BY ALLEN YEKIKAN
If Kobe Bryant follows through on his deal with Turkish Airlines he will be associated with violence, oppression, occupation and genocide, not once, not twice, but all the time.
He will be the face of a country that occupies Northern Cyprus, brutally represses its Kurdish minority, imprisons its citizens, suppresses free speech, violently stifles dissent, and imprisons children.
Because, at the end of the day, Kobe will be promoting travel to Turkey not travel to Turkish Airlines. And Turkey is not as beautiful a place as its contracted public relations agents claim it to be.
One need not even look as far back as the 1915 genocide of Armenians to appreciate the grim fate Kobe faces once he becomes the global ambassador of this highly controversial brand.
On Wednesday, Turkish riot police sprayed students with tear gas to violently break up demonstrations against Turkey’s Prime Minister at the Middle East Technical University campus in Ankara. The growing intensity and frequency of police brutality against demonstrators are fueling domestic and international charges that the ruling Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) is growing authoritarian and seeking to silence opposition.
Kobe will not redefine this brand, it will redefine him.
When truncheon-wielding police hit and kick students gathering to call for university reform, like they did on December 4 in Istanbul, American fingers will point to Kobe not Prime Minister Erdogan.
When thousands of Kurds take to the streets to protest the imprisonment of their elected leaders and the ban on their political parties, Kobe will be where the fingers point. He will be the immediate link to the country, its government, and its repressive system.
Whether he likes it or not, the American public, and his fans in particular, will associate Kobe Bryant’s character with the brutal government of the country he encourages them to visit.
This will forever taint Kobe’s image, relegating him to the history books as the international superstar whose credibility was corrupted by his complicity in the Turkish government’s war on freedom.
This is hardly the outcome he probably sought when exploring opportunities to become a global persona.
To be unique, and on the right side of morality, Kobe should consider dropping this ill-advised endorsement contract with Turkish Airlines and instead look for a more noble cause to represent.
He did after all once spoke out for an end to the Genocide in Darfur; maybe the right brand to represent is that of human rights, democracy and genocide prevention.