Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Oh, Stuart, we hardly we knew you

      I am writing about Stuart Scott, the ESPN anchor/announcer whose death on Jan. 4 sparked an avalanche of tributes, memories and condolences that -- frankly -- surprised me.
      That is surprises me says more about me than him, that I didn't appreciate what he offered sports viewers for 22 years on ESPN. Fact is, I missed about 20 of those years.
      But quickly, let me offer this: I feel for anyone who has to battle cancer and I feel for their loved ones, their friends and their colleagues. In Stuart's case, he had a seven-year battle and he had the world rooting for him.
      He fought it publicly, he fought it courageously ... and I never even realized it. I paid no attention to Stuart Scott.
      We aren't supposed to speak ill of the dead, but I'll be honest. As I told a friend Monday, I could not stand watching him or listening to him. I thought he was a clown. He was too "cool" for me, too hip. I'm just an old-school guy.
      Again, that says more about me. I put a lot of announcers on the turnoff list. See them on TV, turn them off. Or I flip them off; flip the channel.
      I have written about TV announcers/talk show personalities a couple of times previously, so you might know that Skip Bayless is at the top of the "turnoff" list, and Keith Olbermann -- despite taking sports and political positions I agree with -- is right there. I never liked Tom Brookshier a few decades ago and I try to avoid Brent Musberger now.
      Look, I have a long list of "likes" and "dislikes" in announcing (see previous pieces).
      But, of course, no announcer will ever be as totally irritating to me -- and millions -- as the king of bombastic pomposity ... How-ard Co-sell. What he was, mostly, was a name-dropper. In my opinion, he commented so ignorantly so often on football and especially baseball, a thought verified completely in a chapter of fellow announcer Al Michaels' new book.
Stuart Scott (from ESPN Images)
      Seems to me that the emergence of ESPN as an every-day, world-wide sports voice spawned this proliferation of announcers who had to have a shtick. Chris Berman only preceded the snarky, opinionated Olbermann, and then along came Stuart Scott and Rich Eisen as ESPN2 anchors.
      I didn't like them from the start. Sorry, I was never a "Boo-Yah!" guy. So after about a year, I just didn't watch them much.
      Eventually Stuart was everywhere -- the main guy at the NBA championship presentation, a Super Bowl mainstay, someone who had his own language and catchphrases. But I never caught on. If I saw him on, I hit the "mute" bottom or changed channels.
      The past couple of days I have read several beautiful tributes to him from ESPN people, and I watched the 15-minute ESPN remembrance -- with comments from his bosses and co-workers. I'd never seen his speech at last year's ESPYs accepting the Jimmy V Perseverance Award and, honestly, watching that had me choked up.
      President Obama released a statement with his appreciation for Stuart's work and humanity. Twitter was filled Sunday with comments from athletes, administrators, coaches, media people ... it was overwhelming.
      So I was ignorant about his place in the sports world. I asked a few friends what they thought. A couple my age thought what I thought. But one said, "I really believe he was much deeper in his thoughts/outlooks on sports than all of the silly stuff he would say." Another friend, some two decades younger, said he didn't really have much an opinion, but was surprised at the strong reaction.
      Another friend, 10 years younger, said, "He was the anti-Chris Berman. Berman is contrived and tired. Scott was hip and unpredictable."
      Tim Brando, our Shreveport-based national media personality, worked with Scott at ESPN in the mid-1990s and wrote a tribute in The Shreveport Times this week.                      
      "Stuart’s heart was always in the right place," Tim wrote, "and if ya didn’t know him but you formed opinions (as people often do) by watching him on television, you simply didn’t get it, and certainly didn’t get him!"
      That would describe me.
      Tim also added that Scott (and Eisen) were "misunderstood by many" and that he (Brando)
"as a baby boomer, I didn’t always connect generationally."
      That, too, would be me.
      Valid point also that we -- the media, fans -- make judgments on people (coaches, athletic directors, politicians, sports columnists) based on what we see on TV or on one- or two-time meetings. I know I do. Pretty shallow, but also a human trait ... and not necessarily a good one.
      It's good to know that Stuart Scott was a friendly, loyal person, good to most everyone he met and dealt with, a loving father of two young daughters, a guy determined to do things his way -- no matter the criticism.
      So I never liked his style; I wasn't cool with it. But the evidence is in: Stuart was cool, like the other side of the pillow.


