The forgotten seven: don’t just mourn for Bryant

Amid the non-stop tributes, memorials and public mourning, sports blogger Ethan Booker rather succinctly — and perhaps a bit crudely — summed up what had been on my mind about the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 31/01/2020 (920 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Amid the non-stop tributes, memorials and public mourning, sports blogger Ethan Booker rather succinctly — and perhaps a bit crudely — summed up what had been on my mind about the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant.

“Steering clear of all celebs for the rest of my life so I’m not remembered as ‘and seven others’ when I die,” he wrote on Twitter earlier this week.

Some will suggest his timing was in poor taste, but the underlying message was solid: nine people were killed last Sunday in the hills of Calabasas, but the vast majority of people would be hard-pressed to name any of the victims beyond the NBA legend and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna.

The memorials and tributes for Kobe Bryant have been a constant since the former basketball star died this past Sunday in a helicopter crash. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

All of their lives had equal value. All of their deaths are equally tragic, and yet the way many in society process such an event suggests the opposite is true, which says a lot more about us than it does about them.

The Los Angeles Kings and Tampa Bay Lightning didn’t show up to their game Wednesday night at Staples Center wearing jerseys bearing the name of Alyssa Altobelli, the 14-year-old basketball player who was killed along with her father, John, and mother, Keri.

It would have been a lovely gesture. Instead, and rather predictably, it was “Bryant” on their backs.

Friends and classmates of Alyssa Altobelli grieve as they look at photos of her during a vigil on Thursday. Alyssa and her parents, John and Keri Altobelli, were among the nine who died in the helicopter crash in Calabasas on Sunday. (Leonard Ortiz / The Orange County Register)

Pro golfer Justin Thomas didn’t throw on a shirt honouring 13-year-old baller Payton Chester as he played the 16th hole at the Phoenix Open on Thursday. Nor did Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin come out for pre-game warm-up the other night having changed his traditional No. 8 to the digits Payton’s mother, Sarah, used to wear as a standout high school soccer player back in her day.

No, in those cases it was all about the iconic Kobe and his famous No. 24.

As far as I can tell, nobody has went out and got a tattoo bearing the likeness of Christina Mauser, the Mamba Academy basketball coach who died, the way some have done of Bryant this week. And I don’t imagine you’re going to hear the name of Ara Zobayan, the pilot of the doomed flight, during Sunday’s Super Bowl festivities. Just as you didn’t during last weekend’s Grammy Awards, which included multiple remembrances of Bryant.

Flowers and messages are placed in front of Harbor Day School in Corona Del Mar, Calif., to pay tribute to Christina Mauser, a girls basketball coach at the school. (Amy Taxin / The Associated Press files)

Throw in moments of silence being held in arenas of all kinds — not just NBA venues, but even NHL rinks — and the focus has almost entirely been on the 41-year-old Bryant and his talented teenage daughter, both of whom were taken far too soon.

The fact is, beyond their small network of family, friends and community who are left reeling, these “and seven others” simply didn’t have the star power in life to generate the worldwide outpouring of grief brought on by their deaths.

That’s the unfortunate reality of the world we live in, one where your worth in the eyes of others is often determined by the size of your bank account, the house you live in, the car you drive and, perhaps more than ever, the size of your social media following.

Pilot Ara Zobayan (standing) was flying the helicopter when it went down in heavy fog this past Sunday. (Group 3 Aviation)

I saw that up close for more than two decades, covering the crime and justice beat in this city. Horrible tales that should have enraged us, that should have led to calls for action, to the creation of posters and shrines and rallies, were usually met with a collective shrug of the shoulders by most.

But now, since moving into the Toy Department in 2016, I can write a story about a Jets player sneezing that will get more feedback and debate than pretty much anything I ever penned in the previous phase of my career.

What does it say when we are rocked by a celebrity death while mostly ignoring tragic events in our own backyard? When we put pro athletes on a pedestal — even deeply flawed ones like Bryant — while overlooking everyday heroes who quietly live among us?

People gather for a candlelight vigil for Alyssa Altobelli and her parents in Newport Beach, Calif. on Thursday. Alyssa and her parents, John and Keri Altobelli, were among the nine who died in Sunday's helicopter crash in Calabasas. (Leonard Ortiz / The Orange County Register)

It’s something that’s always confounded and, quite frankly, frustrated me. We in the mainstream media are often guilty as charged, too, often spilling ink on the so-called rich and famous while ignoring compelling stories on not-so-public figures who we assume — quite rightly — won’t get nearly the clicks or eyeballs on the product.

Writer Jill Filipovic, in a terrific blog post earlier this week called “Kobe Bryant and Complicated Legacies,” took a swing at why we are the way we are.

“We like to think of celebrity watching as an escape from real life, but it’s more of a mirror. The way we bestow celebrity reflects what we value; so too does where and how and why we deem celebrities good or bad or admirable or deplorable,” she wrote.

That’s especially true in the case of Bryant, who has a troubling history that so many are willing to overlook or whitewash entirely now that he’s gone. And there should be many out there who aren’t particularly proud of what they’re seeing in the mirror these days.

A 2003 rape allegation isn’t just some minor footnote, especially with contradictory statements from Bryant who initially denied any involvement, then later changed his story to say it was a consensual act once physical evidence surfaced that proved there was definitely contact between him and the 19-year-old woman who worked at the Colorado hotel he was staying at.

The case rather quickly and quietly went away, with Bryant’s lawyers striking an out-of-court financial settlement with the woman, and the felony assault charge being dropped.

There’s no question Bryant worked hard to rehabilitate his public image over time, both on the court as one of the most talented players in basketball history, but off it as well as a father of four girls and a major advocate of women’s sports, which included coaching Gianna.

To me, that’s where this tragedy has really resonate: not because one of the victims could shoot a bouncy ball through a hoop better than just about anybody, or had more money than I could ever dream of, but because at its heart this is a story about a bunch of loving parents and their children heading to do something they loved together, and none of them making it there alive. That goes for Bryant, Gianna, and the “seven others” whose names, and lives, I’ve spent the past week trying to learn as much as I can about. As should you.

Alyssa Altobelli. John Altobelli. Keri Altobelli. Payton Chester. Sarah Chester. Christina Mauser. Ara Zobayan. May they all be remembered equally.

mike.mcintyrre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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