Remembering ESPN anchor Stuart Scott: Personality resonates in story telling

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1st video: AP reports Sunday, Jan. 4, 2014, death of ESPN sports anchor Stuart Scott at age 49; 2nd video: Reflective piece of ESPYs and Jimmy Valvano award to Scott; 3rd video: Former ESPN colleague Rich Eisen of the NFL Network tearfully remembers Scott, shortly after learning of his passing from cancer.
 

ESPN's Stuart Scott dies / Headline Surfer®DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Like many sports fans across the country and elsewhere in this digital world, I was shocked when I learned through social media that longtime ESPN Sports Center anchor and personality Stuart Scott had died of cancer on this Sunday morning early in the new year. He was 49, though with his youthful look, he seemed ageless.

With the likes of Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick featured on the anchor desk, Scott's arrival, first on ESPN2 in 1993, seemed odd. Then again, I was seeing Sports Center as a white guy, comfortable with the cliche phrases of Patrick and the dry wit of Olbermann and the likes of Kenny Mayne.

Then came the catch phrase of catch phrases: "Boo-yah!" This was Scott, described as the hip-hop Howard Cosell; brash, unapologetic and yet sincere. He was fresh, but in a respectful way. He also was very entertaining, and he grew on me and countless other sports fans. And what a departure from traditional black sportscasters like Mike Turico, hired by ESPN in 1991, vanilla-like in his approach to delivering the sports news of the day.

And certainly Scott was a major departure from the likes of Greg Gumbell, among the early anchors when ESPN first came on the scene in 1979, before he moved on to the NFL Today pre-game show in 1988, and later as a broadcaster for CBS game telecasts. I knew Scott had cancer, but he was so nondescript about it and with his defiance, like many, I thought he just might beat it. 

So, I was sad when I turned to ESPN earlier in the day and saw a tearful Hannah Storm and later in the evening, longtime NFL Live host Trey Wingo, who broke down, describing a time he and Scott hung out together and talked about everything but shop. Wingo told his TV audience that second time never came, which he tearfully regretted.

For sure, Stuart Scott was different, with those old-school black-rimmed eyeglasses, similar to those worn by Malcolm X. And while he certainly took every opportunity to mention "brothers" in reference to star athletes like Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal and Michael Jordan and Barry Bonds.

And though he interviewed President Obama, he also interviewed then-President Clinton. He certainly represented change in the look and sound of the ESPN personality and was far from a one-phrase personality with his "Boo-Yah!" featured on "Saturday Night Live."

Stuart was able to make sports news relevant to the fan with other catch phrases like, "You know this kid was as cool as the other side of the pillow."

A local news source of mine, David Lee Davis, a political consultant and former Daytona beat cop, like many fans on this Sunday, took to Facebook in remembering Scott.

Davis wrote: "A very sad day in sports for all who follow ESPN. Stuart Scott brought to the broadcast table a renewed look upon sports from a very objective view. He didn't play the race card and treated all subjects the same. He will be missed by fan and athlete alike. May God embrace your soul in His Heavenly Kingdom."

David Lee Davis / Headline Surfer®A local news source of mine, David Lee Davis, a political consultant and former Daytona beat cop, like many fans on this Sunday, took to Facebook in remembering Scott.

Davis wrote: "A very sad day in sports for all who follow ESPN. Stuart Scott brought to the broadcast table a renewed look upon sports from a very objective view. He didn't play the race card and treated all subjects the same. He will be missed by fan and athlete alike. May God embrace your soul in His Heavenly Kingdom." 

At first, I took issue with what Davis said referring to the race card. Was he looking at him as a black man? Would he say the same thing if the were white? But as I thought about what Davis saids as the day passed, I understood what he meant.

After all, ESPN, like all major news networks is white-male dominated, from the upper ranks of management, to the anchor desk and reporting field. In recent years, ESPN has brought in talented African-American sports personalities like Jay Harris and Sage Steele.

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First video: ESPN 'First Take' debaters Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless get into race=-related issues like coach hirings while ESPN personality Jemele Hill discusses the N-word. Below, a Wikipedia snapshot graphic of the late Stuart Scott.
 

