It’s About Accountability, Not Icons

tt37b.jpgSomeone once said, rather aptly, that you should never meet your heroes because you’re bound to be disappointed. If that pessimistic view is actually true, I would like to think that the failings are manageable, ones that we can live with against the accomplishments of our icons. After all, they’re human too.

But sometimes those weakness are more than just a undesirable personality trait. Occasionally our icons’ transgressions are so egregious, so hurtful to others that we have to take notice, especially when the misconduct unquestionably passes into the realm of breaking the law.

The media recently has raised the issue of Jian Ghomeshi, a well-known Canadian broadcaster, who apparent physically abused women going back to 2002. Eight women have stepped forward including Lucy DeCouter, who was willing to be identified. She is a TV actress and a captain in the Royal Canadian Air Force. He has been fired but is now suing his former employer, claiming that the contact was consensual and that his personal preferences should have no bearing on his behavior at work.

Bill Cosby is also taking hits in the media as allegations resurface of a lawsuit that he raped a woman in 2005. He was never prosecuted. There was a settlement out of court, and as even non-lawyers know by now, confidentiality accompanies these agreements. According to one news report, had the suit gone forward, 13 more women were allegedly willing to testify against Cosby.

However, Britney Cooper writing in Salon, noted: “I recognize Bill Cosby as a comedic genius, and black people — with good reason — don’t throw away our geniuses. Even when they beat and rape and kill women and abuse children. Far too often, racism becomes an excuse for us not to confront sexism. And internalized misogyny and victim-blaming keep Americans from ostracizing the Woody Allens and Charlie Sheens of the world.”

Loyal followers of my blog, know that I have written in the past about how Ray Rice’s initial punishment by the NFL was essentially a slap on the wrist. Only when cases of abuse by other NFL players arose did the league begin to revisit the Ray Rice incident that landed him an indefinite suspension. (He gets his day in court this week.)

In our search for justice for all, why does it appear that many of our icons seem to have a second, less severe standard measured against them than those of us who are just average folk?

Let me make one thing very clear. No one is guilty, legally at least, until a court and a jury settle the issue. I firmly believe in that principle. Nor would I ever deny someone the right to a fair and vigorous defense.

However, some episodes of misconduct are so rife with multiple accusations from people who are unconnected to each other that the sheer preponderance of the evidence would weigh in favor of a complete and thorough investigation, something that often fails to occur for a variety of reasons.

If the audience is related to the offender by interest in the field where the icon has succeeded, many of those admirers are prone to offer up excuses. Football fans are more susceptible to offering up excuses for Ray Rice because he’s a great football player; let’s give a pass to Woody Allen because, well, you know, he’s a brilliant director; and accusations against Bill Cosby? Let’s not discuss it because he really is a comedic genius, and if there was some misstep in the past, wouldn’t it be better if we remember him for his groundbreaking portrayal of the African American family as solid, middle-class citizens in The Cosby Show?

What we need is accountability, simple, fair and without any regard to status. We should not be harsher on an icon because of his or her status, but nor should we excuse someone because they have merited special attention in a field where they presumably reigned supreme. The well-known figure of Lady Justice shows a person holding a scale with her eyes blindfolded. This paragon of virtue would treat everyone alike, regardless of color, status, occupation or education.

I understand this is an idealized vision of mine, but it is a standard to which we should continually strive.

Yes, some of these icons, athletes, artists, and business titans in their respective disciplines are matchless. And yes, they are heroes in the eyes and minds of many in the public. But let me suggest that when a charge seems to be blatantly true, prosecuted or not, the real hero/heroine is the person who exposed the misdeed, and the larger hero/heroine is the person who went public with it.

That's my take, what's yours?

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