Good night, Stuart Scott

Stuart Scott, the longtime anchor “SportsCenter” and one of ESPN’s unique talents, died of cancer today. He was 49.

Scott was the man who introduced the lexicon of the broader African-American community to mainstream sports coverage. Although he would often be associated with the term “Boo-yah!” and having added “hip-hop” to the screen, his experience and his contribution was much larger than that. As his colleagues noted so eloquently, he added soul to the field of journalism, drawing from his own broader experience through strong roots as a person of color.

Those who took their cues from a more traditional media model often disliked or pushed back at Scott’s “hip-hop-ification” of sports coverage. The idea was that the journalist should be the frame through which the art of play was displayed. No one ever walked away from the Mona Lisa and said, “Wow, what an awesome frame!” Your job is to show the news, not be the news. Scott subverted that model and presented his audience with what he knew they would want: Excitement and engagement as they took in these wonderful moments of wonderful games.

I had trouble reconciling my journalistic traditionalism with Scott’s hip-edge approach. I often thought he went over the top with the phrases and he tended to piss me off when all I wanted to do was see who won and who lost. However, as the Web became more of the place I went for those mundane details, I enjoyed the hues he cast on the games.

In reflecting on what he did and why I often found it grating, I realized that it was because Scott was a singular talent. He was able to play both sides of the fence: The informational delivery man and the fun phrase machine. He rarely lost one side in pursuit of the other.

The problem wasn’t Scott. It was everyone else.

For every one Brett Favre, there are 1,001 quarterbacks who try to fit a ball into quintuple coverage and figure it’ll work when it clearly will not.

For every one Richard Pryor, there are 10,001 idiots out there who think comparing whites and blacks while dropping a few n-bombs makes them revolutionary humorists.

For every one Stuart Scott, I had what seemed like a million and one kids who didn’t do the research, wrote for crap and figured that they just needed to have a “catchphrase” to be the next anchor on “SportsCenter.” It’s why we have things like “Boom Goes The Dynamite” as well as this classic ESPN commercial in which it mocked its own place in the cultural lexicon.

As good as he was, he was a singularity. Modeling your work after that of Stuart Scott was like trying to teach someone to be taller. It doesn’t work. I can’t tell you how many times I had to tell people, “Knock it off. You’re not Stuart Scott. Just do the damned story.” Even fellow ESPN anchors couldn’t pull it off. When they used to do multiple editions of SportsCenter each day with different anchors but the same copy, I found myself watching as John Anderson or some other corn-fed white guy bungled his way through a “Stuart Script.” The phrases like “Can I get a witness?” didn’t quite have the same validity or gravitas coming out of Steve Levy’s mouth.

And yet, because Scott was so loved and he made it look so effortless, so many novices felt they were only one “AND THAT’S WHY THEY WEAR PANTS!” call away from making it big. His approach made my job harder but in the end it was worth it. The world of sports is smaller and more boring with his passing. My greatest hope is that the next generation of sportscasters tries to emulate Scott in the best way possible:

Don’t mimic him. Become an original.

One thought on “Good night, Stuart Scott

  1. I’m an old white guy, and I loved watching Stuart Scott. Yup–he was an original, and the world’s a worse place without him in it.

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