Cosby’s conviction indicative of public versus private personas

Tom Fink

Last week, a Pennsylvania jury found Bill Cosby guilty on three counts of aggravated indecent assault.

With this conviction, the 80-year-old comedian now faces a statutory maximum of 30 years in prison and is expected to be sentenced within 90 days following a pre-sentence investigation.

While Cosby’s conviction serves as a victory for those who have long-suffered in silence at the hands of sexual predators, indicating a long-overdue shift in society’s allowance of such vile behavior, in another way, it equally serves as a reminder that perception often differs from reality.

For decades, Cosby’s public image was that of the ever-genial uncle or family friend, one whom most would never regard as anything less than trustworthy.

Further, he was a role model to many African Americans, rising to popularity first as a stand-up comedian and later, as an actor, landing a starring role in the 1960s sitcom “I Spy,” at a point in history when few black actors were seen on television at all, much less starring in their own series.

Cosby’s animated series “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids” further endeared Cosby to our culture, as he presented stories surrounding a group of friends who would, through their adventures, educate audiences — predominantly children as the program aired on Saturday mornings — about the importance of friendship, loyalty, acceptance, and that living a life of morality can be “cool.”

But perhaps nowhere was Cosby’s public image more in stark contrast with his private life than his greatest professional success, “The Cosby Show.”

As family patriarch Cliff Huxtable, Cosby passed himself off as friendly, wise, patient and trustworthy.

From the debut of “The Cosby Show” forward, Cosby became so closely linked to his character, much of the country regarded him as “America’s Dad,” a squeaky-clean image which followed Cosby throughout his later, less successful professional ventures, and certainly, an image which has since become — at best — tainted, and at worst, seen as a diversion to Cosby’s reprehensible offscreen behavior.

To date, Cosby has not professed guilt in the numerous allegations against him, but those who disagree and who accuse him number so high that “America’s Dad” may likely be one of entertainment’s most voracious sexual predators ever.

Even with his conviction, there are few winners here.

Cosby’s victims, if now justified, certainly never deserved what they accused him of.

Cosby, who had a career that spanned decades of building goodwill and building bridges, now stands a convicted sex offender.

And for those who hoped against mounting evidence that Cosby was innocent, they are reminded that sometimes, even our heroes can be flawed — deeply flawed — and that, as the saying goes, character is what you do when you think no one else is looking.

Tom Fink is a staff writer with the Claremore Progress.