Wikipedia snapshot of ESPN anchor Stuart Scott / Headline Surfer®And then there are African-American personalities on ESPN for whom the race card is something that seems to be shoved don the throats of a white-dominated audience. J.A. Adande, Michael Smith and Jemele Hill come to mind.

In terms of embracing and even taunting s with the race card, two ESPN personalities come to mind, one white and one black, Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith, respectively, of the sports banter debate show, "First Take."

Stuart Scott was seen as African-American when he first came on the scene and stuck to his brand of sports news delivery, he as able to blend black and white sports personalities as one as much as openly embracing his own race. And that is what David Lee Davis meant by Stuart Scott having not played the race card.

With news of Stuart Scott's passing, I thought of my own newsroom experiences, which clearly were white-dominated.

My first big metro reporting job, five years after graduating from college and coming from a small mill town in Northeastern Connecticut, was The Journal-News in West Nyack, NY (aka White Plains-based Gannett Suburban News covering Rockland, Westchester and Putnam Counties outside New York City).

It was 1989, and I walked into an-all white newsroom, something I had been used to working at two small newspapers in Connecticut. The first African-American hired in this sprawling newsroom in suburban Rockland County was David McClendon. He was tall, burly and wore an earring in his left ear. My first thought when I met him was he's a dead ringer for Lawrence Taylor. "Dead" is the operative word here, which I will explain shortly.

I know from speaking with McClendon, the frustration he felt covering a predominantly white community in Clarkstown with a small African-American populace in eclectic Nyack, a village along the Hudson River. But New City, one of the richest hamlets and the county seat, was the main news focus for McClendon.

Like those of us new to a beat, McClendon built his sources and stuck to his brand of reporting, much like mine: aggressive, raw and with little filtering. McClendon and I moved around a bit in the business of newspaper reporting.

I left The Journal-News with its signature Tappan Zee Bridge in mid-1995, and went to work for the Daytona Beach News-Journal in Central Florida, home to the "World's Most Famous Beach" and the Daytona 500. Though I was supposed to start in Daytona, covering night cops, I found myself situated in the DeLand bureau -- the county seat -- where I quietly went about pursuing my brand of journalism.

Like what I walked into in New York, Daytona was not much different. There was an African-American reporter, Valerie Whitney, who covered the business beat. While in DeLand, I pushed the envelope on reporting, engrossing myself in a major investigative series on impoverished Spring Hill, a notorious drug den and home to poor blacks, hearkening back to Reconstruction, with outhouses still on the property, though septics were long since installed.

The main newsroom in Daytona wasn't interested as it had its own Sunday investigative report on life in the Daytona projects. So my seven-day series went in the regional section. And what a surprise to the newspaper's top brass, but not me:"Spring Hill" was recognized with an honorable mention "James K. Batten Award for Outstanding Public Service" in the 1998 Sunshine State Awards.

A short time later, I was in the Daytona newsroom covering cops and courts. I left after a near-decade run, having amassed more journalism awards than the rest of the newsroom staffers combined. I remained in Central Florida, but took a job as a city editor at the Taunton Daily Gazette in Taunton, Mass.

It was there in 2005, that I re-connected with David McClendon, who had become a bureau chief at the New Haven Register. We talked occasionally by phone and email since we both worked for the same umbrella company, Journal-Register, one of the worst newspaper chains I worked for.

My aggressiveness was passed on to the several reporters I supervised and we won a bunch of New England Press Association awards and I shared a national investigative award from Suburban Newspapers of America with one of the reporters. But the commute was too much, with a young son at home in Florida.

I returned to Florida full-time in late 2006, and after trying out a couple of small papers, decided to make a dream a reality by launching internet newspaper, NSBNews.net, in April 2008, which I re-named in 2012 as HeadlineSurfer.com, having acquired the registered trademark for Headline Surfer®.

The advertising needed to support it has been a struggle, especially in the last three years since I started winning a bunch of awards for investigative and breaking news stories, the kind of reporting that has not endeared me to influential politicians and business insiders.

