If you’re at all a fan of sports, by now you have probably heard or read one of the many earnest tributes to Stuart Scott that ESPN and other outlets have been sharing over the past 24 hours. Among the most moving was from Rich Eisen, who teamed with him on SportsCenter years ago and spoke from the heart just 10 minutes after hearing the news of his death. (He later peppered a recap of the Colts-Bengals playoff game with Stuart Scott catchphrases, a fitting homage to a man who coined/popularized so many.)
I don’t presume to know him nearly as well as Eisen, Steve Levy, Dan Patrick, Hannah Storm, Scott Van Pelt or others did. However, 10 years ago, I interviewed him for Maxim magazine. The experience stuck with me for a few reasons, and now I feel compelled to share a bit, as his approach to life has lessons for us all.
The biggest thing that struck me when I sat down with him, at a bar in midtown Manhattan, was how big a dork he was. No, really. As cool as he could sound on air, he was kinda goofy in person. The main reason was his bespectacled, Marty Feldman-like eyes. I asked him about them and learned that his left eye hadn’t been the same since he attended Jets training camp in 2002, ran routes for Chad Pennington and ultimately “caught” a pass from the high-powered Jugs throwing machine, right in the face.
This guy had a tremendous amount of bravado. He told me that, as a wide receiver in high school, he had a towel with two big S’s on it. They stood not for Stuart Scott but for Sugar Shoes, a nickname he came up with for himself.
The injury required multiple reconstructive surgeries and for the rest of his life, his left eye never quite looked right. But the story itself is very illustrative of Scott’s extreme passion for sports. Not just talking about them but actually playing them—or attempting to, anyway.
He told me that, as a wide receiver in high school, he had a towel with two big S’s on it. They stood not for Stuart Scott but for Sugar Shoes, a nickname he came up with for himself.
He also boasted that he could run a 40-yard-dash in under 5 seconds, and that LaDainian Tomlinson himself had assured him of that fact while they were running around before a Pro Bowl in Hawaii. I found that very hard to believe, and being much younger and fitter back then, I fought the urge to challenge him to a race in Central Park on the spot.
These anecdotes say a couple things to me: 1. This guy had a tremendous amount of bravado and 2. He desperately wanted to be great at sports. (As Merril Hoge related on Mike & Mike this morning, he would show up to flag football with wristbands and taped ankles and NFL Films music blaring from his car.) And while quality no. 1 wasn’t quite enough to take him to the pros on the field, he was able to channel that irrational confidence into a style of sports broadcasting the likes of which had never really been seen.
He had his haters, sure, but the dude just went for it and never let criticism slow him down. He brought that same chutzpah to his battle with cancer, putting on a brave face and inspiring others with his refusal to back down or change. As he said at the 2014 ESPYs: “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.”
The lesson for us all, I think, is that there’s no replacement for passion, energy and belief in the face of whatever life throws at you, be it a football or a life-threatening illness. Boo-yah, Stu, we’ll miss you.