Last week the sports world said farewell to one of ESPN’s greatest broadcasters, Stuart Scott, who fought a long battle with cancer into the twilight of his 49 years on this earth. The previous July, Scott was honored at the 2014 ESPYs with the Jimmy V Award, in recognition for his fortitude amidst his personal challenges. In the wake of his passing, numerous colleagues and fans paid tribute to his career and his character. As a sports anchor, he captivated audiences with his upbeat style and memorable catchphrases. As a person, he inspired thousands by his strength and determination during his battle against a disease that fought back just as relentlessly.
There was a time when televised sports was not the stage that it is now. Athletes have always been expressive, but the mass media takes the power of individualism to another level. A touchdown celebration goes viral in an instance. A funny face becomes an internet meme. A sound byte plasters a quote on every headline across the electronic world. Look no further then the antics of Johnny Manziel, Richard Sherman, or Lance Stephenson. A specific action or answer might incite criticism, but we accept the marriage of sports and the media as a forum for personal expression. We might not agree with what a person is saying, but we can’t wait to see what happens next.
Believe it or not, it wasn’t always this way. There was a time when sports broadcasting was about (heaven forbid) the actual game. News was for relaying information, not offering commentary. So when a young African-American sportscaster brought a new hip-hop style to ESPN, it wasn’t what people had come to expect. Stuart Orlando Scott, without even knowing it at the time, was about to change the perception of American sports on television. It wasn’t a smooth transition. There were not as many African-American sportscasters on air, and even fewer that spoke in the common jargon that connected so well with fans. Not everyone bought into his style at first; many just scoffed after hearing his enthusiastic voice cry out “Just call him butter, ’cause he’s on a roll.” Not everyone was ready to see an African-American bring this “off-the-cuff” vibe to formal television. But Scott stuck with his style, and ESPN stuck with him. Scott wasn’t there to just conform to the norm, he was there to be himself. And in doing so, he infused a language and style that appealed to young fans around the globe. I imagine just how many kids imitated his favorite phrases while narrating their neighborhood pickup games, or how many young African-American students he inspired to go into broadcasting.
In 2007, Stuart Scott was diagnosed with cancer, but he continued to pour his passion into sports, never allowing his health complications to diminish his on-screen persona. In his spare time, he maintained his physical fitness through mixed martial arts workouts, and he continued to raise his two young daughters while receiving treatment. His cancer would return in the following years, weakening his body, but strengthening his resolve to fight. At the 2014 ESPY award show, Scott delivered a heartwarming, not-to-be-soon forgotten speech reminding his audience: “”When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live.” And he was right. For him, it was always about how he lived: as a sports fan, as a broadcasting pioneer, as a fighter, as a father, and as an inspiration. Stuart Scott approached his work at ESPN with the same passion and determination he carried through the end of his life. It wasn’t just about beating cancer, it was about living a great life. We will remember the impact that Stuart Scott had on broadcasting, and we will remember how he won his battle by the manner in which he lived, even if that feels like an understatement. AN