  1. From Patrick Locke Sr.: You hit it right on the head (except Olbermann was always my most un-watchable and Stephen Smith/Anything NBA no longer interests me). I wish the SEC Network would have given Tim Brando a fulltime gig there to be broadcast out of Shreveport.

  2. From Pat Booras: When Stuart Scott first appeared on ESPN, I remember thinking, 'Man, this cat is out there.' As the years went by, I learned to go out there part of the way, to meet him halfway. I also never knew he had cancer; 49 is too young to leave the earth. Glad I learned to enjoy much of his work. Blessed thoughts for his young daughters and family.

  3. From Tim Looney: Frankly, I didn't even know who he was.

  4. From Ed English: Like so many others, a good, good piece. I was not necessarily a fan, but I put Scott in the middle category of announcers, which meant I only turned the channel if the subject matter bored me, not because the messenger annoyed me.
    Now the guy who makes me dive for the remote like Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark is Stephen A. Smith. He is the African-American who has come closest to Gilbert Gottfried in terms creating noise for which there is no known benefit for mankind.

  5. From Sandi Atkinson: I really liked Scott and Eisen ... from having watched them on. TV. I am like most people, quick to make a judgement. Olbermann was instant dislike. Same for Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless. I like Berman's personality, even if he goes overboard sometimes.
    Yes, I also make these snap decisions on coaches (re: Chavis, Miles, Meyer). But I instantly adore some of the coaches that many people think are crass or egotistical. I loved Schembechler. Spurrier is also a favorite.
    Guess this all just makes me "human!"

  6. From Jim Pruett: Well said. I just don't watch enough talk-sports-TV to know many of them. I do know Sir Charles and like him a ton, which is close to his current, non-playing weight. Honestly, I could not have told you Stuart Scott's name before the last week.

  7. From Ross Montelbano: Good How-ARD story for you. I was friends with Jim Harris, the Oklahoma QB from the '50s. Jim was on the very first Dallas Cowboys team and became lifelong friends with Don Meredith. So Meredith calls Jim one day and says that they are going to be doing Monday Night Football from New York and why didn't he come up the weekend before and spend some time with him and Cosell. So Jim goes to NYC and meets up with Dandy Don where he and Cosell are staying. Meredith suggest that they join How-ARD in the hotel bar. It was early afternoon and there was almost no one there, except Cosell and he was sitting in the far corner by himself. Jim said Meredith puts his hands to both sides of his mouth and shouts, "HEY HOWARD, I SEE YOU'RE SITTIN' WITH ALL YOUR CLOSEST FRIENDS!!!"

  8. From Marty Mule': From a person who once did a story with him (Scott), best thing you ever wrote. Not a sentence I cannot agree with.

  9. From Jimmy Russell: You made good points. I did not care for him that much as an announcer or commentator. We form our opinions on what we see. Must have been a fine person.

  10. From Tommy Canterbury: Well, agree with Skip (Bayless) and Keith (Olbermann) analysis totally, and others. But Stuart, I just always liked. Good job.

  11. From George Sylvie: I agree with you. Scott was long on style, short on substance -- mostly a fan and less a journalist. But as an inspiration to many black kids to enter our field, he was a godsend. Perhaps that's the way we'll get the Ed Bradley of sports. If so, I'll take it. Keep up the good work.

  12. From John Sturbin: Seems to me that many/most of ESPN's personalities inevitably become victims of overexposure and so we tire of them. Chris Berman, aka Fred Flintstone, is the prime example, repeating his favorite clips as The Swami, etc., every NFL weekend. Used to enjoy the nicknames; can't stand 'em no more.
    My only problem with Keith Olbermann is his penchant for inserting clips or stories about himself -- mostly from his first tour of duty with ESPN -- into almost every "Olbermann" telecast. Liked him better when he was ripping Dick Cheney.
    And consider this -- bet there's a whole generation of current TV sports fans who have no idea of the love/hate relationship Howard Cosell developed with the American public in the 1970s and 1980s. I mean, the guy morphed into a variety TV host at one point, if memory serves. Today, that's known as "crossover branding," or some such BS tag.
    As noted, Stuart Scott was too hip for me. The fact that he fought, and beat, cancer for seven years without much on-air fanfare largely escaped me. His industry colleagues obviously thought the world of him and his legacy is his daughters, and the catch-phrases that have become part of the sporting lexicon.
    Still, it's pretty hard to top former ESPN talking head and "The Daily Show" host Craig Kilborn, who famously declared on Comedy Central: "When news breaks...we fix it!"