Bill Cosby’s sentence changed his legacy, as it should have

By Maya Butler | Reporter

I vaguely remember seeing Bill Cosby years ago at a show in Las Vegas, accompanied by my dad and stepmom. The next time I saw him was on national television, making headlines as an alleged sexual predator.

Ever heard the name Fat Albert? Cosby originated the character and used him as the basis for the comedian’s animated show, “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids,” which premiered in 1972 and ran for several seasons. Or maybe you remember him from an even earlier time, when he starred in the television series “I Spy” in the mid ‘60s. But Cosby’s greatest legacy to come was arguably “The Cosby Show.” The show debuted in 1984 and ran for eight seasons. In it, Cosby played Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable, the patriarch to the Huxtable family. The show was apparently a huge deal and was rated the No. 1 show in America for five straight seasons.

According to an article examining the legacy of the show despite Cosby’s sexual assault scandals, “The Cosby Show was a historically groundbreaking series that depicted an educated and affluent African-American family with strong values at a time when the image of Blacks projected on the news was just the polar opposite: dumb and destitute.” The show wasn’t just popular entertainment, it was a racial landmark for African-American representation on the small screen. Unfortunately, Cosby’s recent screen time on the news for his sexual assaults and eventual conviction will probably forever replace the legacy he left behind with “The Cosby Show.”

You might be wondering if I could somehow sense the predatory aura emanating from the stage when I saw Cosby perform, or if I could tell that something was off about him. The truth, to be honest, is pretty plain and boring. My dad had bought the tickets, or else I would never have personally gone to see one of Cosby’s live shows. The jokes he cracked were not really my style, but he did succeed in pulling off the whole friendly grandpa act to a tee. Once the show had ended, the memory was quickly pushed back to the back of my mind.

Like so many millennials today, the peak of Cosby’s popularity was a bit before our time — not to mention before our births — but Cosby’s recent conviction is a piece of news I can relate to, especially in the era of the #MeToo movement and others like it. Since the surge in support of these movements, many notable celebrities from various industries have fallen, and rightfully so, out of the limelight. Harvey Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly and Kevin Spacey are prime examples of this. But there’s something about the upstanding father figure that Cosby pulled off successfully for decades that separated him from the dozens of other famous men accused of sexual wrongdoing. For the first time, unlike when I saw him live all those years ago, Cosby had my full attention.

Throughout the years, Cosby has been accused by numerous women of raping and sexually assaulting them. It wasn’t until 2014, however, when comedian Hannibal Buress, as part of his stand-up routine, criticized Cosby for condescendingly preaching to the black youths of America to change how they dressed and talked. Buress then responded with, “Yeah, but you rape women, Bill Cosby. So turn the crazy down a couple notches.” The comedian then advised audience members to go home and look up “Bill Cosby rape.” A short clip of Buress’s Cosby routine then turned viral, opening the gates for women to come forward with stories of sexual assaults committed by Cosby, with some cases even dating back to the ‘60s. Cosby would end up denying all of the accusations, of course, but we now know how undeniably guilty he is and how the journey ends for him — within the confines of a prison cell.

When I clicked on my news app for the day, and saw the headline, “Bill Cosby sentenced to 3 to 10 years,” I felt satisfaction that justice had finally been served for all the women Cosby had terrorized over the decades. Now, that the excitement over his sentence has worn off, I admit to feeling a mix of other emotions, namely disappointment and sadness. Disappointment that Cosby’s public persona as a father figure turned out to be false, and sadness that the culturally important “The Cosby Show” will forever be tainted with his legacy as a convicted sex offender. However, Cosby’s conviction marks a momentous win for women everywhere, and points to a future where justice for victims will be seen more often in the courtroom. That, frankly, is a legacy I can get behind.