I was playing around on Facebook when my partner in The Half Fund, Joe Farmer, sent me a PM.
“Did you hear about Stuart Scott?”
He didn’t have to go any further. I immediately started crying for so many reasons: for my blindness, for my hypocrisy, for my conversion, and for my anguish.
When my parents first got cable, it was 1985… the salad years of MTV showing videos,Not Necessarily The News on HBO, and sports programming on ESPN that, these days, would only be shown on The Ocho. They were also the days of SportsCenteranchors being professional journalists, like Charlie Steiner, Bob Ley, Gayle Gardner, Greg Gumbel, Dan Patrick, and Chris Berman. They treated their sports seriously, even when they couldn’t keep a straight face.
And then, there was Stuart Scott. He was loud, brash, bombastic. I didn’t understand his lexicon. Whiskey tango foxtrot does “BOOYAH!” mean, anyway?
I didn’t like him, or rather, his style. Which means, I didn’t like him. I thought he was arrogant, that his lines overshadowed the athletes. Because let’s face it, Maddux K’ing 15 is not as cool as “As cool as the other side of the pillow.” So I closed my eyes and ears to him. I couldn’t see beneath the facade because I didn’t bother to look.
And for this, I was the ultimate hypocrite.
When I worked for Steve and DC, one of my roles was to “keep the boys in line.” I used to do this by ragging on Steve about his weight every chance I got. It was part of my job (a fun one, mind you), but it was not who I really was. Listeners would ask me if I hated him, or if I had a problem with overweight people, and that answer to both was an unequivocal “No.” Once the microphones went off, I never, ever said a single snide comment about his weight. And it irked me that people were not looking beneath the surface.
Pot, meet kettle.
I might never have looked for the deeper meaning to this man had it not been for the September 10, 2004 edition of SportsCenter. That broadcast changed everything.
It was the week of the 25th anniversary of SC, and they were bringing back some of the old-guard to star with the current hosts. On September 10, they were going to pair Gayle Gardner with Stuart Scott. I remember Gardner very well, but I thought to myself, ‘How are these two going to mesh?’
At first, it was slightly painful, but not for any reason that I saw coming. When many of the hosts leave ESPN, they go out into the sports world either in television or radio, so they stay “seasoned.” However, Gardner had retired many years ago, and on this night, she was nervous, flummoxed, and slightly over her head.
In essence, she had forgotten how to ride the bicycle. We’ve all done it. It’s painful to live through, and it’s painful to watch. I winced on a couple of occasions.
When all seemed lost, Scott did one of the most remarkably human things that any person can do for another: He metaphorically took her by the hand and said, “Don’t worry… you’ve got this.”
He then put her on his back and carried her for the rest of the broadcast, telling her over and over that it was such an honor sharing a set with her, and how he hoped this was not the last time they would work together. It was astonishingly beautiful and deft. He treated her with such dignity. By the end of the broadcast, she had started pedaling again… partly because of her innate talent, partly because of her gifted and compassionate cohost.
I turned off the television and felt a tugging sense of remorse for having been so closed-minded. I swore to myself from that day on, I would never just simply take someone at face value, and I would look for the deeper meaning behind the humanity I encountered.
I also finally understood what all of the hubbub was about with his style, and today, whenever my sons do something really cool, I look them right in the face, fist-bump-firework with them, and we yell, “BOOYAH!!!”
The last time I saw Stuart Scott on live television, he was accepting the Jimmy V Foundation Perseverence Award on The ESPYs. I had a sinking feeling as he took the stage, and I said a quick prayer that it wasn’t the last time I would see him alive.
By the end of his speech, I wept hard. Yet through the tears, I had a tremendous sense of hope for the future, when this dreaded disease is just a memory. And he said something so profound that will live with me forever:
“When you die, that does not mean you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live and the manner in which you live.”
Stuart may be gone, but his heart, his soul, his spirit, and his story will live on for generations. To say that he impacted lives is an understatement. He knew he might affect them with his speech, and he did, but for one idiot in the Midwest, he forever changed me with a simple act of kindness.
God rest him, and God bless all of those close to him. Something tells me it’s quite the list.