LZ Granderson: Stuart Scott brought the sound of hip-hop to the sports anchoring world
A personable interviewer and nimble reporter, Scott fought cancer bravely
Editor’s Note: LZ Granderson is a CNN contributor, a senior writer for ESPN and a lecturer at Northwestern University. He is a former Hechinger Institute fellow, and his commentary has been recognized by the Online News Association, the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. Follow him on Twitter @locs_n_laughs. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author
A much-used – and thus often misused – moniker that anoints the something or someone that greets the status quo with a seismic blow so great that the game is placed on a new, irreversible trajectory.
The internal combustion engine, for example, was a game changer.
Electricity, Eleanor Roosevelt and Nike were game changers.
And longtime ESPN anchor Stuart Scott was also a game changer.
If you find that proclamation a bit hyperbolic, it’s only because you either didn’t know or have forgotten how sports anchoring sounded before Scott’s arrival at ESPN in 1993.
Howard Cosell brought personality to the field. Lesley Visser, Bryant Gumbel and others smashed glass ceilings. Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick brought jovial irreverence. But it was Scott who looked at the profession and doused it with hot sauce.
As hip-hop was shoehorning its way into mainstream, Scott – with his “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” fade and urban vernacular – was one of its leading ambassadors.
Though he was so much more than a young black sports anchor at the right time at the right place. He was a workhorse, a personable interviewer and a nimble reporter.
The creative insight wrapped around one of his popular catchphrases, “as cool as the other side of the pillow,” showed he was a talent who didn’t sacrifice journalistic integrity just to bring barbershop talk to television.
His humorous flashes of black Americana didn’t appeal to everyone and his critics were not shy about sending him letters to let him know. But for those of us who longed for a soundtrack to accompany the soul of the new generation of black athletes who were redefining how big-time sports were played, Scott was a welcomed and masterful composer. And the music he made was a sound that today is repeatedly mimicked. Sometimes by earnest youngsters who have no idea who dared to change the game, like someone’s classic hip-hop playlist without the Sugarhill Gang.
My friends and I watched Scott in college at night and would use his catchphrases – such as “booyah” – to trash-talk each other on the court the next day. When I was offered a job at ESPN 10 years ago, meeting Scott was one of my top priorities on my list. And when I finally did get to introduce myself, I was so nervous, I tripped over my own name. This was before his first cancer diagnosis in 2007.
Our first meeting was brief but his advice was long lasting: Do your homework and be yourself. Each time I saw Scott after that, he didn’t just greet me with a smile, he met me with infectious joy. This, even after the cancer had returned.
“When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer,” he said at the ESPY’s last July. “You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live.”
There are not many of us who have not been intimately touched by this terrible disease. Some have lost mothers, sisters, daughters. Others forced to say goodbye to fathers, brothers and sons. We fundraise through local 5Ks, wear yellow, LiveStrong wristbands or find something pink to wear in October, all to let cancer know it will not win.
I was not a close friend of Scott’s, but I can tell you whenever I spoke with him, he was the embodiment of this spirit. Never pity, always fighting.
Perhaps spending 20 years at ESPN encountering some of the greatest champions in the history of sports influenced his approach to his own battle. Maybe his demeanor was just a natural reflection of who he was, considering he played club football at the University of North Carolina and “game recognizes game” was one of his on-air sayings.
Or maybe he knew we were all watching and he never wanted to let us down. The way he knew being one of but a handful of black men on primetime television in the early 1990s, we were all watching. The way he knew young journalists roaming the halls at a National Association of Black Journalists conference were watching. The way he knew aspiring journalists and sports fans everywhere were watching.
And listening – to the songs only he could write.
To the music only he dared to play.
Like many of my ESPN colleagues, I am deeply saddened by his passing. But there is comfort in knowing each time a sports anchor tries to add a little somethin’-somethin’ to their report, we can still hear his voice.