Where is the decorum when someone famous dies? Apparently, out the window.

On Sunday, as many of you already know, retired NBA basketball player Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash, along with his 13-year old daughter and seven other people. You would have thought a god had died the way people fell on their faces in the street at the news of Kobe’s passing. He was a great basketball player, sure, but he was a human being like everyone else. I suppose some would say he was a “basketball god.”

I sometimes wish others who died tragically, like soldiers or police officers, were mourned the same way. I won’t say the news didn’t hit me in any way. It did. I was immediately heartbroken for his family and even more so when I leaned his daughter was on board. I never really watched Kobe play because I am not a huge basketball fan but I had definitely heard of him. He graduated school the same year as I did and I followed his career some because my brother predicted during some famous high school game that he would be drafted out of high school and be super famous. And he was, of course.

Showing that we as a society have a complete lack of decorum when faced with the death of a celebrity, not even 24 hours after the accident people were putting things online between the pilot and air control, questioning if the pilot made the right decision. Others were sharing private stories about the victims before the coroner even confirmed they died. One newspaper didn’t even let the adoration last a day. By the next morning, they were already dragging skeletons out of Kobe’s closet, reminding the world Bryant had once been accused of rape. The keyword being “accused” because the case never went to trial but was instead settled out of court (although I’d say if there was settling going on then someone, ahem, was pretty sure he was guilty.).

Oddly, unlike what happens with others, this 2003 incident was widely overlooked and ignored by the general public at the news of Kobe’s death. Had the alleged incident happened in the age of “me too” Kobe, rightly so, would have been blacklisted and no one would have ever accepted his insistence the incident was consensual. They also might not have worshiped him outside the Staple Center yesterday. The charges were settled out of court after the 19-year old accuser’s story started to crumble and Kobe confessed to a consensual one night stand and adultery.


Credit Getty Images

Now that Kobe has died tragically, after being at the height of his career for so long, should we ignore his past mistake and pretend it never happened? I don’t think so but I also think that maybe his remains could be recovered and put in the ground with his daughter’s before we start salivating over the less “pretty” details of his past. I love how one columnist took him to task about how he handled the past incident without knowing the man or even the details of what really transpired between him and the girl, or even the character of the girl.

I know everyone (including me) generally balk at the idea of questioning an alleged victim, but there were those who thought the young lady saw dollar signs once she realized who she slept with. I hope that isn’t true and I hope she has found healing all these years later, regardless of what truly happened. And I truly, truly do not advocate victim-blaming/shaming and am only playing Devil’s advocate here. I have a horrible feeling, after reading past reports about the case, she was not seeking fame at all and was telling the truth. I can not imagine the conflicting feelings she is dealing with now, if she is even still alive after all the victim shaming she received from the media and Kobe fans back in 2003.

Here we are, though, taking him to task while his body is lifeless on a hill in California, waiting to be ID’d by the coroner’s office. He should be taken to task, yes, absolutely, and he has been over the years (and will continue to be), but I don’t see how doing it now, seconds to hours after it was revealed he died, helps his wife and daughters heal. I hope to God they are staying away from media reports. Members of the media just love to praise and trash someone in the same breath (much like my mother-in-law.)

There really is no decorum when a celebrity dies and though I am not among the many celebrity worshippers of this country, I think it’s awful. I don’t actually hold celebrities (not even the Christian ones) on a pedestal. I find it aggravating that so many news sites feature so-called “news” about celebrities at the top of the page, as if I care that they cried during their Grammy performance, are making out with this or that person, or their dress was so see-through they might as well not have been wearing it.

I might enjoy a movie they are in or like a song they sing but I don’t bow to their shrines of popularity and narcissism. Face it, to be a celebrity is to possess at least a tinge of narcissism, if not a whole helping. Wallflowers don’t generally go running into the spotlight. People who are self-focused and what everyone else to be focused on them, do. Actors and singers are somewhat mentally ill, in that they crave and are validated by the attention of others to the point they almost whither away without it.

However, that mental illness is something all of us possess if it is tapped into. Think about how our hearts skip a beat if someone “likes” one of our social media posts (or even our blog posts). And if we log into a site and there is a whole row of notifications telling us we are important. Oh my. We are in endorphins and dopamine heaven. We get a shot of dopamine each time we are complimented, praised, or paid attention to, and that’s addictive to any human being. If it wasn’t, Zuckerberg and his cronies wouldn’t be so rich.

But then there is the flip side of all that attention celebrities crave and then receive. Eventually, the attention can become unwanted by the celebrity as it spills over into the personal life, into the past, into every nitty-gritty detail that really isn’t anyone’s business. Did that celebrity wear “blackface” one time when they were a kid because they wanted to look like a famous black person on Halloween? Completely unaware that trying to make their costume more realistic would later be harkened as racist in the future, they carried on, only to be labeled “ignorant, racist scum” once an adult. Does the public really have to know about a celebrity’s sexual dysfunction or their brother who died in a tragic way or their every painful moment in their life, simply because they opened up one side of themselves — the talented side?

