The world stopped as news broke that NBA legend Kobe Bryant had been killed in a helicopter crash in Southern California Jan. 26. Social media lit up as people expressed their disbelief. At the young age of 41, it was hard to grasp the death of a father, husband and sports icon.
As the afternoon went on, news organizations started confirming Bryant was one of the nine people killed in the crash. They also confirmed Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, was among the victims.
And while Kobe and Gianna Bryant are the names in the headlines — understandably so — we can’t forget about the other seven people on board. They were on their way to a basketball tournament but would never arrive.
John Altobelli, 56, was a baseball coach at Orange Coast College for 28 years. He led the team to the state baseball championship last year, according to the school.
His wife, Keri, 46, was also on board, as was their 13-year-old daughter, Alyssa. Alyssa was one of Gianna Bryant’s teammates and was praised by Kobe for her defensive skills on the court in an Instagram post.
Payton Chester and her mother, Sarah, died in the crash, as well. Payton, 13, was another player on the team.
Christina Mauser, 38, was an assistant coach for the team and leaves behind her husband and three children.
Ara Zobayan, 50, was also killed. He was the pilot and also worked as a flight instructor and ground instructor.
These other families are also mourning sudden passings. That can’t be overlooked — and that has happened throughout history.
When guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan’s helicopter crashed in 1990, there were four other people on board: his agent, a bodyguard, the pilot and the tour manager. When legendary baseball player Roberto Clemente’s plane went down in Puerto Rico in 1972, two other passengers and two crew members were also killed. When golfer Payne Stewart’s plane failed to depressurize and crashed in 1999, three other passengers and two pilots died, as well. After these tragedies, news outlets mostly focused on the big names.
We’re not trying to take away from Kobe and Gianna Bryant’s deaths. They’re major losses in the sports world and beyond. But at the same time, we need to honor the memory of everyone who was on board.
On the anniversary of the accident or the birthdays of those who died, the Altobelli, Zobayan, Mauser and Chester families will feel as empty and sad as the Bryants will — but they likely won’t get the same attention or respect.
The crash would’ve made news even if Bryant wasn’t on the plane. News organizations were already looking into the crash before anything was reported about who was on board. Zobayan, Mauser, the Chesters and the Altobellis can’t be forgotten.
But while we remember everyone on board, we also must take some lessons away from how the news was reported.
The information — and misinformation — came in fast. People were looking for any information they could get their hands on. Many were retweeting unfounded claims. One report falsely said former Laker Rick Fox was on board. Another organization went as far as saying “it is believed” Bryant’s four daughters were with him when only Gianna was.
TMZ, a celebrity gossip site, was the first to break the news of Bryant’s death. While the outlet was right, they were too hasty. Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said at a news conference that authorities had not yet notified Bryant’s family of the crash before TMZ published the news.
This is the exact opposite of what we’re taught as journalism students. Being first shouldn’t always be the goal. In this digital age when instant news rules the world, we saw the worst in social media that day.
But we also saw some of the best. Tributes poured in from all over the world. Current athletes, former athletes and fans posted their reactions to the legend’s sudden passing.
Mourn Kobe and Gianna, but don’t let the loss of the other seven lives be swept under the rug.