MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Pioneering Scott blazed a new trail in sports broadcasting

Late ESPN anchor epitomized courage on and off camera

Pioneering Scott blazed a new trail in sports broadcasting

His was a new voice, uniquely his own. It spoke to people who hadn't been spoken to before and changed the landscape of broadcasting forever. In that way, Stuart Scott's legacy is simple.

"Attitude and energy and lexicon," his colleague Scott Van Pelt said in a brilliant, touching and heartbreaking tribute ESPN aired on Sunday in the wake of Scott's death at the incomprehensibly young age of 49.

Yes, that voice. It reflected the Chicago that Scott knew. It was a product of his friends and his values, and it had humor and dignity and an occasionally wicked needle.

"Booyah!" he would yell.

No one had ever uttered, "Booyah!" on network television before, and some weren't entirely comfortable with it. It was, well, too much street.

It was also brilliant, both in its simplicity and its use. It could be used to define a moment of celebration. On the other hand, if you were the guy on the receiving end of one of those Kobe Bryant jams, "Booyah!" was an instant of humiliation.

Scott knew it, too. He was precise with the way he used language. He crafted it and polished it. It's just that he made it sound so natural.

Just call him butter 'cuz he's on a roll.

Scott was absolutely convinced there was an audience out there who wanted something else. He was the guy city kids knew. He spoke for them and to them. He represented diversity and so much more.

"I was part of the conversation, which I wasn't before," said ESPN's Jay Harris, who is, like Scott, black.

Reaction? ESPN was flooded with it -- both positive and negative. The amazing thing is, Scott never wavered. He believed there was room for someone who didn't sound like the others.

You ain't got to go home, but you got to get the heck up outta here.

From the moment he walked onto the set at ESPN in 1993, Scott's voice and style set him apart. He gained a following, too, a huge one. Saturday Night Live once did a parody of him, the ultimate honor.

"He didn't just push the envelope," said Dan Patrick. "He bulldozed it."

There were plenty of people who told ESPN to pull him off the air, that his act wasn't proper. But there were millions who loved the guy, loved the way he used the language and the way he made them laugh. He was one of the unique voices -- Keith Olbermann, Patrick, Stephen A. Smith, etc. -- who have made ESPN what it is today. There was room for all of them, as different as they all are.

"He had a strong conviction in who he wanted to be," ESPN's Suzy Kolber said. "[He spoke to a] segment of the audience that hadn't been represented. He nailed it."

Scott understood what he'd accomplished when he'd be on assignment and hear how those catchphrases would be screamed back at him, how fans clearly were enjoying his SportsCenter words as much as the plays he was describing.

He interviewed Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods at various points in his career, as well as Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. He mattered to a world beyond sports.

"His presence catapulted that show and himself to another stratosphere," ESPN executive Norby Williamson said.

Like gravy on a biscuit, it's all good!

As for the criticism, he was good with that, too. He thrived on it, seemed energized by it. He knew that he had found something that touched people, that touched their emotions on an assortment of levels.

As cool as the other side of the pillow.

Scott began his fight against cancer in November 2007. His indomitable will and relentless spirit would be tested in a way it never had before. He continued to work, continued to grace his colleagues with his dignity, humor and warmth. In his toughest fight, he became a bright and shining light for thousands of others.

Will this chapter of his life be his ultimate legacy? He had shown courage and determination to rise to the highest levels of his profession. Maybe all that was a prelude to the real fight, his seven years of pain and fear, surgery and suffering.

Late in his life, he would say that he was determined to live for his two daughters, now 19 and 15. He said he couldn't bear the thought of not being with them. He kept working and vowed this fight would be waged on his terms. ESPN anchor Steve Levy said he would watch Scott catching naps during commercial breaks, trying to convince his body to keep going.

"It just killed me to see him like that," Levy said.

And yet he did keep going, determinedly.

"He didn't know what stage he was at -- and didn't want to know," ESPN executive Vince Doria said. "He wanted to live his life. He was determined not to let his illness define him."

When Scott rose from his hospital bed in July to be honored at the ESPYS, he was thin and gaunt. His co-workers worried about his being able to deliver in front of the cameras one more time. He did, in arguably his finest hour.

"When you die, it doesn't mean you lose to cancer," said Scott. "You beat cancer by how you live, why you live and in the manner in which you live."

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.