The public always wants more and claims the celebrity “asked for it” because they put themselves in the limelight. First, wow. Isn’t that what rapists say about their victims? And isn’t the public, in a way, violating a celebrity’s rights by continually demanding to know every detail of their life? Second, they only put their talent in the limelight, which doesn’t give the public the right to have access to every dark corner of their soul. Only God has that right.

The thing is, the same adoring fans who once lifted you up and praise you, will rip you down and eat you alive not even 24 hours later. Kobe is being mourned now, but as we see with the article reminding us of his past sins, it won’t be long before some will begin to spit on his grave, and it will come before the week is out. (Right after I wrote this several articles came up about his past sins, so… it didn’t even make 48 hours.)

Or, will the celebrity worshippers win and will Kobe join the ranks of Michael Jackson, Elvis, Freddie Mercury and so many others who battled demons that no one considers or mentions while in mid-bow. Maybe the big difference with Kobe is that his life reflected change and he worked hard to leave his demons behind.

In the case of the others, they lived risky lives or hurt others and never had the chance to make amends (if they had ever wanted to) yet celebrity worshippers still bow at their memories. And yet another maybe: Maybe it’s okay to remember the talent these celebrities had and to honor that talent, while also remembering we shouldn’t live like them by taking drugs, abusing children or sleeping around and contracting diseases. We can also remember that these celebrities and we have something in common – we are humans created in the image of God and because he gave us free will, we will fail, we will fall, and are imperfect. Some of us will learn from our failings in time to save us and some of us will succumb to those failings, like some of the celebrities I mentioned above.

I only hope that no matter what leads to our end, a self-made tragedy or an accidental one, that our society one day develops more decorum when discussing our passing. I hate to leave it on a negative note but looking at the state of our world today, I don’t have much faith that will ever happen.

Newspapers: the job that chews you up and spits you out; or trying to remember the good in the midst of a lot of bad

I wouldn’t exactly say my parents encouraged me to go into journalism, but when I decided that would be my major in college, they didn’t fight it – too much anyhow.

“It’s a pretty tough job, you know,” my dad said.

And he was right. Fourteen years later I can definitely understand how some who have left the field can say that newspapers chew you up and spit you out and never look back. It is indeed true in many cases, including mine.

Both of my parents reminded me journalism probably wouldn’t be a lucrative career unless I went to a big publication somewhere, which they knew was unlikely since I was a mama’s girl who hated being far away from home so much I picked a college about an hour and a half from where I grew up.

These warnings came 20 years ago. I can’t imagine what the warnings would have been had I announced I was going into journalism in 2019.

“You know you will have to pick a side – conservative or liberal – and only cover the news from that angle, right?” my dad would have said.

“Run as far away from  journalism as you can, okay honey?” My mom would have implored.

Even by the end of my college career, a degree in hand, it was clear my being in journalism might be a challenge for my family when Dad commented that the BS initials for “BS in Mass Communications with an Emphasis in Journalism”, which was what final degree was in, was fitting for more than the words “Bachelor of Science” when it came to the term “journalism.”

By the time I’d graduated, I already had a full-time job at the smalltown newspaper near where I’d grown up. My last semester of college I commuted, taking classes mainly in the morning and then going into work at the paper, working until midnight some nights, then getting back up the next morning, driving the 90 minutes to school (60 minutes if I really gunned it … um…which I didn’t because I’m a good, law-abiding citizen. The previous sentence was added for Mom), and starting it all over again. I survived on fast food and coca-cola and chocolate from the vending machine in the basement of the paper, near the pressroom. I also survived on very little sleep. It’s no wonder my thyroid died years later and I started to pack on weight on like a pregnant manatee.

How I ended up working at three newspapers in our small county of about 60,000, in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania throughout my journalism career is a long story. I met my husband at one of the papers. Shortly after we married we cut ties with the first paper I had worked at. That story is a bit long but I’ll summarize it with this: boss with a lazy eye yelling at me (or the wall, I’m not sure which) that my husband and I had neglected our “professional responsibilities” by driving one day down to my grandmother’s funeral 600 miles away in North Carolina, staying one day, driving one day back and getting stranded in a snowstorm in a suburb of Philly, therefore delaying our return by one day.

“You had the responsibility to be here when you said you would be here. Do you understand me?”

“Yes, I do,” I told him.

I understood he was a horrible man yelling at a person who had just buried her grandmother. I walked out of his office to the front desk, picked up the phone to call my husband at the satellite office he worked at for the paper and told  him “I’m quitting.”

“I am too,” he said.

A couple of weeks later the editor who had tortured us with constant yelling and berating received two two-week notice letters on his desk. I started job searching and my husband started working at the competition, which was actually the first paper he had worked at but was now under a different editor than he had worked for before.

I finished my career at the same regional paper my husband ended his career at about a month ago, though I walked away almost seven years before him.

In many cases when you leave a newspaper your co-workers don’t celebrate. They don’t feel sad either. You aren’t given a cake or a party. Sometimes you get a card and they wish you luck, but honestly, after so many years working with the public, there is little left inside a person to feel true emotions, even when a long time coworker finally escapes.

