Stuart Scott, the longtime ESPN sportscaster, died Sunday at the age of 49 after a seven-year battle with cancer. Here, Charles Fountain, an associate professor of journalism at Northeastern University, discusses Scott’s legacy as one of sports broadcasting’s signature voices.
Scott is perhaps best know for his quirky catchphrases, such as “Boo-Yow!” and “As cool as the other side of the pillow,” which long ago became staples in the sports lexicon. What will you remember most about Scott’s sportscasting style?
There are probably a couple hundred people who have anchored SportsCenter since it first went on the air more than a third of a century ago. Yet there are scarcely more than a half-dozen who stand out—Chris Berman and Bob Ley, Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann, Linda Cohn. Stuart Scott is one of these standouts. In a show that’s built on formula—the glib narration of high-energy highlights and interviews with sports newsmakers—Scott broke the formula.
Or maybe what he really did was exploit the formula, by exaggerating it so. His was a special skill set, a singular connection to the audience that can’t be taught or nurtured—one that is near impossible to describe yet also impossible not to recognize. In the mostly risk-averse, vanilla world of modern television, Scott was the iconoclast. Not everyone loved him, but everyone recognized that he was very much unlike those around him. He nudged his craft forward, and not many of us, in any field, can say that.
ESPN anchor Stan Verrett described Scott as a “trailblazer not only because he was black—obviously black—but because of his style, his demeanor, his presentation.” In your view, how did Scott’s 21 years at ESPN impact the sports broadcasting industry—and what effect will his death have on the future of the field?
By embracing his ethnic heritage and culture, Stuart Scott transcended it. If his language had an edge and a hipness to it that let him connect with young African-American viewers, it also had a poetry, coherence, and a singularity that caused a lot of middle-aged white guys to sit up and listen too. I don’t think we’ll see his like anytime soon. As with Chris Berman and Howard Cosell before him, Scott’s style lends itself very well to Saturday Night Live-type parodies, but isn’t going to translate very well to imitation.
Like Scott, you began your career as a local television sportscaster. What advice do you have for aspiring sportscasters?
In a nod to the career of Stuart Scott, trust your personality and individuality. But I think the best advice is same advice that E. B. White so famously gave so long ago about living in New York City—no one should do it unless he or she “is willing to be lucky.”