“AS COOL AS THE OTHER SIDE OF THE PILLOW.” — -Stuart Scott
(Stuie. Scottie; White renditions, no doubt).
Stuart Orlando Scott (07/19/1965–01/04/2015). 49 years old.
“Just Call Him Butter ’Cause He’s On a Roll.”
“He Must Be The Bus Driver Cuz He Was Takin’ Him To School.”
Stuart Scott was an unwitting trailblazer by simply being himself.
He brought Hip-Hop lingo, its wide range of esoteric references and its culture into sports reporting because that’s who he was.
No simple declarative statement for Stu. Too plain. Too boring. Too vanilla. Never enough wit or “cleverness of he.”
Was it his wont to overdo a bit? Unquestionably.
But he stopped just short of spoiling it. And boy was he good at what he did.
Maybe even iconic.
Stuart Scott was one of the first African-American network sports personalities who had not been a professional athlete before speaking into the mike.
(The microphonE. No phony at the mike here; thank you Stooges. Couldn’t resist).
He was neither Chris Berman, Dan Patrick nor Keith Olbermann all unique in their own right.
“I’ll write that because I’m going to write like I talk,” he’d explain.
But he talked like nobody who preceded him in this genre. He talked like nobody else in broadcasting ever had or perhaps ever will.
Stuart Scott brought it as he would if he were sitting next to you in your living room. Talking smack in front of the tube, watching the ballgame and drinking his favorite beverage. No substitute for lively conversation, for spicing it up a little.
But it had to be good.
And it was greater than good with Stuart Scott.
When Stuart Scott accepted the 2014 Jimmy V Perseverance Award from Kiefer Sutherland who played Jack Bauer in “24” on July 16th. of that year, he was more in awe of his presenter than of all the sports celebrities who graced the venue.
Not just because the TV show was his “favorite of all-time,” or because Jack Bauer saved the world, but because he considered Kiefer/Jack two of [his] “people.”
That was Stu.
People were everything to Scott.
People in general sure, but more specifically, “people that I love,” he clarified.
What he failed to mention in his clarification was that he loved most everybody.
His bosses at ESPN, his colleagues on both sides of the camera and most of all his family.
Because although the now-renowned Valvano seven-word mantra, “Don’t give up; don’t ever give up” was and is powerfully motivating, without the support of his friends and family Scott knew that the daunting road facing him would represent an insurmountable obstacle.
When Scott was too weak to fight, his doctors, his nurses, his friends and family fought for him by visiting, talking, listening and sitting silently beside him.
By loving him.
By loving and supporting him.
By letting him cry.
And in his acceptance speech Scott noted that [he] “can never give up because [he] can’t leave [his] two daughters,” who simply represent “the best thing [he] has ever done or will ever do…[they are] his heartbeat.”
On the one-year anniversary of his death (January 4, 2016) his daughters Taelor, 20 and Sydni, 16 wrote a letter to their father.
“This last year, we realized the full impact you’ve had on the world, and how important you were to so many…And in the end, you taught us all how to win — live or die — by how you live, why you live and the manner in which you live.”
Stuart Scott was all about that. And he was all about a different kind of strength, toughness and resilience.
Scott was resolute in his belief that his Hip-Hop jargon and his cred-infused journalistic approach would work and in fact, increase viewership and market share.
He was not afraid to introduce something new because he “was full of life.”
Courtesy of Stu, rules changed, boundaries shifted and the industry shuddered…until it thrived.
And thrive ESPN did but it wasn’t easy.
Some applauded and embraced his style; others did not. There was some resistance. The dissenters claimed that his presentation was grating and wearing; he didn’t know when to quit.
Just give us the scores, willya; eeeeenough already.
Scott heard but he didn’t listen. And he wouldn’t listen because he didn’t care…for all the right reasons.
SC co-anchor in 1996, Rich Eisen explained, “I mean not one time did he think for a single second that he should be anything but himself and true to himself and he is.”
He was that and more.
With his own lexicon and distinctive style, it was said by the ESPN hierarchy that he did not push the envelope but “bulldozed” it, rattling Sportscenter to its core.
The path was sometimes strewn with plenty of ankle-turning loose gravel but “this pristine journalism show” along with ESPN itself was catapulted to another stratosphere and Scott was at the controls.
Ardent viewers began to refer to Scott’s appearances as “appointment television.”
Crafting a reputation as one who was undaunted by the new and different, Scott’s role at ESPN expanded. From Sportscenter it was on to NFL Monday Night Countdown and covering the NBA Playoffs culminating with the NBA Finals hosting gig.
During the 1996 NBA Playoffs colleague Jeremy Schaap commented that Scott “was so excited he was skipping down the street. I’ll never forget that.”
Scott sat down with two Presidents (Clinton and Obama) and conducted one-on-one interviews with the likes of Shaq, Michael and Tiger. In fact it was Woods who so aptly noted that “Stuart wasn’t covering heroes and champions. It was the other way around.”
Not bad for a kid who parlayed his UNC matriculation and a few journalistic forays down South fresh out of Chapel Hill into a 1993 seat in Bristol for the launch of ESPN2.
The wheels of the cancer bus began going ’round and ’round for Scott in November of ’07 when a malignant tumor was spotted during an emergency appendectomy. Multiple surgeries and grueling chemo treatments could not prevent a recurrence in 2011 and again in January of 2013.
Yet Scott was determined not to let this insidious disease define him. When he regained strength he threw himself into MMA and rigorous cross-training regimens. He worked out feverishly as if he had an army of opponents lined up to take down.
In fact, he had the super-heavyweight of all time looking him in the eye and salivating at the prospect of taking him down.
But he was gonna “kick cancer’s ass.”
Scott was astute enough to realize that there was a different kind of value in vulnerability, a unique and unvarnished brand of strength, actually.
And he wanted to share it.
He had a lasting and undeniable effect on many others facing cancer including colleague Shelley Smith and contemporary Robin Roberts.
Remarked Smith, “because of him, I have no fear.”
He didn’t honor fear, so why should anyone else?
If he had to close his eyes during 30-second broadcast breaks, so what?
When the red light illuminated, so did he. The marriage he made between sports, journalism and pop culture would sustain him.
Everyone who knew Stuart Scott loved him, from on-air partners Scott Van Pelt and Eisen along with fellow ESPN figures Sage Steele, Steve Levy and Jay Harris among so many others, to Bruce Arians, Andrew Luck and the coterie of NBA “playuhs” running the gamut from Kobe, Shaq & Michael to Wade, Bosh, Paul, Derek Fisher and coach Doc Rivers.
He absolutely owned his raw and heart-rending ESPY Award acceptance speech and few in the auditorium knew at the time that his presence that night was hardly a lock given the draining hospital stay which immediately preceded it.
He didn’t let on either. He was simply unwilling to lose to cancer.
Y’know how you beat it: by “how you live, why you live and the manner in which you live.”
Stuart Scott was too busy acting the revolutionary and echoing the sound of change.
His profound impact on the business, on people and on life itself far transcended his “doing it, doing it, [and] doing it well.”
[Editor’s Note: This piece was written by Mr. Kaplan in August 2016.]