Sports broadcasting and hip-hop culture have each lost a juggernaut. Longtime ESPN anchor Stuart Scott has died at the age of 49, after winning a seven-year battle with cancer.
We say "winning" his battle with cancer because of how he now-famously defined the fight himself:
"When you die 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.
Stuart Scott beat cancer by living with purpose and ferocious enthusiasm throughout the entire ordeal. He beat it by competing in MMA and high-intensity cross training to "restore the energy that chemotherapy [sapped] from him." He beat it by maintaining perspective, living with purpose, and by continuously putting his daughters first. And he beat it by staying true to himself in all things from his culture to his catchphrases, regardless of what—as Rich Eisen called them—"haters" had to say about his style or identity.
Make no mistake—Stuart Scott was a trailblazer for hip-hop. He brought hip-hop culture—the clothing, the vernacular, the attitude, the music—into the world of sports broadcasting at a time when it had only been seen by the players on the court or field. As Cris Carter put it, "As an athlete...as a person who wanted to be a broadcaster, he was a role model for me. He talked on SportsCenter to me like my friends talked."
"Booyah" and "Cooler than the other side of the pillow" are the phrases that'll remain etched in America's national consciousness, but Stuart Scott's ambition to consistently refer to what in the early '90s remained a niche culture spoke volumes for millions of underrepresented Americans. Our President included.
"Over the years, he entertained us, and in the end, he inspired us—with courage and love." —Obama on Stuart Scott pic.twitter.com/OJn4jcgSCN— The White House (@WhiteHouse) January 4, 2015
He was a sports broadcasting pioneer for the hip-hop generation and accepted all that went with it. Not everyone would have remained as steadfast in representing their culture, especially given the scrutiny, pushback, and backlash he accepted along the way, but Stuart Scott never relented. As he said himself in the 2011 book Those Guys Have All The Fun:
Can I really be concened with what other people think about me who don't know me? What I've done on television is try to work hard, try to be factually correct, try to write creatively and compellingly. I want to be myself, and anyone who says, "Oh well, he's a hip-hop anchor," well, that's what I grew up on.
A lot of us—especially the younger among us—may take for granted how much (on-air) racial diversity there is in today's media. In 2015, ESPN has anchors of all races, genders, and religious backgrounds, which certainly wasn't the case when Stuart Scott arrived in Bristol in 1993. He may not have been the only black face at the network, but he was certainly the only one who would scream Chuck D's line "Hear the drummer get wicked!" during a home run highlight. Or drop a "What had happened was..." during a blooper clip. Or think to throw a twist on Slick Rick/Snoop Dogg with "Vlade Dadi, we likes to party" during a Vlade Divac highlight on national television.
A photo posted by Peter Rosenberg (@rosenbergradio) on Jan 1, 2015 at 9:34am PST
Because of his reach, Stuart Scott represented more than just a voice for the brothers in the barbershop, he represented a dramatic shift in what was to be considered American pop culture. He wasn't included on the most popular SportsCenter broadcasts and the biggest ESPN events simply because Disney wanted to connect with a few black people. Stuart Scott earned his spot at the top of his profession through hard work, and through that hard work he also played an integral role in normalizing hip-hop culture as American pop culture.
Moments before writing, I first searched for eulogy examples and found myself reading one on Guru from Gang Starr, who passed away from cancer in 2010. About halfway through the piece, it struck me that I had been looking for similar examples in the world of hip-hop instead of, say, in a story about a deceased newspaper reporter. But, in fact, that's not strange. Because Stuart Scott was hip-hop. He was the first in his arena to bring that culture—our culture—to the national stage, and did so while maintaining a level of professionalism admirable to those who may have been more familiar with Harry Connick, Jr. than Junior M.A.F.I.A. He remained true to who he was and what he loved, and through doing this became one of the best-known American sports broadcasters who ever lived.
Rest in peace.