Struggling With Complex Legacies Of Famous Men

No one alive can always be an angel.

Struggling With Complex Legacies Of Famous Men
Photo by Javier Reyes on Unsplash

Thanks to social media, everybody in the world heard about the death of Kobe Bryant Sunday morning along with his daughter and seven other people. It was a tragic accident.

Sports fans globally mourned the loss of a sports legend. Parents mourned the loss of a very public father-daughter relationship. Decent human beings mourned a life snatched so young, and that so many parents and children were killed unnecessarily. Those of us who gave a shit about the somber occasion couldn’t even have an entire day to grieve before angry, raging feminists started drudging up Kobe’s sexual assault allegations that were dropped in 2003.

There were lots of missteps and leaks leading up to the trial, making the accuser’s concern about impartiality valid. Besides court missteps, the accuser became concerned when a judge agreed to allow details/evidence of her sexual activity leading up to the night of the alleged rape to be made public, which led to the accuser’s decision to drop the case. His accuser filed a civil suit against Bryant which was eventually settled in 2005.

With the settlement of the suit, the civil case against Bryant in the court of law was resolved.

But in the courts of public opinion and in the raging worlds of many feminists, the case of Kobe Bryant was far from settled. For many feminists, Kobe Bryant would forever be known as a rapist and a cheater even though he was never convicted in a court of law and his wife stayed by his side until his death. I cannot say whether he was guilty because I wasn’t there. Having worked in sexual assault, I’ve seen a lot, so I kept my comments close to my vest. People react differently when they are accused of crimes and when they are a victim of trauma.

What I will say men aren’t always guilty, and women do lie. I will also say men get away with rape frequently, and men with money and power often bully their victims into silence. We see truth and interpret lies differently. We communicate poorly. Sometimes, we make bad choices we can never live down because the court of public opinion doesn’t believe men should have second chances. We offer selective redemption.

Sometimes things happen that aren’t completely clear. The Kobe Bryant rape case wasn’t clear. But he’s dead now, so I don’t want to talk about his rape allegation because he can no longer defend himself. He apologized. If Bryant’s detractors didn’t accept it, well, that’s their issue.

I don’t want to get into Bryant’s innocence or guilt, because that’s not the focus of my piece.

I want to talk about the complex legacies of famous men, and how I struggle to understand how famous, gifted men can also be so complicated, talented, deviant, philanthropic, caring, compassionate, cruel, loving, hateful, angelic, evil, wholesome, whorish, fair, and sometimes unjust. These are the same traits any of us can have, they are less tolerable apparently when men possess them.

Complex men put us on emotional roller coasters when their bad traits cause us to doubt their goodness. We put ourselves on emotional roller coasters because we put human beings on pedestals when they shouldn’t be. We make celebrity men idols when they aren’t. The media encourage us to worship these men when we shouldn’t. We give them titles they don’t deserve. We make imperfect men perfect. That’s our fault.

No one is perfect. We’re all flawed. Your sins may not look like mines, but we all sin.

Because we’re not rich and famous, most of us don’t have our complexities and flaws placed on front street for judging. Many famous, accomplished men have screwed up personal lives.

Is it fair we nullify their accomplishments because of their flaws? Do we forget or cancel them as if they never existed? Is it okay to for us to bash them because we dislike an aspect of their lives? Who are we to judge, and why do we place such high standards upon each other when we know those standards are unrealistic, unachievable, and unattainable? I struggle with these questions.

When it comes to the complexities of famous men and their legacies, we giveth our love, and we taketh our love away. I’m not sure that’s okay.

The Complexities Famous Men

I love men. I love the way they dress. I love their strength. I love their brawn. I love how they support us. I love how they care for and protect us. I love renaissance men. I love the trash man. I love the so-called good man, and I love the cheater. I love the faux perfect guy, and I love the humble addict. I love the straight man, and the homosexual man. I love trans men, and the man who changes who he is like the wind blows. I love the man who adds value to me, and sometimes I must love the man who takes my value away because on any day, any man has the power to do both. I love when men use their powers for good and not evil.

Yes men, you have power.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I know many great men who are flawed, and they irritate me to no end. But the irritation wears off and I am once again find myself in love with and in awe of them.

“I’m just a soul whose intentions are good. Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.”

I appreciate the things complex men contribute to my life. I have flawed sons. I have a flawed, narcissistic father. My brother is a complex introvert. I know hundreds of deeply flawed men personally who would protect me, feed me, or pick me up from the side of the road. With all their flaws, many of them have been good to me personally. We’re all complex beings because life is complex.

There is very little black and white in humanity.

It’s easy for us to love the good we see in men. It takes little effort. But the bad parts. The imperfect, we seem to have little tolerance for.

It’s so easy for us to cast men away, dismissing all their contributions because angry, emotional, self-righteous people have this knack for making us get all emotional too. The media doesn’t help by sharing the bad deeds and misfortunes of complex, famous men because bad news is big business. They know a lot of us are just waiting on the next man’s downfall. But we don’t discount all bad men. Our anger is conditional. It’s also stupid.

