I’m not someone who watches sports. It’s not really for me. For someone who grew up always playing some type of team sport and lives as active a lifestyle as I, it does seem kind of odd that I usually have very little to say on the subject nowadays. Guess I was never *into* the consumption of sport. Just the production of it. Anyway.
But I was young once. And I’m not a totally checked-out person.
What Kobe Bryant Left Behind
I remember Kobe Bryant growing up. He had a coolness and a flair and he seemed like a god on the basketball court. I drifted away from “sportball” and he got injured a few times & drifted away from the limelight.
Compared to the rest of America (& the world), I’m slightly an outlier to the normal experience of Kobe Bryant. I never met him and witnessed first-hand his grounded, giving demeanor. I hadn’t followed his “Exeunt Stage Left” from the NBA. But I go to bars — where there are TVs — and as I’ve been watching the aftermath of the events of January 26th, it feels surreal to see what I’m seeing.
Not because I always thought that Kobe Bryant was going to be in my life. I didn’t.
Not because I lament the tragic circumstances surrounding the fateful helicopter ride. I mean, do I, but I don’t.
Not because I mourn the tragedy that the remaining Bryant clan is undergoing. I don’t.
Tragedy happens every day, and, despite the terribly avoidable variables involved in this what-seems-odd-to-even-call accident, that’s not my guiding principle as I gaze around on a Friday night in the center of Houston, Texas.
Watching Their Faces
The wood-laden gastrobar charging $7 for craft beers is filled with a mostly-male Caucasian patrons & some female 3rd or 4th wheels. Their attentions are rapt by a Lakers game having a procession beforehand. The TVs’re on mute without captions, so the cut-aways from a semi-circular discussion table to Kobe footage is satisfying. The onslaught of footage seems like the last viewing at an open casket funeral. There’s a video played before the game starts. Boyz II Men sing something. Usher sings too. I see Lebron James speak.
As I stare at the TVs and people staring at them, I ask myself:
When do we ever see male grief?
Kobe Bryant’s life & legacy obviously has affected people the world over. He was one of the best ever at his chosen craft, succeeded numerous times on the main stage, and had a very generous demeanor when he wasn’t “at work.”
But because it is sports. Because Kobe Bryant was a demigod among us mortals. Because he played in Los Angeles. We all “knew” him.
The main cohort — who probably got push notifications for news of his departure from the NBA — were the males who are plugged into sports. And they’re experiencing the normal underpinnings of loss that affect everyone when they lose someone important in their lives. Someone who meant something. And Kobe Bryant meant that to these American males.
A lot of healthy (& unhealthy) distractions can be attributed to following sports. The bulk of these males probably defended Kobe when confronted with the unseemly idea that he’d been accused of rape, more than likely waving it off dismissively with a “I don’t care.” But when these males have to contend with the tragedy of the moment, their grief takes over the media landscape.
Now, as someone who cares about “narratives,” the Kobe Bryant has every touchpoint of tragedy:
- Affable, able-bodied father dies an untimely death in his early-40s
- Father leaves behind a wife, 3 kids (one of whom is 6-months-old)
- Circumstances surrounding death seem like they were totally avoidable
- Father is with teenage daughter during the helicopter crash
- Daughter is following in her father’s basketball footsteps
- Bryant duo was with the daughter’s sports team on their way to a sports match
- The 7 other people who died but will be a footnote in the accident
- The mere fact that they live in the limelight means there’s also a lot of footage of them father-daughtering
All these things together make it seem like the world lost something important. And it did. Celebrities don’t usually come across as down-to-earth. And in the first-hand accounts I’ve seen on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, I get the sense that Kobe was nothing but a “really nice guy” in person. Maybe it’s simply the contrast between expectation vs. reality. Who knows. But he was one of the good ones.
My point is that there’s almost no way you couldn’t feel something when thinking about how sad his death is.
Usually death happens to the forgotten. It’s just kinda how time works. But Kobe was barely in the crepuscula of our memories. And watching a slew of “What Kobe Meant to Me” accounts from normally-stuffy male sports commentators & news anchors is intriguing to me.
I appreciate the exercise. It’s self-expression. It’s healthy. Grief is a process. But it’s one of those things that I realize that we don’t see often.
We don’t see it often because the persons who die usually don’t mean enough to the people talking in front of cameras & watching their screens.
Watching Male Grief
It seems important to state in no uncertain terms that males need to grieve more in our society. Emotions are verboten usually, so any instance in which there is a public demonstration of this manner of self-expression benefits us all. Despite the fact that the future may be female, males are the other half of that future. And males need to learn that vulnerability does not mean that they are weak. It means that there’s actually something inside.
As a result of Kobe Bryant being a sports personality in the US, a greater proportion of the media commentators and professional colleagues he dealt with were Black Americans. So, their expression of grief is part of the center-stage conversation we’re watching.
Given that it’s sports & these men weren’t officially family, there’s a visible expressiveness that betrays the “ghastly” nature of maintaining that constant stiff upper lip.
More Than About Masculinity
As I watched Lakers fans approach the Kobe Bryant memorial site at The Staples Center, I see it’s white men, Asian men, Black men, Latinos, and the rest as they have their moment with their flat-brimmed hats off & hands over their eyes. Through the lens of a zoomed-in camera, we see a few sharp, deep inhales and then a walk away from the memorial site as they feel like they’ve paid their respects.
Sports is multi-cultural. In America, NBA Basketball lists less toward the Caucasoidal. So, the self-expression of their seeming loss won’t look like it normally does. But then I think about who we’re mourning. Yes, Kobe Bryant was an 18-time All-Star, 15-time member of the All-NBA Team, 12-time member of the All-Defensive Team, 2008 NBA MVP, and 2-time NBA Finals MVP winner. Yes, he was a married father of 4 daughters who went through a rough patch with his wife but they figured out how to make it work. Yes, he was a nice guy off the court.
But Kobe Bryant was also a Black man. A seemingly young one at that.
And I think to myself:
When do we ever grieve for Black men in this country?
With the various “officer-involved shootings” or crime rap sheets bandied about in front of us on the local nightly news, it seems like a rarity when we collectively grieve young, Black men who’ve been taken from us before their time.
Not being from the Black community itself, maybe I’m insensitive to moments of loss within it. I feel like I have seen grief of murdered Black men by state or civilian actors, but this moment seems like it’s everywhere. Normally, that narrative is rife with shifting an unknowable blame between the characters in the story. We parse unknowable microseconds into increasingly minute pieces, sometimes pixilated with non-professional camera footage, while simultaneously we span hundreds of years of American history and/or thousands of years of human evolution. We try to make sense of interactions gone wrong and try to figure out what new lesson we need to learn from the same old thing.
But Kobe Bryant’s death doesn’t have any of that ambiguity. This one is mere tragedy.
And we’re all sad and feel at a loss.
We should be.
Because all death is sad and death has no meaning.