Kobe Bryant is the last athlete I will ever be a fanboy of. It was truly the perfect storm. I was the generic white middle school kid, and he was the 18-year old prodigy who could jump out of the gym and didn't take shit from anybody. It also helped that he played for the Lakers, a team my mom indoctrinated me into because she (like all women who lived in LA in the 1980's) was in love with Magic Johnson.
To this day, I'm not sure I've ever said anything negative about Kobe Bryant. 12/29 shooting, including 0 and 6 in the last two minutes of a game? Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiit, it wasn't Kobe's fault the Lakers took the L.
I remember reading Rick Reilly's column, Like Mike, Or Even Better, and nodding my head like the dipshitted teenager I was. In retrospect, I'm not sure what was the true height of naivety: Reilly lauding a 24 year-old Kobe Bryant for never ending up in the back of a cop car, or me for reading a Sports Illustrated, let alone a column by Not-So-Slick Reilly.
To this day, I don't think Kobe Bryant sexually assaulted a woman in Eagle, Colorado. But the whole episode taught me something at a very young age: athletes aren't who we grow up pretending them to be. Stripped of the crowds and their child game exploits, athletes are just like the rest of us, flesh and blood, good deeds and sin. There really isn't any point elevating people beyond that.There are still pockets of Paterno loyalists, because these people, over the course of their lives, have literally deified JoePa. Before Ohio State fans guffaw over that last sentence, let's pause to remember ol' Saint Hayes, a grown ass man who feloniously assaulted a kid during a football game on national television.
That's why I respect coaches like John Callipari and Bob Huggins. At least they don't pretend to be anything more than what they are. Would I be surprised if Bob Huggins was the methamphetamine overlord of West Virginia? Not in the slightest. But at least Huggins didn't spend the last 20 years pulling a lightweight Mother Teresa facade like JoePa tried to do.
It's why I shake my head when people dress up college football for the sake of their own cognitive dissonance. It's why, with each passing year, college football gets harder and harder to watch, let alone write about.
If Joe Paterno was capable of covering up serial pedophilia in the name of his billion dollar institution, then I cringe to think of what other bodies are littered across the country, tucked away under the dirt of multi-million dollar stadiums.
This is a time for not only institutions to look at how they balance their academics with big time collegiate football, but also a time for us as fans to look at how we consume media and the personalities within our programs.
It's just sports, after all... but sports are a hell of a drug.