I’d like to share a few words about Stuart Scott and what he meant to me.
I didn’t grow up on Howard Cosell, but I know he meant something to a generation of sports fans at a time when sports ascended beyond the field of play (or ring) and into the depths of society thanks to cultural and politically outspoken athletes like Muhammad Ali.
I grew up reading all of Rick Reilly’s columns in Sports Illustrated and, when the Internet blew up, that slowly transitioned to reading all of Bill Simmons’ columns and mailbags. Chris Berman, Dan Patrick, Linda Cohn and Keith Olbermann are ESPN Legends.
But as a Black kid growing up in the late 80s and 90s, there was something important about identifying with people of color. When my brothers and I weren’t watching BET’s Rap City or Fox shows like Martin, In Living Colour or New York Undercover, ESPN held my attention. With the exception of Bob Costas’s NBA Finals and Olympic coverage on NBC, ESPN is the network I most associate with nearly all of my sports memories growing up. Stuart Scott was the main reason.
Sure, we watched Full House and Saved by the Bell like all kids who grew up in the 90s, but there was something about the 90s, particularly the latter half of the decade, that symbolized something special for Black teens like me. It was an era in which Black Tokenism (the era of Bryant Gumbel and The Cosby Show) went from being a nice-to-have to an era when all the other cultures in America began realizing us Black Americans had something so awesome that they wanted it for themselves, too.
Everything from music (hip-hop and R&B) and fashion (sneaker culture and streetwear) to which celebrities were considered the most attractive (from Denzel Washington and Halle Berry all the way to present-day with Idris Elba and Beyonce) has been impacted by this era. And by “impacted” I primarily mean assimilated.
More than anyone other than Michael Jordan, Stuart Scott is the guy who ushered in this era I speak of. Stuart Scott is the man who represented the evolution from Black Tokenism (Oprah) to Black Assimilation (Jay-Z).
In many ways, being Black is still looked upon as a negative as evidenced by the events of the past year (Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner), but Stuart Scott and the era he represents symbolized a transition for us Black males.
For the first time ever perhaps, white guys wanted to be more like us instead of us constantly striving to be more like them. Scott Van Pelt and Trey Wingo stood on the shoulders of Stu Scott to make their metaphors sing louder and puns dig deeper on SportsCenter.
Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant had to compete with Larry Bird and Steve Nash for MVPs, Chris Rock battled with Seinfeld, Sandler and others for the comedy title, and no Black politician commanded a room – even one full of Black people - like Bill Clinton (and that may still be true), but there was absolutely no match for Stuart Scott.
Stu connected with our culture through sports and music in a way that no one else has come close to and at a time when assimilating was at an all-time high with the likes of Eminem, Justin Timberlake, and Iggy Azalea blurring the lines on what is or is not “Black Culture”.
Surely, if Stu Scott – an Alpha Phi Alpha man who grew up in Chicago and North Carolina – could get a lead anchor gig on SportsCenter at ESPN, then Black teens like me could go into politics or tech or any industry where the executives are primarily middle-aged white males and ascend to similar heights.
And here’s a thought! One day, maybe we won’t even have to be the talent! Maybe we could set our sights higher. Right now, there’s a young Black man or woman aspiring to be the next John Skipper, the president and real shot caller at ESPN and the only guy who can make Twitter-happy, clout-carrying Bill Simmons be silent.
No, Stuart Scott wasn’t a revolutionary. Stuart Scott wasn’t a political activist or cultural commentator. Like Michael Jordan, he came at a time and was simply so good that he didn’t have to be.
Instead, Stuart Scott was a symbol of societal progress with a smile rather than a fist, a subtle leader who’s true worth took years not just seasons to be realized, a man whose fight wasn’t against a fractured, racist system, but a merciless, colorblind disease.
If you grew up a generation before me watching Muhammad Ali and Jim Brown, you lived through the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. Howard Cosell probably broke the news to you on air.
If you grew up like me watching Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, you lived through the murders of Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur. Years before Facebook and Twitter, it may have been Stuart Scott to break that news to you or maybe even the 9/11 attacks or news of Jordan’s (final) retirement.
And, here in the year 2015, I can whole-heartedly say that for the last 20 years, there’s no man or woman, Black or white, I would rather have had major news – sports or otherwise - broken to me than my man, our man Stu.
Rest in peace. God was probably your biggest fan all along.