Opinion: The Iconic Fall

Note: The views expressed in the following piece are those of the author alone, not of Rising Young Minds as a publication.

On May 18, 2014, I sat with my peers to hear Governor Deval Patrick tell us to “be present” as we went forward into the world, warning us of the dangers of living on our phones. Before Governor Patrick’s inspiring speech — and around the same time that we were graced by Mayim Bialik, PhD, from The Big Bang Theory — we were beyond delighted to share our special day with another iconic figure: Bill Cosby. The Bill Cosby. As he stood to receive his honorary degree, we chanted to him, “Speech! Speech! Speech!” He smiled slightly and obliged us with a simple, in-character, “Hey, hey, hey!” Little did we know how much more we would be seeing of “Dr. Huxtable.”

On December 30, 2015, Cosby was charged with 3 counts of aggravated indecent assault in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania for assaulting Andrea Constand in 2004. Constand had reported the incident nearly a year after it occurred, but no charges were brought against Cosby. She pursued a civil suit against him which was settled out of court in 2006. To date, over 50 women have come forward with allegations against Cosby for sexual assault, each with a similar pattern of being drugged with Quaaludes and later assaulted by the entertainer. The earliest reports of assault date back to 1965, with the most recent being in 2008. Many of the other victims have previously pressed charges but Cosby was never convicted. Constand’s case is the first with any real success, albeit over a decade after being reported. Cosby, of course, has always denied any non-consensual sex but has admitted to administering the drug before intercourse. In a bizarre case of “art imitates life,” Cosby has previously made mention of the aphrodisiac “Spanish fly” on several occasions, most notably in a Larry King interview and during stand-up routines.

I remember watching The Cosby Show and Kids Say the Darndest Things with my grandmother growing up; she used to watch his shows well into her later years. My parents, aunts, and uncles continually watched rerun after rerun, joining millions in recognizing how Cosby seemingly sparked a shift in the portrayal of African-American families on television and in general popular media. He has influenced multiple generations of actors, comedians, academics, and more. He was “America’s Dad,” a paragon of clean-cut celebrity, a role model. But such is the danger of hero worship; it makes the eventual fall that much more difficult to process.

I am struggling to understand what happened; specifically why it happened. Yet, when I try I come to the realization that I simply cannot. My heart goes out to the victims as they have had to live with the trauma, some for several decades. It has become alarmingly routine that women’s cries for help fall on deaf ears. While it is true that we, as a nation, must follow the court of law rather than court of public opinion, it is far too easy to paint rape allegations in a cynical light rather than consider it in a serious manner. In this day and age, victim-blaming has become commonplace rather than investigation. Victims are often left to fend for themselves.

In the court of law, Cosby is still innocent until proven guilty. However, regardless of the outcome of his trial, his arrest may have been a step in the right direction. I hope that justice is truly served but my heart is still heavy as I shake my head at “America’s Dad.”

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