From Jack Johnson to Muhammad Ali, from T.O. to Richard Sherman, America has always had a love/hate relationship with the Black sports figure. Larger than life with an attitude and ego to match, in many ways they could be considered the ancestors and counterparts of today’s rap stars. They are both seen alternately as “trouble men” and America’s heroes, worshipped for their skills on their respective fields but often vilified for their personas away from it. Their intelligence is often ignored but they are also allowed to express their blackness, however limited that expression may be for whatever times they live in.
In Corporate America, it ain’t like that. Conservative by nature, submerging your personality into the larger corporate culture is the only way to succeed, especially for black men. Especially in broadcast journalism.
All of this is why Stuart Scott was so important to journalism and why his death from cancer at age 49 is so tragic. He understood the swagger of the pro athlete and the dedication of the sports fan, and translated both for the larger world using the language of hip-hop. In doing so, he changed the sportscasting game in a way that hadn’t been done since the days of Ring Lardner or Howard Cosell.
Listening to Stuart recap a game was like watching a rapper freestyle, spitting lyrics off the dome and hitting you with metaphors that sounded dissimilar for a second before conveying perfectly what just happened once your brain caught up. Stuart’s passion and immediacy matched the speed of the touchdowns, blocked shots, slam dunks and half court three-pointers he reported on. Whether namechecking Luke, Wu-Tang or Cypress Hill or using the latest hip hop rap tracks and catchphrases during airtime, his mainstream audience enjoyed his enthusiasm, but the hip-hop heads/sports fans like myself watching saw it another way: a broadcast version of “the nod”, a not so subtle acknowledgement of our presence. Like with so many cultural media trailblazers, the corporate bosses were hesitant. But the public ate it up.
Iconic journalist Ed Bradley wore an earring in his left ear during the later years of his career. It didn’t effect the excellence of his reporting, but there was concern by CBS executives that it would be a distraction. It became his trademark, along with his continued excellence. The same can be said for Stuart Scott.
There has always been a battle that many brothers in corporate jobs have to fight: how to be professional and still be comfortable in your own skin, relatable to other people using your own background and cultural references. Stuart Scott made that battle a little less difficult for countless businesspeople of color by just being himself. The language of Corporate America and Sportscasting got a little bit cooler because of him.
Raise the Roof up there Big Stu.