My latest column for the National Sports Journalism Center at Indiana is on Stuart Scott.
I have gotten to know many of ESPN’s personalities while covering the sports media beat through the years. However, for some reason, I had only one encounter with Stuart Scott.
It occurred a few years back at an ESPN event in Chicago. Truthfully, I really don’t remember much about meeting Scott other than that he seemed like a good guy. My loss for never meeting him again.
So my connection to Scott was pretty much like everyone else: I watched him do his thing on ESPN.
Like everyone else, I had sick feeling when I awoke and learned that he passed away on Sunday morning. His prolonged absence from the air was an indicator that bad news was coming soon. Yet it still is a shock when the finality of the moment occurs.
Only 49. Damn.
What struck me was the immense response to Scott’s passing. You would expect ESPN to go all out in paying tribute to their old friend. Kudos to all for doing such a terrific job. His former colleague Rich Eisen also delivered a moving speech on NFL Network.
Yet the outpouring was so much more. President Obama weighed in with a statement, and numerous athletes like LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods expressed their sentiments via Twitter. In fact, Scott’s name dominated social media Sunday.
There were moments of silence for Scott prior to the NFL playoff and NBA games. His face flashed on the video boards as athletes bowed their heads below.
Surely, Scott would have been overwhelmed by the tributes and kind words. Man, even the president. Now that’s a “Boo-Yow,” he would say.
The heart of this passionate response speaks to the immense platform of ESPN and the force of Scott’s personality. The two truly go hand-in-hand.
ESPN’s evolution has seen it become more than just a place to watch games. It also became about the people who talk about the games, especially during the ‘90s. Scott arrived at ESPN at a time when “SportsCenter” was transforming how sports were delivered. Chris Berman already set the tone with his nicknames and other shtick. Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann then took it to another level with an Aaron Sorkin-like repartee for their shows.
That opened the door for others like the wicked funny Eisen. Scott blew right through it.
“He didn’t just push the envelope,” said Patrick on ESPN.com. “He bulldozed the envelope.”
Scott is credited with bringing “hip-hop” to sports, peppering his telecasts with signature phrases. Nothing resonated more than an emphatic “Boo-Yow” (the correct spelling, according to Eisen).
Indeed, there were African-Americans doing sports on TV, but nobody did it like Scott.
“He was a trailblazer not only because he was black — obviously black — but because of his style, his demeanor, his presentation,” ESPN anchor Stan Verrett, also black, told ABC News for Scott’s obituary. “He did not shy away from the fact that he was a black man, and that allowed the rest of us who came along to just be ourselves.”
“Yes, he brought hip-hop into the conversation,” said Jay Harris, another SportsCenter anchor who followed in Scott’s footsteps. “But I would go further than that. He brought in the barber shop, the church, R&B, soul music. Soul period.”
In the ESPN.com piece, Suzy Kolber remembered attempts were made for Scott to change his approach.
“Even I encouraged him to maybe take a more traditional approach, but he had a strong conviction about who he wanted to be and the voice he wanted to project, and clearly, he was right, and we were wrong,” Kolber said.
Scott’s act wasn’t for everyone. He had more than his share of critics and even was parodied on “Saturday Night Live.”
Ultimately, Scott prevailed because he was so distinctive. He became as much of a star as the stars he covered.
The ESPN blowtorch gave Scott the platform to reach scores of sports viewers night after night. Yes, ESPN made him, but he also helped make the network what it is today as one of its signature personalities. They were good for each other.
As a result, people who never met Scott felt like they knew him. The connections ran even deeper because of his courageous battle with cancer.
That’s why the reactions were so strong to his death Sunday. There was a sense of not only Scott being cheated by living such a short life, but also for viewers like us missing out on not getting to watch him anymore on ESPN.
Still, it was a great and memorable run. “Boo-Yow,” Stuart Scott. And thanks.