‘When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live.'
That quote, those simple but decidedly profound words, may very well be this generation's "Don't give up. Don't ever give up." Fitting, because Stuart Scott said them last year when accepting the Jimmy V Award at the ESPYS on July 16, a little less than 6 months before his untimely death. I'll be honest; I'm probably not going to get too bogged down in the specifics of the man's life. Plenty of people today and in the days to come will do that, far better and with far more personal gravitas. Yes, he was a Chicago-born Winston native, and yes, he went to UNC and was extremely connected to our area. But at least for this piece, that's not what I'll focus on. Stuart Scott's life had an impact that can't possibly be overstated on the world of sports. But even that cheapens it. For people that chose to watch Stu, listen to Stu, emulate Stu, or even people who, years from now, will look back on Stu how people do the iconic and just as wonderful Jim Valvano today, Stuart Scott didn't just have an impact on the world of sports. He, perhaps completely unintentionally, had an impact on the world.
I didn't like sports growing up. At all. Truthfully, this saddens me in retrospect, because I missed guys like Stuart Scott in the 90's, when everything was neon and EXTREME with too many X's. When ESPN2 had all kinds of goofy but awesome filler like Magic The Gathering Tournaments to fill time. When everybody wanted to be like Mike. It's weird, because it's a time I vividly remember and look back on with a true, deep nostalgia, and yet I was only tangentially aware of it. I also didn't grow up here. I grew up in New Jersey, very close to New York City. I don't "get" North Carolina sometimes, despite having plenty of family connections here, graduating from Wake, and living here now. Maybe I'm not the best guy to wax nostalgic about Stu's prodigious sports legacy. But again, there will be other people to do that. Stuart Scott's life, especially the tragically early twilight of it, impacted me on a very profound level.
For those that don't know, I'm disabled. Good news is, what I've got is what I've got. I won't wither and die, at least not any sooner than anybody else. My life, generally speaking, is really awesome, and I'm blessed to be as healthy as I am. But I'll never walk. I'll never get into or out of bed without someone providing assistance. I'll never, at least as medicine stands now, be completely without physical discomfort (though just to be clear, it's not bad most of the time;. just slight aches). I don't talk about it a lot because I don't like to make a big deal out of it, and my disability doesn't define me, nor will it ever. The fact of the matter is, though, I've had to fight for everything I've ever achieved; just like everyone, in some ways. but in others I've been told I've lived through more already than some do in a lifetime. I'll live a full life, but I've had somewhere in the neighborhood of five major surgeries, known the frustration of rehabilitation and surgery-connected illness, all while going through my daily life on top of it. I'd like to think I've known, at least a bit, what it means to "fight like hell."
Cancer is horrible. I can't even fathom it. I've had this terrible disease strike both friends and family, and leave far too many lives cut short. My stuff is a Sunday picnic compared to things like cancer. But the fact is, the idea of living my life in spite of things that try to stop me or slow me down still resonates. The people who've doubted me are dwarfed in number by those unbelievable individuals who have supported me and given me strength. That said, I've still flown in the face of expectations my whole life, and whether it's just mistaken perception and neurosis (which a lot of it probably is; most of it even), I still have doubters, "haters", or harsh critics, most notably myself.
Stuart Scott didn't say this directly, but the inference was that he did have those days he doubted himself. He had those days he was mad at the world, he had those days he just wished everything was different. That's why he said sometimes, when he didn't have the strength, he had to borrow fight from other people. That's a feeling I know very well.
Stuart Scott lived his life with vim and vinegar. He milked it for all it's worth. He laughed in the face of things that likely would've caused lesser people to crumble. He leaves behind a legacy of breaking color, style, and culture barriers in sports journalism. He leaves behind a loving family that he clearly treated and appreciated in a way people should strive to. He leaves behind profoundly impacted colleagues, and a generation of sportscasters that likely wouldn't be on our TVs without him. He leaves behind a space in sports and even in culture as a whole that I don't think will ever be filled. That's more than most can say.
I think the reason Stuart Scott's passing has affected me so much is that I didn't realize it until now, but in many ways I hope to live my life how Stuart Scott lived his. Happily, with warmth and love, with humor and style and flair, but also with strength and grace and without apologies. I'm going to do my best to simultaneously fight like hell and, well, be cool. Just like the other side of the pillow.
Thank you, Stuart Scott. Rest in peace.
To support the fight against cancer, please consider donating to The V Foundation at www.jimmyv.org.