Long time ESPN anchor, Stuart Scott, passed away today. He helped diversify sports journalism and was an inspiration to many people, especially those battling cancer
By J. SHAWN DURHAM
It’s time to eulogize Stuart Scott. But I struggle to find the words.
But, alas, he’s gone. Stuart Scott was MY generation. A true pioneer. Back in those days, sportscasters were “wild and wacky,” zany, 80’s style comedians on TV behind a desk giving highlights.
Oh yeah. They were also white. White face. White collar. White bread. Milquetoast.
But Stuart Scott wasn’t a token. He wasn’t just the black guy in the room full of white professional faces (although he was that). He wasn’t just the guy to bring the ethnic flavor and spice to a vanilla landscape (although he did). Stuart Scott was a tremendous talent. Stuart Scott was a trailblazer. Stuart Scott was THAT DUDE.
He was more than catchphrases like “Booyah!”, and “Cool As The Other Side Of The Pillow.” Stuart Scott was no one’s clown. He was always prepared, seeding his script with some obscure stat line. And it was an obscure fact that wasn’t as easy to find, because there was no Google or Wikipedia back then. Yet he’d sneak in a sentence about John McClendon and the Secret Game, or give an anecdote about boxer Jack Johnson that would later be used for a Ken Burns documentary. That was the sneaky sophistication of what Stuart Scott did.
Today, CBS — the granddaddy of sports coverage and Old Tiffany Network — now plays hip-hop music during sports leading into commercial. That’s Stuart Scott. The brash bluster of Stephen A. Smith exists because of Stuart Scott. The need to include more black commentators on sports where black athletes were prevalent in the arena? That’s Stuart Scott.
But the ability to be as cool as the other side of the pillow as, usually, “the only one” in a professional setting dominated by whites, that’s Stuart Scott too. The ability to be yourself. Be a proud black man, but still be able to foster relationships and genuine friendships with whites –while having the grace and presence to be yourself without buffonery or cheekiness — that’s Stuart Scott, too. Scott didn’t live in a bubble. And he NEVER pigeonholed himself. But he never forgot that he was making a way for different audiences to be included in the conversation. He knew that’s what his face represented. And he never shirked the responsibility.
What a grim day for all fans of sports and journalism. What a grim day for me, personally. See, today is the fifth anniversary of my dad’s passing.
Watching the numerous tributes to Scott got me reflecting on my Old Man’s funeral. People came from all over to send him off. No exaggeration, but the church was so full that day that all who couldn’t grab a pew seat in the sanctuary either sat in the church annex or even waited outside. I’m not lying. It was overflowing with people. And as I remember my dad I remember the outpouring of love from them all.
As a simple barber and businessman, he touched lives. He stood as a man of character, principle and good humor. A family man who was respected and revered as a giant by all those who knew him. And the thing that is so marvelous about the late Joseph Durham, Jr. is that he was a great man, simply by BEING GOOD. He didn’t run for office, but his voice was as respected as any in the community. He was a dedicated family man — hell, more people know my and my siblings’ faces than I can count. He was a loving husband and a dedicated man of his profession. He was great, by just being good. That’s how you leave a legacy.
And five years later, Stuart Scott is gone. And he is being remembered by being great, simply for just being good. Good at what he did. Good at working and playing with others. Good at being a devoted father. Men, that’s how you leave a legacy.
As a writer and journalist, Stuart Scott was who I watched and idolized in my college dorm, back when ESPN was still an advanced notion. Back when “Sportscenter” DIDNT EVEN PLAY MUSIC DURING HIGHLIGHTS. It was as dry and no frills as it could get. Back when Ed Bradley was THAT DUDE for this young journo on “60 Minutes.” I wanted to be Ed Bradley. Reeling from the death of one of my great friends that summer, it seemed like Bradley’s death in the fall of 2009 cut me to the core. It hurt. He was an idol. Two months later, the man I could only hope I’d be a fraction of — My father — passed away. And five years later, to the date, the Ed Bradley of the 24-hour news generation — a big brother to all us sports fans — Stuart Scott, is gone at the tender age of 49.
All of those people are great by just being good. And you can’t be good unless you’re being yourself.
Scott’s three bouts with cancer led ESPN to award him with the Jimmy V Perseverance Award in 2014, named for the late North Carolina State University coach. Interestingly, ESPN had actor Kiefer Sutherland, star of “24” introduce Scott to accept the award. The subtext to have a man present whose show is about a race against a clock is clear: Life is about time. And one day it will run out. So spend it wisely. And immediately.
And be yourself, because greatness comes from within. I say this about my father, who was as gregarious and steadfast as they come. And I say this for Ed Bradley, who was a trailblazer. And I say this for Stuart Scott, who was great simply because he was GOOD.
So go be great. And be great by being GOOD.
And go live life. Because no one is promised another breath.
J. Shawn Durham is a Washington, DC-based freelance writer and journalist. His novel, “The Broke Brothers’ Revolution” is currently being developed into a one man show. Visit his website, www.TheBrokeBrothersRevolution.com for more info and follow him on twitter @TheBrokeBrosRev.