Opinion: Kobe Bryant Tragedy Should Change How Pundits Talk About Neymar

Kobe Bryant is gone.

I can’t believe I just typed those words. It doesn’t feel real. Before I developed a love of football and eventually Paris Saint-Germain, I was an NBA fanatic.

I wasn’t a Los Angeles Lakers fan but anyone who followed the game understood his greatness and when he torched your team, all you could do is tip your cap to the Black Mamba.

On Sunday, Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven other people tragically lost their lives last Sunday in a helicopter crash in California.

I learned of the devastating news via social media as I was just turning on the PSG match against Lille. I dismissed the tweets as fake news at first but as more verified accounts tweeted the same headlines, I suddenly realized the news was real and blood felt like it rushed out of my body.

As we would learn later, Paris Saint-Germain kept the news from the players as to not distract them before playing a Lille side with the best home record in Ligue 1. PSG went into halftime up 1-0 thanks to a stunning goal from Neymar and that’s when the Brazilian learned that his friend, Kobe Bryant, had passed away.

“I went to see the messages on social media at half-time, I saw that Kobe died and it is a great sadness for the world of sport and for all of us, not only basketball fans but also for everything he did for sport,” Neymar said in an interview after the match.

In the second half, Neymar scored his second on the night from the penalty spot and paid tribute to Bryant by holding out a 2-4 with his hands (Bryant’s jersey number), putting his hands together in prayer, and then pointing to the sky.

“I knew him and I made this celebration for him, with his number. I hope he will rest in peace,” Neymar said.

Despite playing two different sports, the careers of Bryant and Neymar have similarities other than obviously being immensely talented.

Bryant was often criticized during his career for shooting too much and perhaps not being the best team player. Neymar receives similar criticisms for showboating too much and looking to do the spectacular instead of a simple pass to an open teammate. That’s how greatness is sometimes.

Both players were also accused of wanting to “be the man” on a big team. Bryant’s public feud with Shaquille O’Neal led to the big man being traded to the Miami Heat after three consecutive championships with the Lakers.

Neymar also had a successful run with Lionel Messi at FC Barcelona but eventually forced a move to PSG to get out from under the Argentine’s shadow.

Unlike Bryant, though, Neymar is on the receiving end of a lot more criticism and most of it is unfair in my opinion.

It could be because of football’s stature on the global stage, the fact that he plays in France for PSG, or the difference in how athletes are covered in Europe as opposed to America. It’s likely a combination of all three.

We’ve talked at length on this site about the media’s treatment of Neymar. This is a player who has been called “very, very annoying,” criticized for not speaking French, and a former player even said he would kick him if they were on the pitch together.

Neymar’s injuries are held against him as is the price PSG paid for him in 2017. The Brazilian never receives the benefit of the doubt from the media no matter how many goals he scores.

It’s gotten so bad that Neymar has admitted to preferring to watch football matches at home because there are fewer eyes on him ready to turn any reaction into a viral GIF. He’s even had to cancel his annual birthday bash this year because, as he said, he wants to concentrate on PSG and not be a distraction, or, as Steve Nicol called him once, an “egotistical maniac.”

Remember, Neymar is 27-years-old and has been in the spotlight since he was at Santos FC. I’m not saying he’s been perfect, but he’s not the monster that so many in the media paint him to be.

This season, Neymar has been nothing but professional both on and off the pitch following last summer’s transfer saga where he tried to force a move back to Barcelona. It’s been only recently that media outlets are starting to take note and publish positive articles about his attitude but overall, there are much fewer articles that praise Neymar now compared to the daily barrage of negativity that was spewed from anyone with a football website.

The news about Kobe Bryant should be a wakeup call to every member of the media. Unfairly bashing a player for cheap clicks and video views is distasteful, especially now, and shouldn’t be tolerated.

Take Kendrick Perkins as an example. The former NBA player recently criticized New Jersey Nets star Kevin Durant for his previous move to the Golden State Warriors, calling it the “weakest move in NBA history.” On Sunday, after Bryant’s death, Perkins tweeted this:

Perkins followed up his apology with this tweet about the importance of moving on and forgetting past differences:

Neymar is a generational talent but he won’t be able to play at a high level forever. Let’s enjoy the best athletes while we can because we don’t know what the future may hold.

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Tags Kobe Bryant Ligue 1 Lille OSC Neymar
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