All you needed to hear was the word “booyah,” and once you heard it, you knew either SportsCenter anchor Stuart Scott was in front of the camera or somebody else had hijacked his trademark.
Yet Scott, 49, who lost his fight with cancer Sunday morning, was more than an ESPN anchor with poetic catchphrases. He was a pioneer, a Black man who inspired a generation of Black youth to look at sports journalism as a noble calling. In Scott, they saw a man like themselves: a man who spoke their language; a man who refused to remake himself to fit somebody else’s dog-eared image.
For Stuart Scott would have been Stuart Scott even had he been a doctor, a lawyer or a Chicago street sweeper.
“Stuart represented an entire generation of sports fans and sports journalists who watched games through a different prism – a prism shaped by non-mainstream experiences,” said Michael Eaves, a friend of Scott’s and a sports journalist with Al Jazeera. “And because he refused to change his style or approach – even when so many critics tried to shame him into doing it – the industry eventually realized how valuable that audience was.”
As Eaves rightly pointed out, the charismatic Scott did have many critics. His on-air style, audacious and singularly his, was far different than what viewers had been used to seeing and hearing, which is why his critics raised a fuss.
But that shouldn’t surprise anybody who has kept an eye on sports journalism. It has always been a profession slow to embrace change and even slower to open its newsrooms to men who looked like Stuart Scott.
He faced the challenges of color in the newsroom with the same unwavering stance that he took against his cancer. He waged a public campaign to defeat the latter, even though Scott had to know the odds against his winning were long.
Stuart Scott was undeterred.
“When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer,” he said at an ESPN event last summer. “You beat cancer by how you live, why you live and in the manner in which you live.”
An influential sports personality for over two decades, Scott spent the past seven years with cancer as his constant companion. He tried to make each day in his life matter, no easy task when he was looking at a prognosis as dire as his was.
In the years to come, TV viewers will see other Black men who will mimic his style. These men will sit behind a microphone, spout their own catchphrases and try to bring the same high energy to sports journalism as Scott did.
None of them, however, will be a Stuart Scott. The best they can hope for is that they find an on-air persona they can live with, a persona “as cool as the other side of the pillow.”
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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(Photo: Aaron Josefczyk/Icon SMI via Corbis Images)