February 21, 2014
Bode Miller has nothing to be ashamed of and neither does Christin Cooper, the NBC reporter who asked repeated questions about the Olympic skier’s late brother. It’s okay for a grown man to cry, and it’s okay for the rest of us to watch it, too.
Since Sunday, columnists and the general public have lambasted NBC and Cooper for showing insensitivity in an interview of Miller after he won the bronze medal in the Super G. I watched the interview from a dual perspective, as a woman who lost her brother and as a journalist who has interviewed countless people after the death of a sibling, a parent, or a child.I intended not to join the fray and write about the controversy over Miller’s interview and how far a reporter should go in probing someone’s grief. But this week, my late brother Kevin is particularly on my mind. Tonight, I will mark the 28th anniversary of his death at my temple and say the Kaddish, the mourner’s prayer in his memory. Tonight, I will remember the brother with whom I used to snowski and waterski, a brother who would have loved watching Bode Miller race down that mountain on slalom skis, a brother who would have relished the daredevil traits of Chelone Miller, a snowboarder who died at age 29 after a seizure.
For many years after my brother’s death, I was ashamed to show much emotion. He died at age 23 after falling asleep at the wheel on a road trip from California to his home in Colorado. After college, Kevin moved out to Colorado because he loved to ski. He was just two years older than I. I had hoped to live in Colorado, too, so we both could share our passion for skiing and so that one day, our children could grow up together. Kevin was my best friend, the fun-loving guy I would willingly follow down nearly any ski hill, even a slope called the Jaws of the Death because the moguls were nearly as big as we were. He was the friend, too, who would I chat with every week about anything. At his funeral, I could not stop the tears that turned into loud, raucous sobs. And I was ashamed. It took years before I realized I never should have been embarrassed. It took years to understand that letting those tears run was a part of healing, an intensely human way of showing love and sorrow.
In his New York Times article on Feb. 17, Richard Sandomir writes how the skier “was holding up, but tears had started to trickle down Miller’s face” as Cooper continued to question him about his feelings about his brother. “He was being a stand-up guy, even if he was being pulled through a wringer,” Sandomir continues and says that Cooper should have stopped the interview then. “If you’ve made a medal winner cry, it is time to simply say ‘thank you and move on,” he adds.
Why did Miller have to hold up? What’s wrong with a few tears? Those were natural, honest tears. He wasn’t being a stand-up guy. He was being himself, and in his own comments about the interview with Cooper, Miller notes that it was a emotional time. The bigger problem with the Cooper/Miller controversy seems to be our own discomfort with a public show of grief. Miller showed his humanity and his strength. It doesn’t matter whether he skied that run for his brother or for himself. He was doing what all of us have to figure out to do when we lose someone, putting one foot in front of the other. His brother died last April. Not even a year has passed.
I look back to my own loss. It took three years before I found solid footing. I quit a few jobs in my early 20s, unable to cope with the first and then the second anniversary of my brother’s death. In those early years, I was doing my best to be the “stand-up guy” and not show the emotion ripping me apart inside. I was trying to be stoic. I bought into the inane societal idea that it is somehow brave not to cry.
As a newspaper reporter, I on occasion had to cover murders and accidents and interview families of the victims. I remember my hesitation about knocking on the door of a family whose 16-year-old son had been killed on his doorstep as he came home from Bible study. The teen, who was not a gang member, was caught in random gunfire between gangs. His mother was a secretary at a high school, and I had seen her in passing before. She welcomed me into her home because she wanted to talk about her son. I sat with her and her daughter and let them talk and wipe away tears. I struggled to hold my own tears inside. In my case, there was no camera.
Sure, there were times, when people would shut the door in my face, and I respected that. But when they were willing, I did my job, and my job was to tell their story. It was Christin Cooper’s job to tell Bode’s. Maybe NBC should have pulled the camera away sooner, but I don’t regret that the world got to see how much Bode Miller loved and missed his little brother. His show of grief likely will help other grieving brothers and sisters with sorrow much more raw than mine. At the very least, Bode Miller showed all of us that sometimes, you just have to cry.