to the event.
  • He used mortification, to mixed effectiveness.
  • Members of the LGBT community were hesitant and skeptical of the sincerity of his apologies.

    Bryant tweeted his disapproval of a fan who used a gay slur against another fan in a tweet.
  • He did use corrective action on several different occasions years into the future, convincing many fans that he had actually changed.
  • Upon his retirement, many news sites reviewed him favorably, suggesting that although the immediate results of his image repair campaign were mixed, in the long run, the public forgave him, and his campaign proved effective.


  • Many of the studies we analyzed used similar strategies to Bryant, including reduction of the offensiveness and mortification.
  • Mortification and corrective action, as Benoit (1997) first suggested, proved to be the most effective strategies.
  • Past perceptions, though it has been shown to have an impact in certain cases (Sheldon & Sallot, 2009), did not affect the success of Bryant’s campaign.
  • Mortification must be perceived by the public as genuine and sincere, regardless of whether it is or not, before it will be effective. Emphasizing the reduction of offensiveness may undermine the image repair efforts and magnify doubts about the authenticity of an apology.


  • Finding relevant news stories immediately surrounding the event proved difficult, since this study is six years out from the incident.
  • Even though we tried to analyze the Lakers’ and Bryant’s social media accounts, Bryant did not actively use Twitter at the time of the incident.


  • Bryant used four of the five image repair strategies: reducing offensiveness, evading responsibility, mortification and corrective action.
  • Members of the LGBT community were not immediately receptive to his image repair efforts, but the Lakers’ partnership with GLAAD and the PSA they released afterward did help.
  • Bryant succeeded in his image repair strategy, since the general public perception of him currently is positive.


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