My husband worked at the paper 16 years, and a few years beyond if you count the years he worked there right after high school. On his last day, he received a card on his desk, signed by his co-workers. No cake, or well wishes.

He did, however, receive a kind farewell, complete with gifts and cake and streamers, from the coworkers at his part-time switchboard job at the local hospital, where he had worked off and on for seven years.

What was not surprising about his departure was the snide comments written on the newspaper’s Facebook page about him when he departed because one thing I’ve learned working at smalltown newspapers is there is no shortage of people who want to tell you that you suck.

I have less than fond memories of working at newspapers, mixed in with a few positive ones. I remember once, as a new reporter, after misidentifying someone in a story, apologizing to the person I had misidentified and being told my apology wasn’t accepted and that I didn’t, I quote, “deserve to breathe anymore.” I remember writing a lifestyle column and having someone scribble their dislike of it all over the newspaper with a black marker, which they had folded over to make sure my column was on top and shoved in the front mail slot with the words “No one cares about your stupid teddy bear or your stupid kid.” To make sure I saw it my “kind” co-workers propped it up on my computer so it would be at face level when I sat down. I tried to pretend I didn’t care, but I went home later that day and cried and wished I had listened to the career test I’d taken in high school which listed journalism as the top job I should never take.

These were the same co-workers that didn’t know I had come in early and was sitting at my desk on the other side of the partition when they called me a liar for calling in sick for morning sickness when I was pregnant with my first child. I almost went over to their desk and puked on them to show them how real the sickness was. I didn’t have morning sickness when pregnant. I had “all day sickness.” I still wish I had puked on them in some ways, though the relationship with them did improve somewhat in the future.

Not long after the note was left on my desk about the column, the publisher called me into his office and told me to stop writing about my kid because no one cared. I stopped writing the column altogether and tried not to look anyone in the community in the eye because I didn’t know who was sitting at home with too much time on their hands, hating me for writing what I thought were funny stories about my kid and his and my childhood. I honestly thought they might like a break from the dismal news that usually appeared in the paper. Apparently, not.

I was walking in Walmart one day with my son in the cart and a woman stopped me and said: “Oh, is this the little boy you write about in the paper?”

I thought she might be mocking me so I was afraid to admit it, but when I did she said, “I just loved your column. It always made me think about the good times I had with my children when they were growing up.”

She asked me why I wasn’t writing it anymore so I told her what my publisher had told me. She told me he was wrong. As the years went by I still had women stop me, most of them with adult children, and tell me how much they missed my column. I always told them ‘thank you’ but that I’d never write the column again. It had been made clear to me what I had to say was “stupid” and “unimportant.”

There is a long list of the cons of my years in newspapers – from being yelled at about mistakes in obits that I didn’t make (we copied them from the funeral homes), from being told more than once to go back where I came from (I had lived in the county my whole life so this one always puzzled me), to being threatened by a convicted murderer’s family (that all worked out, but it was scary at the time); to being told I deserved to die for a misquote; to spending nights crying myself to sleep after I’d had to write about a fatal car accident or a story about two county sheriff’s deputies murdered; that time I was cheated out of benefits by my boss because I had to cut my hours when our daycare provider got busted for not having a daycare license; those times I provided an idea, only to be pushed aside and then have a man come in with the same idea and hear the man congratulated for his amazing idea; and, of course, the many times I got yelled at for writing information provided to us by the police because the person arrested insisted they were innocent.

Throw into those cons that night a drunk guy threatened me because I accurately quoted him at a local school board meeting during the public comment section.

“If you…if you print what I say .. I’ll..I’ll….” he slurred into the phone.

“You’ll what?” I asked.

“I’ll..just …you better not print what I say,” he said.

Mixed into the negative were a few positives – nice people met, friendships formed, appreciation expressed for stories written, a husband met, skills learned (like the ability to compartmentalize emotions, shoving them inside until I could have a proper cry later in the darkness of the night before falling asleep.

I learned how to work fast, how to be semi-organized and you would think I would have grown a thicker skin, and in some ways I did, but in other ways, I simply decided people were better off to be avoided because eventually, they’d find a way to tell you that you suck.

Someone once asked me if I miss working at newspapers. I told them, “Sure. Yes. The same way I would miss a bullet in my brain.”

“Would you ever go back into newspapers full time?” someone might ask me one day.

My answer would be simple: “Not even if I was offered a million dollars.” Okay – maybe only IF I was offered a million dollars.

I hate to sound so negative about newspapers  because my husband recently started a new job at a newspaper that I worked at (and have the least negative memories of) and there are aspects of small-town newspapers I wouldn’t mind participating in again – like maybe writing a lifestyle column, although that could bring me hate mail over any tails of teddy bears I might share again.

Newspapers were good to me over the years – gave me a job that was never the same from day to day; helped me learn a little bit about a lot of things; helped me hone my writing skills (yeah, I know – keep honing); led me to a husband and from that to two amazing children; and helped me meet some amazingly kind people.

But I still carry the teeth marks and I can’t imagine ever placing myself back in that lions’ den, especially now with so many lions ready to eat journalists alive.