On a typical morning, millions of Americans tune in to ESPN to watch SportsCenter while eating breakfast, working out, or doing some other time-consuming routine to allow them to get their sports fix. During the hot summer months, when sports news is scarce, SportsCenter never failed to entertain when anchor Stuart Scott, who died last month, was on the air.
Scott made a 7-1 baseball game recap seem amusing with his colorful personality and his inspiring take on broadcast journalism. It’s without a doubt that his hip-hop, energetic style meshed with his broadcasting to create a new form of sports reporting, one that was captivating even in the dog days of the sports summer. Scott’s unique style—characterized by exclamations of “Boo ya!”—has changed the way journalism will be taught and practiced for years to come, and it’s time his alma mater, the University of North Carolina, acknowledged this.
“Through a revamped curriculum, students learn the skills they need to succeed in the new media environment, whether they pursue careers in journalism, advertising, public relations or other communications fields,” The Chapel Hill School of Journalism’s website states. This new media environment now includes the more vibrant, informal form of sports broadcasting that Scott created. For a school trying to charge head-first into the future of journalism, what better means than to change the school’s name to The Stuart Scott School of Journalism & Mass Communication, aligning itself with one of its most esteemed alumni, a pioneer in the industry?
“I was brought up in a buttoned-up world of traditional journalism where the person reporting/commenting/analyzing didn’t call attention to himself,” colleague Michael Wilbon recently said. “Stuart, very deliberately and without much fear, was in the process of taking us to a new world of sports coverage, one where you let your emotion come pouring out much of the time, where personality would infuse the coverage.” At a time when a great deal of sports broadcasting was mainstream—pop culture references, general jargon—Scott wiped the blackboard clean and drew up his own way to talk sports.
Another aspect of Scott’s fearlessness has to do with the fact that he was a minority in the field. At the time, Caucasian anchors and reporters led the way in the media, and a large portion of the audience didn’t take the prospect of an African American broadcaster well. “He was also smart enough, particularly the last five years, to ignore the morons and bigots on Twitter, the noise and intolerance of it all,” Wilbon added. Scott didn’t hide his diverse background: many of his references and phrases catered to what many described as an African American audience. “He must be the bus driver, because he was takin’ him to school!” Scott would yell when recapping a 30-point basketball blowout.
“Diversity enhances the educational experience for students, helping to build their skills on a stronger foundation of accuracy, clarity, fairness and ethics,” UNC’s website continues. Scott was a symbol of diversity in the 1990s, and the school would further demonstrate its commitment to fostering this diversity by adding his name to theirs.
Perhaps the most important thing Scott taught us was resilience; his upbeat nature shown throughout his grueling battle with cancer. As Wilbon recalled, through vomit-filled bathroom trips, closing his eyes during commercial breaks, Scott would never take his foot off the gas pedal, frequently responding, “Bro, I’m good.” Scott kept his spirits high, taking kickboxing classes, continuing to work out, and remaining immersed in his work to keep his body physically fit to fight the disease. As a school that claims to prepare journalists for the real world, UNC Chapel Hill must preach to its students the fact that journalists face obstacles and hardships at almost every twist and turn: whether it be finding a job, earning a minimal starting salary, or working long nights to put stories together, journalism students need to learn to emulate Scott’s upbeat mindset, to cope with the difficulties of working in the industry, and to tackle the overall challenges of life. Renaming the school in his honor would certainly get this message across.
Scott revolutionized the way sports are talked about on air. Scott truly was, as he loved to say, “cool as the other side of the pillow.” The same way a cool pillow offers comfort after a long day, Scott offered American sports fans a pleasant escape from daily life. The Stuart Scott School of Journalism & Mass Communication would be wise to instill Scott’s messages in its students, to truly prepare them for life in the media industry.