Where Sports Met Style: Stuart Scott, Rest in Peace

Stuart Scott, ESPN announcer

Photo courtesy of ESPN

Where Sports Met Style: Stuart Scott, Rest in Peace
| published January 5, 2015 |

By Thursday Review editors

The traditional, old school phrase “rest in peace” might be laughable to him. After all, this was a guy who showed up to work almost every day despite a long battle with multi-front cancer, and a guy who worked out at mixed martial arts despite huge scars across his stomach and sometimes unhealed wounds on his abdomen. One TR friend told us in an email, “he’s in heaven, but he is not resting.”

His unvarnished passion for sports made him into an icon for millions of people who love sports with the same intensity he displayed, and his face became synonymous with “sports news.”

Stuart Scott’s style and tenor became the most recognizable and defining trademark of ESPN for a generation of sports fans. When he joined the on-camera team of talent at the young ESPN in 1993, the network was already on its way up, but it was his cool and cache’ which helped to shape the way the network’s news and game recap format shows like SportsCenter took ESPN to dizzying heights, and made it the envy of cable companies and other communications giants.

Scott, who was 49 when he died last week, had battled cancer for many years—a very public fight which he hoped would serve as an inspiration to others who faced cancer.

It had all started in late 2007. Forced to leave a Monday Night Football taping in Pittsburg because of a stomach ache, which turned into severe abdominal pain, he was taken to the hospital. His appendix was removed. A short time later, a routine tissue analysis revealed that he had cancer, a rare form called apendiceal cancer. The procedure to extract the appendix was not enough, doctors discovered, and he underwent more surgery and cancer treatment, including chemotherapy and radiation. Healthy and young, he beat the cancer. But then it returned, forcing more treatment regimens into his schedule. Again, he was declared cancer free, but again it returned.

Neither the cancer nor the extreme treatment regimens slowed him down. In fact, he became a very public example to others of how to battle cancer by taking life head-on every hour of every day. Scott tried to never let the sickness keep him from his anchor desk at ESPN, nor did he let the disease prevent him from testing the limits of his passions for martial arts, physical fitness, and his love of family. Though he never shied from the recommended treatments or the surgical procedures—which often involved removal of parts of his stomach, colon, and other internal parts—he also fought cancer by willing it to the back of his priorities.

He also never wanted to linger over medical tests, charts, or the varying—and frequent—dire and dark medical prognoses.

“I never ask what stage I’m in,” Scott told New York Times reporter Richard Sandomir once, “I haven’t wanted to know. It won’t change anything for me. All I know is that it would cause more worry and a higher degree of freak-out. Stage 1, 2 or 8, it doesn’t matter. I’m trying to fight it the best I can.”

It was fitting that he regarded cancer as both a nuisance and a challenge. Scott’s on-air style was an high-energy, optimist’s grind of enthusiasm—a potent mix of hip-hop, street savvy, dead-on metaphor and spot-on analysis. His breezy jargon and easy dissemination of sports facts literally realigned the way the narrative of sports has become so central to the TV viewing of millions of Americans, and sports fans worldwide. And that easy banter and on-camera vibe made sports talk popular with millions of younger fans, ensuring a following for football, basketball, baseball, and hockey to a generation long detached from the informed but straight play-by-play of a Pat Sumrall, a Don Meredith, or a Brent Musburger, or even the earliest generation of sports talkers, like Chris Berman.

Some television historians, and many of his colleagues, have said that Stuart Scott redefined sports news and sports coverage.

“He didn’t just push the envelope,” said former ESPN anchor Dan Patrick, “he bulldozed the envelope.”

So wide was his reach, that even President Barack Obama weighed-in with a tribute to Scott and his legacy.

“I will miss Stuart Scott,” the President said, “20 years ago, Stu helped usher in a new way to talk about our favorite teams and the day’s best plays. For much of those 20 years, public service and campaigns have kept me from my family—but wherever I went, I could flip on the TV and Stu and his colleagues on SportsCenter were there. He entertained us, and in the end, he inspired us.”

Many of those who became anchors and stars at ESPN’s Sports Center went on to other jobs and other posts—Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick, to name two examples of personalities who went on to alternate forms of TV stardom. But Stuart Scott stayed at ESPN, despite the other offers, and his passion for colorful sports talk remained true.

Even during this last round of battles with his cancer, which had spread to other internal organs, Scott refused to let the disease or its heavy-handed treatments get in his way. Many of his colleagues—in front of the camera as well as behind the scenes—wondered aloud how he managed to keep up that energetic pace. Scott told others that his relentless regimen of gym workouts and martial arts training-sparring helped to keep him sharp, but also heled to distract his body from the cancer. The physical exercise and intense activity also served, he said, as therapy for both mind and body. He began to lose weight in recent years—in part because of the cancer, but also in part because of the workouts—but he remained physically fit to the very end.

When he accepted an award for perseverance at a recent TV sports awards program and dinner this past summer—an award offered for not just courage but also wit and grace—he told those present that a person’s death is not defined by cancer.

“When you die,” he said, “it does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live.”

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Remembering Tony C and the Impossible Dream; Kevin Robbie; Thursday Review; October 26, 2013).