As the reality of the death of Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, along with seven others, begins the arduous journey of sinking into my psyche and seeming even slightly real, I do not ask “why?” as in, “Why did this happen?” No, not asking that question at all.
Bad, terrible and horrible things happen all the time, every day, to many people. Accidents happen. People make mistakes. I know why bad things happen. It is called the randomness of the universe. Wrong place, wrong time.
Everything does NOT happen for a reason. And even if it did, we could never know why, so what’s the point?
I get it.
Rather, the “why” I ask today is, “Why is this tragedy affecting me so deeply and profoundly?” I have every reason in the world NOT to be affected. Consider that I have never met Kobe Bryant, nor have ever even seen him play in person. I am not at all a “star-struck” kind of guy. As a basketball fan, I appreciated the grit and toughness Kobe brought to the court though I never believed him to be the best. I do not even believe Kobe was even the best Los Angeles Laker in history, as I reserve that title for a Mr. Earvin “Magic” Johnson.
Kobe never put a penny in my pocket. He never came up with a cure for some disease that kills children. He was a guy who threw a ball into a hole for god’s sake. He just happened to be really, really good at it. In fact, Kobe could be the poster child of one who symbolizes everything wrong with our culture. Through no fault of his own, he epitomizes our collective cult of personality while we pay entertainers millions and millions of dollars and simultaneously pay public servants next to nothing in comparison.
I won’t even get into educators and health services.
I believe that many would rather be entertained than be cured of a disease or learn a new skill…if we judged at all by our pocketbooks.
He was, by all accounts, an entertainer.
So why am I so hurt and feel so profoundly sad? Why do I feel like I lost someone near and dear to me? It bothers me how bothered I am.
And why I am I not the only one? Many people are telling me the same thing- that they feel like they have lost a family member and have never felt this way before when someone died in whom they had never met, yet admired.
I don’t know why and it is driving me crazy. I have had celebrities I have really liked who passed at young ages, and never felt close to this type of loss. I loved comedian Sam Kinison for example…though never shed a tear when he died tragically in a car accident on his way to Laughlin, Nevada in 1992. Other comedians have passed, such as Phil Hartman, Chris Farley, John Belushi, Robin Williams and baseball players Thurman Munson, Roberto Clemente, the list goes on. I was very upset when these people passed, yet nothing even close to the loss I feel with Kobe Bean Bryant.
All I can do is theorize why I feel this way so I will attempt to give it a try. I write today as therapy, to figure out what is happening in this brain of mine. So, some theories:
- I feel like I lost a family member because I have fallen into the cult of personality and have illusory relationships that could be identified as borderline schizophrenic.
- Deep inside I have a profound respect for Kobe Bryant and truly believe, though many years younger than I, I lost a role model of hard work and dedication.
- I have underestimated the role of professional sports plays in my life and am simply mourning someone who brought me years of great entertainment.
- The tragedy included several children, including his own daughter. It is one thing for an adult to die, yet to have his 13 year-old daughter die tragically with him…that is just too much for words.
- Perhaps there is an unparalleled respect for athletes who pass because they are successful in a pure meritocracy…meaning they are the best of the best with no questions asked. I can watch a great film performance and think in the back of my head that with a few classes and experience, I could MAYBE do that. I have never had this thought while watching LeBron James play basketball -I know with absolute certainty I could NEVER do what he does.
Some say he was a hero and the mascot for not just Los Angeles sports, rather for all of Los Angeles itself.
When I posed the question to my Mass Media class (after all, he was a Mass Media hero) as to my profound sadness, a student, Sean, suggested that perhaps I am misdirecting the grief I possess in my personal life, the passing of my mother a couple of years ago and my very ailing father who is currently in hospice care, and projecting this grief onto the Bryant tragedy. I must hold it together for the more personal stuff, yet I am free to fall apart for a person I have never met.
A good theory. Yet a correct theory? Who knows.
Recently my daughter pointed me in the direction of an article written by one of her college friends, Eric Stinton, who eloquently writes on the same issue. In this article, he states, “Feeling grief or loss over the death of an athlete is not endemic to any specific sport. Whether it’s basketball or MMA or cricket, fans dedicate so much of our diminishing time to the lives of these athletes—celebrating their triumphs, agonizing over their failures—that we feel like we know them, and we’re affected by things that happen to them. We may not actually know them the way we know people in our waking lives, but we still know them in personal ways. We see them at their most supernatural and their most vulnerable. We extract meaning from their existence and inject it into ours like a blood transfusion, absorbing it as our own. The same way songs which otherwise have nothing to do with us become the soundtracks of our memories, athletes’ careers enrich the context of our lives…”
So nicely put. I am so glad to know I am not at all alone in asking this question. Thank you Eric. But what, then, can we conclude?
He continues, “It would be disingenuous for me to arrive at a solid conclusion. I don’t know how to respond to the death of someone I never met, and I’m not sure if I ever will. It’s a process and a discursive, backtracking and contradictory one. The only thing I can say for sure is that there’s nothing wrong with being affected by these things. The beauty of fandom, as well as all its attendant pain, is in allowing ourselves to be affected.”
I also have no solid conclusions. And, unlike many blogs I write, the process of putting my unaccountable thoughts into comprehensible, digestible and accountable words, is not leading me to any satisfactory answers.
Why? I guess it just is. And everything is what it is.