Tuesday, January 27, 2015

BOO-YAH!



It’s estimated that identity theft costs society billions of dollars a year.  But I believe an even bigger problem is when we steal our own identities.  When we pretend to be someone we’re not, we lose the energy and focus to pursue our own passions and dreams.  We become so busy trying to fit in or please other people that we lose sight of what really matters to us.  This week’s story is about living a truly authentic life…

Stu was born on Chicago’s South Side.  When he was seven, his family moved to Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  It was a jarring change in culture.

Stu got a hard time from some of the other black kids at his school, who accused him of “talking white.”  In truth, he just spoke with the Midwestern accent of his Chicago home.  Even so, the experience showed Stu how quickly people could focus on anything that looked or sounded different and didn’t fit their idea of what was okay.

Stu attended college at the University of North Carolina, where he played football, joined a fraternity, and worked at the student radio station.  He graduated with a degree in speech communications, and was hired soon after by a South Carolina TV station as a news reporter and weekend sports anchor.

It was there, at his first job on television, that Stu coined the phrase, “cooler than the other side of the pillow,” describing a great sports play made under pressure.  It was just the beginning.  Over the next few years, Stu’s charisma, energy, and natural rhythm on camera continually turned heads as he moved from one small station to a slightly larger one.  It didn’t even matter what he was covering; at one point, he did a piece on a rodeo, and delivered it like it was game seven of the NBA finals.  At each stop on his career path, it was obvious to his co-workers that he was on his way to the top.

At the time, American sports fans who wanted the latest scores, news and gossip got them on ESPN’s SportsCenter program.  The show's format was simple:  two anchors, almost always conservatively-dressed white guys in their thirties, sat behind a desk and reported the latest sports news in the dry style that broadcast newsmen had used for decades.  They had their own personalities, but what they all had in common was a sense of detachment, as if to say, “Everyone relax, it’s just sports.”

Until Stu arrived, that is.  He was 28 years old when he made his debut on ESPN as one of the network's few African American personalities who hadn't been a professional athlete, but what was really different about Stu was his energy.  When he narrated highlights, his voice rose.  He got excited.  He reacted to a slam dunk or touchdown with an emphatic "boo-yah!"  He used words and phrases that weren’t heard on television, and, just by being himself, began to change the way people talked about sports.

Stuart “Stu” Scott was a guy from the rap generation who used the kind of banter and catch-phrases on the air that friends used while watching games.  He’d go from channeling a Baptist preacher to quoting Public Enemy.  His demeanor and quick wit made him a star at a network whose stars were usually athletes, and as hip-hop became part of the pop-culture mainstream, he became known as the man who put the hip-hop in sportscasting.

As Stuart's star rose, so did the resistance to his presence by people who resented his color, his style, and his generation.  But despite criticism and pushback from older sports fans and personalities, Stuart Scott didn’t stop being Stuart Scott.  He was authentically himself from the time he first went on the air to his final broadcast.  In being himself, he was representing the community of people that talked how he talked and saw what he saw.  And the fans loved him for it.

Stuart Scott died of cancer on January 4th, 2015.  The previous year, while in the midst of undergoing treatments that should’ve confined him to bed, Stuart accepted the Jimmy V award for his battle against the illness.  In his energizing acceptance speech he said, “When you die, it does not mean you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live and in the manner in which you live." 

Stuart will be missed but we can all learn from his life and his words.  Discover who you are, and be the best version of yourself you possibly can.

Until next week…



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