Do we discount Thomas Edison’s contributions to the world because he stole intellectual property (and later patented) from Tesla? Edison is still a highly regarded inventor. We haven’t stopped using any of his inventions. He was a complex, imperfect man. They have banks and parades named after him.

Mel Gibson made some great movies, including “The Passion of the Christ” for goodness’ sake. He changed my life forever when I saw it. It was the best movie about the story of Jesus I’d ever seen in my life. First time I left a movie speechless. Do I discount all the work he’s done because he’s a racist? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple for me. Gibson is a deeply flawed artist, but I appreciate his work.

Do we stop driving Ford automobiles because Henry Ford was a racist? We still drive Ford cars and we speak highly of Ford? Nope, we are still driving cars made by a company founded by a known racist. He was a complex man.

Albert Einstein married his first and second cousin (they were the same person) and loved getting his freak on, having many affairs. Do we discredit Einstein’s scientific accomplishments because he had a non-traditional, flawed character? Nope. We’re still using his contributions today. We could consider him a good and bad person.

Bill Cosby was a great comedian and entertainer. His contributions to the African American community are undeniable, introducing many of us to historically Black colleges and universities and exposed us to Black and Brown people in many career fields on his television shows. But he’s now a convicted rapist. All he’s done for us has been erased almost overnight because his bad now outweighs his good. I admit I felt sick watching him being led off to prison, getting his mug shot taken and the glee society gets from watching the downfall of a person.

Cosby was everybody’s dad, a role model, philanthropist, and a good man. Watching him go to prison was like my father going to prison. I took no pleasure in that moment. I know what he did to those women, and I believe them, but it doesn’t mean I must forget all he’s done that was good. Cosby impacted my life and motivated me in ways that make it difficult for me to disconnect so coldly. He harmed people, but he didn’t harm me.

This is always the dilemma for those of us who appreciate famous men.

I’m also conflicted with men like Chris Brown, R. Kelly, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Woody Allen, Bishop Eddie Long, Russell Crowe, Marvin Gaye, Brian Williams, Winston Churchill, Michael Jackson, Joe Biden, and even Martin Luther King Jr. just to name a few. These men have contributed to my life in a variety of ways, having either led me, entertained me, consoled me, educated me, informed me, or taught me. I cannot discount the contributions to my life no matter what some folks may think. I’m tired of being influenced by people who hate humanity, hate men, and hate imperfection.

It’s so hard separating the art from the artist. How can we and why are we forced to?

The Complexities Famous Men

I love men. I love the way they dress. I love their strength. I love their brawn. I love how they support us. I love how they care for and protect us. I love renaissance men. I love the trash man. I love the so-called good man, and I love the cheater. I love the faux perfect guy, and I love the humble addict. I love the straight man, and the homosexual man. I love trans men, and the man who changes who he is like the wind blows. I love the man who adds value to me, and sometimes I must love the man who takes my value away because on any day, any man has the power to do both. I love when men use their powers for good and not evil.

Yes men, you have power.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I know many great men who are flawed, and they irritate me to no end. But the irritation wears off and I am once again find myself in love with and in awe of them.

“I’m just a soul whose intentions are good. Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.”

I appreciate the things complex men contribute to my life. I have flawed sons. I have a flawed, narcissistic father. My brother is a complex introvert. I know hundreds of deeply flawed men personally who would protect me, feed me, or pick me up from the side of the road. With all their flaws, many of them have been good to me personally. We’re all complex beings because life is complex.

There is very little black and white in humanity.

It’s easy for us to love the good we see in men. It takes little effort. But the bad parts. The imperfect, we seem to have little tolerance for.

It’s so easy for us to cast men away, dismissing all their contributions because angry, emotional, self-righteous people have this knack for making us get all emotional too. The media doesn’t help by sharing the bad deeds and misfortunes of complex, famous men because bad news is big business. They know a lot of us are just waiting on the next man’s downfall. But we don’t discount all bad men. Our anger is conditional. It’s also stupid.

Do we discount Thomas Edison’s contributions to the world because he stole intellectual property (and later patented) from Tesla? Edison is still a highly regarded inventor. We haven’t stopped using any of his inventions. He was a complex, imperfect man. They have banks and parades named after him.

Mel Gibson made some great movies, including “The Passion of the Christ” for goodness’ sake. He changed my life forever when I saw it. It was the best movie about the story of Jesus I’d ever seen in my life. First time I left a movie speechless. Do I discount all the work he’s done because he’s a racist? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple for me. Gibson is a deeply flawed artist, but I appreciate his work.

Do we stop driving Ford automobiles because Henry Ford was a racist? We still drive Ford cars and we speak highly of Ford? Nope, we are still driving cars made by a company founded by a known racist. He was a complex man.

Albert Einstein married his first and second cousin (they were the same person) and loved getting his freak on, having many affairs. Do we discredit Einstein’s scientific accomplishments because he had a non-traditional, flawed character? Nope. We’re still using his contributions today. We could consider him a good and bad person.

