The Rise and Fall of an Honorary Navy Chief Petty Officer
Bill Cosby with MCPON Rick West
Guest post by Chief Petty Officer ETC(SW) Doug Wright
For decades, Bill Cosby was an American icon. If you were anything like me as a teen, you would find yourself sitting faithfully in front of the color TV to watch the latest episode of ‘The Cosby Show’. I can still remember with surprising clarity many of the jokes, one-liners and dialogues between Dr. Huxtable and his family. Cosby brought a warm, funny and progressive new paradigm of the African-American family into our homes and, in doing so, made an indelible impression on the hearts of America. His clean wit and positive message to young adults helped to cultivated and nurture his legacy, earning him even more respect as an entertainer and as a person. He was the household name that any parent would have been happy to see their children idolize.
That perception changed, however, when allegations of drugging, rape and sexual assault began to emerge. The accounts are horrifying; many people have a visceral reaction to even trying to reconcile the acts described by these victims to the man we have come publicly to know. There have been arguments from all sides thrown into the court of public opinion, ranging from outrage to denial. However I’d like to focus not on what was said, or rather what wasn’t said.
Unknown to most, Bill Cosby was made an honorary Navy Chief Petty Officer by the then Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Rick West. Cosby served four years in the U.S. Navy as a Hospital Corpsman before being honorably discharged. This, along with his stellar reputation and positive contributions to American society, made the choice to bestow honorary anchors on him an easy one. Cosby was a living embodiment of the Navy Core Values of ‘Honor, Courage and Commitment’ with Navy roots to boot.
The official reason for the removal of Cosby’s honorary title was ‘…because allegations against Mr. Cosby are very serious and are in conflict with the Navy’s core values of honor, courage and commitment.’ There is no doubt that this is the case. There is, however, another nuance at work here that any Chief, active or retired, would agree with.
Chief Wright with Debbie Allen on the USS Midway
If a Chief is faced with an accusation there are only two options for them, depending on whether or not the accusation is true or not. If true, it is a Chief’s obligation and duty to own that mistake and grow from it like the Chiefs before them. Their reputation and the reputation of the entire Mess depends on it. If untrue…well, let’s just say whoever pointed the finger had better prepare for rough seas, because the rebuttal will be loud, forceful and probably not fit for polite company.
As I mentioned earlier, what wasn’t said is, to me, more telling than what was said. Bill Cosby took the silent route, choosing to neither defend himself nor admit any wrongdoing. This route doesn’t exist for the Navy Chief. There is no middle ground when accusations of this magnitude are laid at their feet. It is a route that immediately begs the question: Are you worthy to be a Chief Petty Officer?’
For this Chief Petty Officer, the answer is a resounding ‘No’.
note: The Navy rescinded the honorary title as of Dec 2014.