I’ve been pondering the legacy of the late Kobe Bryant. I’ve mostly observed other people honoring the man. Undeniably one of the greatest American athletes ever. He was a prodigy, and modern culture has worshipped youth ahead of their times at least since Mozart, so there’s that. More importantly for fans of sport, especially in the US, he was a champion. Multiple times. And if you want heartstrings pulled, he seemed to be a dad beloved by his four daughters. Plus, there’s his Catholicism.
A social media friend commented on the significant stain on his public record, a rape accusation. A friend of my friend objected, “You mean the woman who went to the hospital with another mans semen in her underwear?” And later, “I don’t believe in trashing the dead.” My comment, “I don’t believe in trashing women.”
I think we eulogize our dead. I think it’s often less an act of hero worship and more a hope that they will get the best possible outcome in the afterlife. Mourners remember the good in order to convince themselves. When it comes to celebrities, I think many of us have attachments to our heroes. There are many reasons. We see ourselves, or we want to see ourselves in a celebrity. They represent us against the opposing forces of life–that’s especially true in sports.
Celebrities are complicated, too. Their wealth and connections and grooming can make bad things disappear. And famous people misbehave in serious, public, and sometimes devastating episodes.
A feminist friend of mine once cited her view of hierarchy in the US: white man, black man, white woman, black woman. Maybe it’s dangerous for someone higher up the ladder to speak ill of someone lower in “rank.” I don’t know. Chivalry doesn’t seem to matter much–not sure it ever did in case of competition or conflict. Maybe white people criticize blacks at the peril of their credibility these days–not a bad thing usually.
While a sports fan, I’ve never really warmed to NBA basketball. I prefer soccer and hockey, and baseball as a number 3. I’ve never lived in LA, so while I can appreciate the loss for millions there, I don’t really share it.
In western culture, we have the Latin phrase, “De mortuis nihil nisi bonum.” The principle is that we leave the dead alone. No hint of anti-eulogy. Despite my raising a contrary shadow here, I think that’s generally a good rule of thumb. That said, #metoo and other related movements might temper the degree to which we flood the market with good feelings when a beloved hero dies.
My sense is that people can mourn and we can leave them alone. If a concern is raised about a person’s life, I think we can leave that free of an all-out flame war. Legacy will eventually shake out, and people will remember Mr Bryant as they will.