I regret not having met up with McClendon when I had the chance, an understanding person who shared my frustrations with the changing newspaper industry, where news was bending more and more in favor of advertisers and with print losing its luster.

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ESPN colleagues discuss the legacy of Stuart Scott, dead of cancer at 49.
 

All of this brings me back to Stuart Scott. Earlier, when I introduced my former suburban New York newsroom colleague, McClendon, I made a reference to "death." He was diagnosed in March 2009, with sarcoidosis (Boeck's disease), an autoimmune disease. Until his illness worsened, he was the associate editor of the Chi-Town Daily News, an online newspaper in Chicago, and taught journalism at the city's Loyola University.

After his diagnosis, he left his job. In July, he moved back to his parents' home in New Jersey to recuperate. On his blog, McClendon wrote: "Disease will not define me. How I handle it will define me. I will fight it and win." McClendon died that December. He was 44 years old.

David McClendon, deceased newspaper reporter / Headline Surfer®All of this brings me back to Stuart Scott. Earlier, when I introduced my former suburnan New York newsroom colleague, David McClendon (shown here at left), I made a reference to "death." McClendon was diagnosed in March 2009, with sarcoidosis (Boeck's disease), an autoimmune disease. Until his illness worsened, he was the associate editor of the Chi-Town Daily News, an online newspaper in Chicago, and taught journalism at the city's Loyola University.

After his diagnosis, he left his job. In July, he moved back to his parents' home in New Jersey to recuperate. On his blog, McClendon wrote: "Disease will not define me. How I handle it will define me. I will fight it and win." McClendon died that December. He was 44 years old.

I am saddened to learn of the passing of a talented journalist like Stuart Scott who made it big and just as sad when those I have I worked with and knew have passed on, too.

And today, I saw my past come full circle when I received a Facebook inquiry on this sad Sunday from Valerie Whitney, who was a business writer at the Daytona paper and now teaching at Bethune-Cookman University, a private historic black college in Daytona Beach.

Whitney wrote: "HI Henry. I have been trying to reach you. Are you available to speak to a class of journalism students?" I responded, "Yes, of course," and included my cell number.

At 52 years of age, I've been pushing the journalism envelope for more than 30 years, blending old-fashioned pavement-pounding shoe leather in an online forum where a 13-inch MacBook Air laptop and a hand-held video camera are the tools (along with reporter's notebook and pen) and wherever WiFi is accessible serves as a makeshift newsroom when I'm not at home writing in Sanford, Fla.

Often, I feel stressed and frustrated with being excluded by government and chamber types who abhor my brand of award-winning journalism and do their best to ensure advertising streams are blocked off.

But I'm alive and enjoy reporting the news as much, if not more than Stuart Scott, even without the fame and fortune. But I wouldn't want to trade places with him today.

I am thankful to be alive and relatively healthy, married to a wonderful and understanding wife, and continuing my responsibility as the worrying father of a 21-year-old son who is 1,200 miles away and making his way in the world.

And so my chosen journalism path continues another day, and God-willing, many more days, weeks, months and years ahead in a digital world where my headlines are indexed around the clock and trend in the Google, Bing and Yahoo search engines and news directories.

For Stuart Scott, the longtime ESPN Sports Center anchor and sports journalism personality, rest in peace and may God bless his daughters as they continue on with the guidance and loved he provided and instilled in them. He truly was that rare on-air talent that entertained, informed and kept us sports fans coming back. 

Henry Frederick Picture

Short Bio

Henry Frederick is publisher of Headline Surfer®, the award-winning 24/7 internet news outlet covering the Daytona Beach-Sanford-Orlando metro area via HeadlineSurfer.com. A longtime cops & courts reporter focused on breaking news & investigative reporting, Frederick is among the Sunshine State's most experienced reporters, having amassed dozens of journalism-industry awards. Frederick is enrolled online at Full Sail University in Winter Garden, FL, where he's a third of the way though the Master of Arts program in New Media Journalism. His graduation will be in March 2018.