Bill Cosby was a great comedian and entertainer. His contributions to the African American community are undeniable, introducing many of us to historically Black colleges and universities and exposed us to Black and Brown people in many career fields on his television shows. But he’s now a convicted rapist. All he’s done for us has been erased almost overnight because his bad now outweighs his good. I admit I felt sick watching him being led off to prison, getting his mug shot taken and the glee society gets from watching the downfall of a person.

Cosby was everybody’s dad, a role model, philanthropist, and a good man. Watching him go to prison was like my father going to prison. I took no pleasure in that moment. I know what he did to those women, and I believe them, but it doesn’t mean I must forget all he’s done that was good. Cosby impacted my life and motivated me in ways that make it difficult for me to disconnect so coldly. He harmed people, but he didn’t harm me.

This is always the dilemma for those of us who appreciate famous men.

I’m also conflicted with men like Chris Brown, R. Kelly, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Woody Allen, Bishop Eddie Long, Russell Crowe, Marvin Gaye, Brian Williams, Winston Churchill, Michael Jackson, Joe Biden, and even Martin Luther King Jr. just to name a few. These men have contributed to my life in a variety of ways, having either led me, entertained me, consoled me, educated me, informed me, or taught me. I cannot discount the contributions to my life no matter what some folks may think. I’m tired of being influenced by people who hate humanity, hate men, and hate imperfection.

It’s so hard separating the art from the artist. How can we and why are we forced to?

Who Gets To Decide A Man’s Legacy

Forgiveness and appreciation are the choices of each individual doing the forgiving and appreciating. It’s kind of like our personal preferences and relationships with religions. Your god is your choice. Your relationship with your god is personal. How your god inspires and motivates you is your business. If you can see past a man’s faults to give him a second look after he falls, appreciate his gifts and talents, or celebrate his life when he dies… well, that’s your business. And if you can’t, that’s your business too. We don’t get to decide who’s a hero and who is a zero for anyone other than ourselves. Most times the media, sports leagues, or the entertainment industries are the ones who decide who our heroes are. We wouldn’t know any of these people if these vehicles didn’t introduce them to us. The reason most people are heroes or zeroes aren’t because they did something to us personally. It’s because the court of public opinion gave them their special designations.

The court of public gives men pedestals, and they can take them away at their leisure. If celebrities were smart, they’d shun any label given to them by the public, especially if they know their flawed individuals, because one day we’ll just take our crown away.

We can be some savage motherfuckers. Especially us women.

Nothing gives some women more pleasure than tearing a man down. Discrediting the whole man because of his imperfect life is not realistic. These men, they are someone’s sons, brothers, lovers, friends, fathers, and children. Who are we to dictate whether a man’s worthy of being loved, cherished, appreciated, and respected?

I’m tired of cherry picking through people’s lives and canceling folks. I’m not condoning serial predators and sociopaths. I know someone reading this will gloss over everything I said to argue the merits of forgiveness. I’m not taking that bait anymore honey.

You’ll have your own hills to die on, and I will have mines. Stay mad about it.

Souls With Good Intentions

I love people. I love humanity. I even love complex, flawed men. Many men will do good things, but there will be plenty who behave badly from time to time. That’s real life.

As for Kobe Bryant’s legacy, he said and did a lot of things I disagreed with, but he grew and changed for the better and I respect that. I don’t think he was a hero, because I don’t consider grown men playing children’s games worthy of a hero status. But for those of you who do, that’s okay. For those who want to be tangled up in your underwear about old rape allegations and having shouting matches with those who oppose you, have your way. I’m just not co-signing it. I believe in redemption, second chances, restorative justice, and clean slates. I’m not perfect.

What I will not do is disparage a dead man. Kobe Bryant was someone’s husband. He had a 3-month-old baby. I know what that’s like. My son’s father died when he was only nine and explaining death of a parent to a kid is hard. Children grieve differently.

Kobe’s wife will have two children who will probably have no memory of their father because of their young ages. As we use social media to express our views, are we considering children may be harmed by our freedom to express ourselves. Bryant has sisters, living parents, a host of friends, former colleagues, and millions of fans who loved him for various reasons. Bringing up the man’s past before his body is recovered from the crash site is evil, it’s vile, and it serves no purpose other than to make those who care for him feel bad.

If people want to love the man and you do not, please mind your business and move on. You don’t get brownie points for bashing a dead man to make your point about how terrible he was. Two wrongs ain’t gonna make you right.

If you love imperfect men, it’s okay. We all have loved an imperfect man at some point. If you haven’t loved one, I’m a little worried about you. You’re probably surrounded by frauds.

I love the version of the Animals song “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” performed by Nina Simone. There is a line in the song that rings true about all of us and I love it so much. It says, “I’m just a soul whose intentions are good, oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.”

I’m questioning the intentions of anyone bringing up Bryant’s past. We know those intentions aren’t good, and we see right through them. Kobe Bryant was human, just like the rest of us. A flawed, complex man, with a complex legacy. If you have nothing good to say, practice silence. It’s great for times like these.

Some of us are mourning the life, sudden death, and legacy of a complex man.

Marley K