“Cancer can kill you, but it can also make you the man you always wanted to be.”
In “Every Day I Fight,” ESPN anchor Stuart Scott’s posthumous memoir, his voice is as distinctive and memorable as it ever was on-air. But this time the much-loved sportscaster’s play-by-play is a narration of his seven-year battle with cancer that ended with his death Jan. 4.
Written with Larry Platt, the memoir is both the story of a brash young man who took heat for being first to bring a hip-hop vibe to sports broadcasting and that of a 49-year-old father whose devotion to his two daughters only deepened throughout his illness.
“That’s what cancer does: It makes everything profound. It also makes everything urgent,” he wrote.
Scott, the son of a federal postal inspector and a school aide, joined ESPN2 in 1993, moving up to take the chair next to Craig Kilborn on “SportsCenter” in 1996. His look, “rocking the style of the day” with a baby high-top fade, signaled Scott was about to bring something entirely new to the show.
“Cool as the other side of the pillow.”
“Just call him butter ’cause he’s on a roll.”
GQ called him the “hip-hop Howard Cosell,” but there was also a backlash against his rap-inspired catch phrases. Some critics bashed his “urban-speak,” and he got hate mail from viewers. But Scott refused to dial it back, even appearing in music videos with rappers LL Cool J and Luke.
“I brought the in-your-face attitude of the music I came up on — hip hop — to ‘SportsCenter.’ That wasn’t a planned thing; it was just who I was. Yeah, I’m young, I’m African-American, and I’m telling you about this game like I’m talking trash with my boys back home.”
Other critics said he soft-balled questions with athletes, acting more a friend than a reporter. And the case was he had personal relationships with stars like Michael Jordan (a pal from his days at the University of North Carolina), Tiger Woods and LeBron James, among others.
But “gotcha” journalism just wasn’t his game.
“I’m interested in explaining, not judging,” he wrote. “The rapport I have with athletes comes not from slapping hands with them but having played sports . . . . I saw my role as droppin’ knowledge.”
Indeed, Scott first displayed the incredible tenacity he met cancer with on the football field, continuing to play though an eye disease coupled with sports-related injuries resultin in 18 surgeries throughout his life. In 2012, for instance, his eyeball split open after he took a football in the face on the field with the New York Jets.
He was every bit as determined about getting back to life, and work, after every bout of cancer, no matter how debilitating the treatment.
“If I’m too weak to work, I’m too weak to live,” he wrote.
Scott was in Pittsburgh preparing to co-host a “Monday Night Football” matchup in November 2007 when he got the diagnosis. Stomach pains sent him to the hospital, where he had an emergency appendectomy. Expecting to be quickly released, he was surprised when a doctor showed up at his bedside and said there were complications.
“You have cancer,” he was told.
Scott recalled his first thoughts as being, “I’m going to die” and “I won’t be here for my daughters.”
Taelor and Sydney were 12 and 8 at the time. Though Scott was divorced from their mother, Kim, he was a very involved father, sneaking into their rooms at night just to watch them sleep. Even if time was of the essence, Scott insisted surgery had to wait until he made it back to Connecticut to tell his daughters in person.
Cancer of the appendix is a rare disease with no symptoms. Scott read the statistics on the Web and came to a decision. He told his doctor after that first surgery that the one thing he didn’t want to know was his prognosis. He had no interest in how long anyone else thought he had to live.
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