ESPN’s Stuart Scott Dead at 49
Each year I marvel when networks run the annual list of “Those We Lost This Year,” as it hits me that the names of more and more pioneers of their respective crafts are appearing on those lists. Just four days old, 2015 has lost another such trailblazer.
I woke up on the morning of January 4 and ran through my normal routine of checking my phone for sports updates…an act that has become more essential than making that first cup of coffee. When I read that longtime ESPN anchor and sportscaster, Stuart Scott, died early that morning at the age of 49, I sat down in a chair and all I could utter was one word — “wow.” Even though I knew he was battling cancer, this still caught me off guard – still made me sad.
My dream in life was (and in a delusional, onset of a mid-life crisis kinda-way, remains) to be sportscaster, and ESPN was my addiction in the 1990s. It didn’t matter that the network aired the same SportsCenter at 9 a.m. that it did at 1 a.m. – I could not get enough. And with the launch of ESPN2 in 1993, I saw a guy who delivered sports in a manner in which I had never seen before…
He didn’t read a highlight, he brought it to life.
Scott joined ESPN in 1993 when the network’s management was looking for sportscasters who they thought a younger audience would enjoy. Well, they nailed it by hiring Scott. He connected to viewers in a way that made it seem as thought you were talking sports with a buddy. His catch-phrases made sports highlights fun, and he introduced new words into the lexicon that are still hear uttered today — from office meetings to pick-up basketball games.
In a career that spanned more than two decades, Scott became one of ESPN’s most recognizable and admired personalities. Nothing was out of Scott’s realm; he quoted rappers AND poets, and became as big (sometimes bigger) of a personality as the athletes he covered. He bucked the norm, and his catchphrases and style changed a medium.
If you think he was just another sportscaster, you are deeply mistaken. When news of his passing broke, social media experienced an outpouring of tributes and condolences from athletes, colleagues, fans, and others…including the President of the United States. Even the NFL and NBA recognized the impact Scott held on the sports world as moments of silence were held before various games.
Stuart Scott WAS as “cool as the other side of the pillow.”
While my path took me to the opposite side of the business as a sports publicist, I still held out hope that one day I could be as cool on the air as Stuart Scott. In my opinion, he played a major role in ESPN, especially SportsCenter, holding iconic status during its heyday.
However, it was his battle with cancer where Scott most impressed me. Cancer is a son of a bitch that that has touched all of us in some way. Just as he took on the challenge of breaking barriers and stereotypes in his profession, Scott faced cancer head on and refused to let it define his life.
ESPN has long become hard for me to watch. But in July 2014, I tuned into the ESPYS only for the presentation of the Jimmy V Award for Excellence to Scott. Although he had just left the hospital less than a week earlier, where he underwent four surgeries in just seven days, Scott took the stage and, as he did so many times from the anchor desk, connected with us.
His inspiration, grace and humor were magnanimous as he allowed us to see Stuart Scott the patient; Stuart Scott the doting father; Stuart Scott the human being.
I believe Scott’s speech that night paralleled the legendary moment Jim Valvano gave us 21-years ago.
Both mesmerized us.
Both inspired us.
Both made us appreciate what we have in our own lives.
Jimmy V gave us that memorable phrase, “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.” Two decades later, Scott followed in those incredible footsteps with the following words — “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.”
If you have not seen Scott’s acceptance speech, do yourself a favor and watch it below…you will not be disappointed.
My thoughts are with his family and many friends…including those of us who counted Stuart Scott as such each time we welcomed him into our living rooms.