Stuart Scott's Impact on Sports Is Still Felt Today
One of the hardest parts of this piece was finding a picture that defined who Stuart Scott was. The other monumental challenge was writing about the impact he had, not just on sports and sports media, but also on aspiring writers like myself who may have been inspired to get into the business by the man who was “as cool as the other side of the pillow.”
If you grew up wanting to be a sports reporter in the 2000s, you probably watched SportsCenter religiously. Among the many cool people and voices on throughout the day, one man’s personality, swagger and catchphrases stood out, and not only transcended sports but also pop-culture.
That man was Stuart Scott, and Friday would’ve been his 54th birthday.
Scott passed away on January 4, 2015 at the age of 49, after a lengthy battle with cancer, but his impact on how we talk about sports professionally is still felt today. And will be for generations to come.
I grew up watching what felt like the Golden Era of SportsCenter and ESPN. I can still hear Chris Berman’s numerous catchphrases way in the “back, back, back, back, back” of my head and have felt the impact of every investigative story Bob Ley reported on Outside the Lines and E:60. I always enjoyed Dan Patrick and Kenny Mayne’s bone-dry humor. But when Stuart Scott was on the screen on SportsCenter, it felt different. It felt energetic, hip and rebellious.
Stuart Scott was must-see TV.
He did report on sports how a normal television anchor would or even should. In the traditionally buttoned-up, not-so-diverse world of journalism — a world where you’ve got to speak and write a certain way and have no emotion or sense of bias — Scott added energy, flair, emotion, and excitement (and maybe some bias towards his beloved UNC Tarheels). Whether it was a news hit or highlights, if Scott was on the desk, you felt the electricity.
“Our business, not that I’m particularly proud of this, is full of cynics, smart-asses, know-it-alls who don’t actually know all that much,” ESPN’s Michael Wilbon said in a column the day after Scott passed away. “Everybody has become Simon Cowell, turning most every conversation into an intolerant rant. Not Stuart. He was up, upbeat, full of energy, always had something good to say.”
Scott made sports cool. He made the sports anchor desk unique compared to other, harder news beats out there. He made sports reporting what it’s supposed to be: fun. His time on SportsCenter and the whole “This is SportsCenter” era reflected that.
Scott changed the game by being nothing more, and nothing less than himself.
He was unapologetically himself and the strength he showed by refusing to conform might have made him one of the greatest influencers we’ve had in sports. He didn’t have to shoot a basketball, win six rings, or get drafted highly to make an impact.
He brought hip-hop culture to the SportsCenter world through numerous catchphrases and the way he approached his stories. He’s most known for his two staples: “boo-yah” and “as cool as the other side of the pillow.” But also made occasional hip-hop references to artists like Lauryn Hill’s “plays his enemies like a game of chess” and LL Cool J’s “doing it and doing it and doing it well.”
Another writer influenced by Scott was Justin Tinsley for The Undefeated. Two years ago he wrote a tribute to Scott on what then would’ve been his 52nd birthday and reminded us of Scott’s impact.
“He should be here hosting SportsCenter. He should be here presenting teams with their championship trophies,” Tinsley said. “He should be here making JAY-Z 4:44 references on SportsCenter because that’s who Stuart Orlando Scott was.
In the way that Marvin Gaye’s 1970 What’s Going On changed the direction of Motown, in the way Eddie Murphy altered the scope of comedy, in the way Gwen Ifill brought so much authenticity and excellence to her journalism, Stu was just that for ESPN, and for sports media, period. The way he spoke was the way so many athletes wanted and want to be spoken about: with unparalleled charisma and respect.”
I never knew Stuart Scott personally. I knew him like most of us outside of Bristol did: through the TV from SportsCenter, and occasionally on ESPN’s NFL and NBA coverage. But even without a word spoken toward one another, he inspired me and many others to get into sports media. It wasn’t what he did or how well he did his job that inspired us, but it was with his unapologetic sense of swagger and his ability to be himself.
Scott seemed to make everyone happy, whether you knew him in person or only on TV. He inspired many that they too could get into sports media and not completely have to conform to tradition.
Sports media became Stuart Scott’s world. We’re all still paying rent.