Cosby's words of wisdom then sound empty now

  • Written by Bob Rakow

When the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. the Topeka Board of Education Supreme Court decision was commemorated, comedian Bill Cosby gave a speech at an NAACP awards ceremony.

Cosby’s words were rather controversial, as he called on blacks in America to take responsibility for their own lives.

 The comedian talked about elevated school dropout rates for inner city black students and criticized low-income blacks for not using the opportunities the civil rights movement won for them.

 He went on to say that many blacks fail themselves and their community as a result of unplanned pregnancies, poor parenting, a lack of education, non-standard English, counter-culture dress and involvement in crime.

Some folks (many whites, of course) agreed with Cosby’s words. Conversely, he angered much of the black community. Either way, his commentary stirred vigorous debate, which is usually good thing.

Agree or disagree, people paid attention because Cosby had gravitas. We loved him for his body of work that dates back more than 30 years to “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids.” He’s an author, a popular standup comedian, the star of a hit television show and frequent guest speaker.

Today, however, Cosby career is in shambles and his powerful words of a decade ago seem empty.

It’s impossible to turn on the news or open a newspaper/newsmagazine without seeing the latest about Cosby’s alleged indiscretions.

Everything has unraveled for Dr. Huxtable in the past month or so, and as the accusations swirl, he isn’t vigorously denying much. That’s typically not a good sign.

There are too many accusations to list in this limited space, but one complaint was lodged by a 55-year-old woman sued Cosby claiming sexual battery and infliction of emotional distress for allegedly molesting her in a bedroom at the Playboy Mansion when she was 15 years old.

Cosby is counter-suing the woman, claiming she is attempting to extort money from him.

In recent weeks, 20 other women have come forward to accuse Cosby of sexual assault—charges that began to surface a decade ago when the former director of operations for Temple's women's basketball team sued him for drugging her and assaulting her in 2004.

The comedian has not been criminally charged, and many of the claims are so old, they are barred by statutes of limitations.

Cosby is big supporter of Temple, his alma mater. But on Dec.1, he resigned from the university’s board of trustees following pressure to do so.

How sad. Cosby was rich enough, successful enough to make a difference at his school. He often attended basketball games, wore school garb. He’s proud to be a Temple Owl. But ultimately he was forced to walk away under a shroud of controversy.

It’s interesting to read Cosby’s comments of a decade ago given the events of the past month.

“No longer is a person embarrassed because they're pregnant without a husband. No longer is a boy considered an embarrassment if he tries to run away from being the father of the unmarried child,” Cosby said in 2004.

He talked about the lack of parenting in the old neighborhoods and chided today’s parents for being unaware of their children’s whereabouts.

“I'm talking about these people who cry when their son is standing there in an orange suit. Where were you when he was two? Where were you when he was twelve? Where were you when he was eighteen, and how come you don't know he had a pistol? And where is his father, and why don't you know where he is? And why doesn't the father show up to talk to this boy?”

He was right, of course. And his words still ring true today. And at a time when racial unrest dominates the news following hostilities in Ferguson, Mo., Cosby might have had something to lend to the debate.

Not now, though, and that’s a shame.

Well-known attorney Martin D. Singer has dismissed the allegations, labeling them "unsubstantiated, fantastical stories.”

He added that “it makes no sense that not one of these new women who just came forward for the first time now ever asserted a legal claim back at the time they allege they had been sexually assaulted.”

It’s possible, I suppose, for all of the allegations to be false. But a Nov. 19 article in the The Atlantic magazine appropriately addressed that issue.

 “It is not unheard of for celebrities to be targeted for false allegations. The Cosby case is different, though, in its sheer volume and lack of ulterior motive—no civil suit, no criminal charges,” the story said.

“A defense of Cosby requires that one believe that several women have decided to publicly accuse one of the most powerful men in recent Hollywood history of a crime they have no hope of seeing prosecuted, and for which they are seeking no damages. The alternative is to see one of the most celebrated public fathers of our time, and one of the great public scourges of black morality, revealed as a serial rapist.”

That’s the tough part for those who admire Cosby, who viewed as a thoughtful man, a thinking man—not just an entertainer.

So often, we shrug our shoulders and offer a collective, “What did you expect” when a millionaire athlete, rapper, rock star, Hollywood starlet, destroys their career as a result of drugs, criminal acts, domestic issues and so on.

But this is Cosby. America’s dad. Jell-O Pudding. It’s a sad state of affairs.