“The people we see on the big screen or magazine pages come to mean something to us, they mark specific times in our lives. But the death of an athlete strikes a slightly different chord. They’re big, fast and strong, they can do things the rest of us cannot and they become our constant companions in our own homes.”
Welcome to Culture Crash, where we examine American culture – what’s new and old in entertainment.
So many of us grew up idolizing athletes. Posters of Serena Williams, Muhammad Ali, and countless others decorate childhood bedrooms around the world. And that admiration doesn’t just stop with age. We marvel at their physical gifts, their supreme accomplishments and, after years of watching an athlete dominate a sport, they begin to feel otherworldly. There’s a reason we all believed Michael Jordan could fly, and it’s because athletes become real-life superheroes that we spend time watching on a weekly, or for some sports, nightly basis, for months at a time.
On January 26, 2020, we were all reminded that though they can seem superhuman, athletes are not immortal.
When Kobe Bryant died, the entire basketball world lost one of its real-life Avengers, myself included. When I was young, I became obsessed with Kobe. Growing up in Chicago but not being old enough to comprehend MJ’s greatness until after he had left the Bulls, I wanted nothing more than to see dominance with my own eyes, and Kobe was the closest analogue to MJ that I could find. I bought his cards, his jersey, his bobblehead, and I tried to stay up late whenever possible to watch his games on the West Coast. Even years later, reading that he died really felt like a weird twilight zone moment – one where Superman could really die.
Of course, any death hurts, and celebrity deaths are no different. The people we see on the big screen or magazine pages come to mean something to us; they mark specific times in our lives. But the death of an athlete strikes a slightly different chord. They’re big, fast and strong. They can do things the rest of us cannot and they become our constant companions in our own homes. So when one of those fixtures disappears, it serves as a jolt. It reminds us that even the mighty can fall and, as was the case with Kobe Bryant, they can be taken away at any moment, even when they’re just 41 years old.
I’m Evan Rook.