Before it was brutalized by Disney and politically corrected by dozens of precious, pasty Yale glee club retreads behind the desk trying to sound chirpy and a little bit gangsta as their dress socks sag, ESPN was Stuart Scott.
Stuart Scott, an Admiral Ackbar-looking walleyed dude from around the way or maybe North Carolina, wore a $3,000 suit instead of a Kangol and baggy jeans, but the rhythm and flow was very much bursting from every air-tight hem.
As an anchor, he thrived on pushing the pace of the SportsCenter broadcast quickening the pulse of your disapproving father. He dribbled his one-liners between the legs and broke the ankles of cliché.
A man not ahead of his time, but precisely of it—the first on national TV to make a reference to the film Friday and that was the Saturday after its release.
To me, he was the personification of my first bootleg tape of Raising Hell. A different and better look and feel. Newness. A sense of urgency and a connection; a living, mortal, relatable bridge to the physics-bending antics of the athletes he too was so awed by.
Let the record needle scratch there.
There is a great racial divide in this country that we can’t seem to get past. We currently have a half-black president who 40 percent of his own electorate seems to hate because of the shade of his skin. We’re one, maybe two generations removed from the National Guard escorting black kids to school and bus seats for albino asses only. Like a comb over, racism is a very recent, very real, very fleshy and bare part of our past—and present.
If 2014 showed us anything, from the still-mean-under-the-marketing streets of New York, to the destitute and swollen working-class in Ferguson, Missouri, to the transit-stopping protesters in Berkeley, we’re not even close to better.
Stuart Scott was a black man in a decidedly white-guy profession, but he was brave enough to, in spite of the death threats he got like you get voice mails, start off black, be black and stay black.
In hindsight, his “Boo-Yeahs” and “Hallahs” are nothing if not quaint and ultimately to be taken for granted. But in Scott’s mid-’90s broadcasting infancy, there was nothing like it. Nothing like him. A signature brilliant shorthand he bit, crafted and refined. What he picked up from the radio, the locker room, the corner, the park—he used without prejudice. Wherever he got it, it was not part of the mainstream and it was not brought into 100 million living rooms a month.
…Or at least not my living room.
Though hip-hop by default, what Scott did in his prime was Jazz. Improvisation. Innovation. A singular verbal wrecking ball. One man who cut loose the noose to stand on the rubble of scripted diction.
Scott ultimately was genre-defining not because of his skin color or his neighborhood roots but because he took what he saw on the court and field and ice and found the words to match. The ease and flight of pure athletic joy expressed with similar fluidity wasn’t just attitude, it was his life.
The life he chose himself to narrate.
What could have happened—what should have happened—is Scott’s career would be short-lived. A footnote in Bristol. And all his hokum, his “Holla at a playas” relegated to the dust heap of blips and flops of pre-internet-age cable. But because what he did was so true to his values, his being, it was spat out and met with mass appeal.
In time, Scott’s own act faded like his haircut from the lyrical and delightful verbal right crosses of an Ali to something as predictable as a Sorkin storyline. The skyscraper tightrope he traversed at first lowered to three feet above ground. Safety in his own form.
But that’s OK.
A thousand imitators, black and white and every hue in between, have since sprinted down the approach and tried to pole vault to his high-set bar. A thousand imitators have come tumbling down to Earth on the mat of their own weak verse. Regression. Back to sportscaster as a guy with good enough hair who can’t sell Buicks we are.
There was only one man who had to go to work each day at ESPN with his gloves on. There was only one man who broke down that racial barrier sitting beside you on the couch every night. There was only one man who won over the audience, his peers and the athletes he covered equally because he prepared more, he tried harder and he waged war until his dying breath.
In his own words just one month before cancer took his body, Stuart Scott said, “Every day, I fight.”
I find it hard to believe he was referring to the disease.
Stuart Scott 7/19/1965 – 1/4/2015