A 180° Dunk On the Wrong Side of the Court
How Kobe Bryant has managed to lose credibility for his campaign against Genocide in Darfur
BY AREK SANTIKIAN
Two years ago, NBA superstar Kobe Bryant took a stand against the inhumane murder and rape of people in the Darfur region of Sudan. Through press releases and infomercials, Bryant strongly advocated for ending this genocide. His actions were commendable, and his efforts an example of how raising public awareness can shape the direction of an ongoing debate.
Last month, however, Bryant announced that he will be the new face of Turkish Airlines. For the next two years, Bryant will appear on billboards and globally distributed commercials endorsing the airline, and, by extension, tourism to Turkey.
It’s safe to presume that Bryant was wearing his businessman hat when he agreed to this advertisement deal. However, it is Bryant’s role as a human rights activist – and, in particular, his advocacy for the end of the genocide in Darfur – that is coming into question with this union. In a way that perhaps even surprises the basketball star, his deal with Turkish Airlines undermines his previous efforts to speak out against the world’s most recent genocide. Next year, Bryant will promote tourism and travel to one of the only countries that extended a warm invitation to the chief architect of the Darfur atrocities, Omar al-Bashir. While the world awaited the arrest and prosecution of this criminal, Turkey invited al-Bashir to attend a multi-state conference on Islamic nations in November 2009.
The relationship between Turkey and Sudan doesn’t end there. Not only have Turkish officials failed to cooperate with the United Nations with regards to Darfur, but have cried foul with regards to the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant on al-Bashir. Additionally, al-Bashir and the current Sudanese government have publicly voiced their support for Turkey’s illegal occupation of Cyprus. These positions perpetuate a vicious circle of inhumanity.
The link between Bryant’s promotion of Turkish Airlines – an airline in which the Turkish federal government is a large shareholder – and his previous efforts in reference to Darfur is one of principle. If the international superstar persists with his advertisement deal, he will be representing a country that not only fails to condemn the Darfur genocide, but also honors and respects its perpetrator. Bryant, then, cannot legitimately proclaim his commitment to ending atrocities like the Darfur Genocide.
In the last week, the Armenian-American community strongly, but respectfully, asked Bryant to recognize how his endorsement of Turkish Airlines defeats his prior efforts as a human rights activist given Turkey’s perpetration of the Armenian Genocide in 1915. This controversy received national attention, yet Bryant has failed to comment publicly. But, perhaps if he recognizes the Turkish government’s stance on the atrocities in Darfur, the irony in his upcoming advocacy for Turkish Airlines and his previous advocacy for the end of the Darfur Genocide, will become clearer. Bryant should maintain his allegiance to human rights activism in his future business endeavors, starting with reversing this deal with Turkish Airlines. If he fails to do so, his business profit costs him his integrity.