RIP, Stuart Scott–Sportscaster, Tarheel, Dad

If you say “Boo-yah!” when you score points on somebody, if you say someone is “cool as the other side of the pillow,” you’re just one of the millions of us Americans who regularly quote Stuart Scott without realizing it.

Last Sunday, January 4, ESPN announcer Stuart Scott passed away from cancer at the far-too-young age of 49. The Tarheel basketball players I watched this week wore “Stu” patches on their jerseys. Along with all his other roles, Scott was a Tarheel through and through. And I am oddly proud to know that.

Courtesy Wikimedia

Courtesy Wikimedia

Of all the testimonials I’ve read, the two themes that stand out the most are “Stuart Scott, Trailblazer” and “Stuart Scott, Devoted Father.”   ESPN notes that it was Stuart who worked to make the national sports media more relevant to ALL Americans, not just the dominant culture:

ESPN knew enough to have sportscasters who represented 45 million Americans, not to mention 80 percent of the players in the NBA and 70 percent of those in the NFL. What we didn’t know, until Stuart got here, was how important it was to have someone who could relate to them.

“He was a trailblazer,” says ESPN anchor Stan Verrett, “not only because he was black — obviously black — but because of his style, his demeanor, his presentation. He did not shy away from the fact that he was a black man, and that allowed the rest of us who came along to just be ourselves.”

“Yes, he brought hip-hop into the conversation,” says Harris, “but I would go further than that. He brought in the barber shop, the church, R&B, soul music. Soul, period.”

Some of his best moments on the air came when he adopted the persona of a preacher: “Can I get a witness from the congregation?!” And one of his best moments off the air came when a producer suggested he change a reference on his NBA show from Omega Psi Phi, the fraternity of Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal, to something more universal, like Animal House.

“I have friends who have no idea what that movie is about,” Stuart told him. “That movie was made two decades ago, and black fraternities have been around since 1906.”

Even more important, as this ESPN article and many others show, is how much Scott loved his daughters and made himself an unself-conscious role model for modern dads:

“His girls mean everything to him,” says Harris. “I mean his girls mean everything to him. He would easily take Stuart Scott, dad, over Stuart Scott, ‘SportsCenter’ anchor.”

“He’s a great, great dad,” says Ramsey. “He just takes so much pride in the girls, and you can’t see him without him taking out his phone and showing you a video of Taelor or Sydni singing or dancing or playing soccer.”

Occasionally, Stuart would give a shout-out to Sydni’s soccer team, but that was easy compared to another commitment he made to his daughters. “His daughters and my daughters danced at the same studio,” says Anderson. “One year we went to their performance of ‘The Nutcracker.’ And here comes Uncle Drosselmeyer, and I thought, ‘That man looks a lot like Stuart Scott,’ and it was — he was there for his girls. I’ll never forget him coming out in this big cape, swooping in with his nutcracker, and he was great. I’m not sure the dance steps were up to Baryshnikov, but certainly the intentions were.”


Then there’s Stuart Scott, cancer warrior, inspiration: “When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and the manner in which you live.”

So why does it matter that Scott was a true-Carolina-blue Tarheel till the end? It doesn’t, not really. Except that who wouldn’t want to claim any kind of allegiance with a human being like this?

Thanks, Stuart. Go Heels. Rest in peace.

Why Michael Sam Makes My Husband Cry…OK, and Me Too

One of my favorite things about my Mate is that he’s a total softie when it comes to sentimental stories. The fact that most of his choke-up moments come while he’s watching TV sports means nothing; that’s pretty much all he watches.

Since I’m a total softie about almost everything, all he has to do is call me in, “Oh, you gotta see this,” and pretty soon we’re both wiping our eyes and laughing at each other.

The other night, Michael Sam got both of us. I blame the ESPYs.

For those of you who may not know: Michael Sam is the former University of Missouri linebacker who announced in February that he was gay. The ESPYs are ESPN’s version of the Oscars. “Best Athlete,” “Best Team,” “Best Moment,” yeah, those are fun, lots of great highlight film. But the real meat of the evening, for people like me (and I imagine most others, else why would ESPN devote so much time to them?), are the handful of inspirational awards.

Like the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage, awarded to Michael Sam. A mini-documentary walked the audience through Sam’s childhood–single mom, a brother and a sister dead, two brothers in prison–adversity that would be mind-boggling if it weren’t so wretchedly common among Black American boys.

Then, the clincher: in college, where he went to play a sport he identified as life-saving, a sport emblematic of macho, homophobic culture, Sam discovered the truth about himself. He was gay.

At the end of his junior year, Sam revealed his truth to his team. And they embraced him.

Sam played like a demon his senior year, a consensus All-American, winning the 2013 SEC Defensive Player of the Year. All through these months, he kept his truth within the Mizzou “family.” Until February, when, knowing the spotlight of the NFL draft would soon be upon him, Sam announced to the national media that he was gay.

In May, the St. Louis Rams drafted Sam…just barely. He was the among the final eight of over 200 players drafted. His emotional reaction, sobbing into the phone when he finally, finally–after three days of waiting!–got the call, had me and the Mate in tears.

But that was nothing compared to his acceptance speech of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award. I’m going to let Sam’s words say it all:

“This year I have a lot of experience being part of something a lot bigger than myself. At times I’ve felt like I’ve been living in a massive storm, and I know the storm will end. I’m here tonight to tell you that the lessons I learned about love, respect, and being true to yourself will never leave me.

The late great Arthur Ashe wasn’t just courageous, he was brilliant too. He put all the wisdom in the world into three great sentences: ‘Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.’ Those are words to live by whether you’re black or white, young or old, straight or gay.

…’Use what you have.’ What I have is the privilege to play a game I love with all my heart. Football raised me, taught me about hard work, about discipline, and about teamwork. Whatever passion or talent you have, follow it. I followed mine and it got me all the way to this stage here tonight so I can look out and see so many of my heroes looking back at me.

Finally, Arthur Ashe said ‘do what you can.’ Those have been very meaningful words to me, and the way I see it, my responsibility at this moment in history is to stand up for everybody out there who wants nothing more than to be themselves openly.

To anyone out there, especially young people feeling like they don’t fit in and will never be accepted, please know this, great things can happen when you have the courage to be yourself.

 Recently a friend asked me to talk to his sister, a young woman who was considering killing herself, rather than sharing with her loved ones the fact that she was gay. When we spoke she told me she would never consider hurting herself again and that somehow my example had helped her. It’s amazing to think just doing what we can we can call touch, change, and even save lives.”

The day after watching this speech and analyzing my own emotional reaction, I came up with these truths:

1. Seeing other people suffer makes me cry. For far too many, for far too long, gay and lesbian folks have had to suffer rather than be themselves. Sometimes the suffering is emotional, sometimes physical. It’s suffering, either way.

2. Seeing a wrong finally righted makes me cry. The fact that the Missouri Tigers and their fans, then the St. Louis Rams, and then the larger, glitzy, TV sports community itself, celebrate Michael Sam’s courage instead of bashing him…it’s right. Just like Jackie Robinson slowly becoming a hero for breaking the color barrier, something wrong is finally becoming right.

3. Redemption makes me cry. Knowing suffering has not been in vain, knowing all those gay kids’ futures will be easier because people like Michael Sam have stepped forward…I feel hope for my country.

The Mate and I weren’t crying about football. We weren’t crying about sexual identity. We cry about freedom, love, acceptance, harmony, possibility. If a Black, gay football player is honored for courage–what else can we accomplish together? That’s OUR America.

Do you cry from joy? Hope? Relief? Or are The Mate and I just weird that way? (It’s okay; we already know.)