Sunday, January 4, 2015

Stuart Scott's Legacy

Moving On
So the longtime ESPN anchor passed today, to cancer, at age 49. The World Wide Lemur is all over it, and so are any number of teams. As you might imagine for the company that employed him for decades, there is any number of column inches devoted, and clips from his Jimmy V speech, and a great deal of heartfelt mentions in my social media stream from those he left behind.

And all of that is well and good, and cancer well and truly sucks. But falsehood rankles, no matter when it happens, and the plain and simple fact of the matter is that Scott's contribution to the sport lexicon was not positive. And saying otherwise is just, well, bullsquat.

Scott, for those of you who might have missed him, was on SportsCenter and other products for decades, with trying too hard catch phrases insuring that you got the point that the anchor in question was Black, and Street, and Poetic, and Hip, Goddamn It, Hip.

Because sports are DVR proof, and require us to pay attention in the here and now, they are one of the last few media successes in an era of fragmented audiences. And because gambling in all forms -- real and nerd -- has also become the norm, all of the ancillary sports industries have become monster wins as well. From a starting point of zero in the early 1980s, ESPN has become a de facto $5 per month tax on every cable household in America, and they've done that with the pure machine politics of never really having to pay top talent to ensure their continued success. They had first mover advantage, and to date, other networks have been unable to dent it.

ESPN isn't the best source for sports coverage. Turner destroys them in basketball. Fox and NBC do dramatically better jobs with the NFL, and if CBS ever got past its self-inflicted Phil Simms problem, it would be better than them as well. (NFLN... well, I'm not sure I've ever seen them broadcast a good enough game to judge, really.) MLB is best served with its own network, and by good local providers. The college basketball tournament is all CBS, tennis is NBC and USA with Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, and so on, and so on.

What ESPN is good at... is telling you how great ESPN is, and how the next thing coming up is something you dare not miss, while packaging other people's work in a way that makes you think they are about sports.

When, well, they are not.

They are about Story, and Style, and providing the softest possible landing spot for every athlete to get the most favored lackey status, while stuffing in as many commercial tie-ins as humanly possible. Scott fit into that as not just the semi-required Diversity Hire, but as the playing it to the hilt Diversity Hire. In another era, Scott's a minstrel; his willingness to don any role for the network made that all too apparent.

Making matters worse, of course, was the fact that Scott was highly educated, from UNC, so it was obvious that the patios was all for show. There was, really, never a moment on screen that he wasn't insufferable...

And yet, well, hating Scott was also downright difficult. He made racist people irate, and being on the same side as those people is always off-putting. Hating anyone on ESPN always included the default problem that is, well, the fact that you were watching ESPN in the first place, and probably deserved what you were getting. The excuse that is was part of the Monday Night Game or something else that seemed borderline defensible didn't really wash. Remotes come with mute buttons, and life is too short to spend it listening to people with no value.

Scott was, we are told, a joy to work with. Inspirational for his fight against the disease that took his life. Open with his time and generous to younger colleagues. Devoid of ego, steadfast in the face of criticism, and honestly, given all of the tributes we are seeing today, I don't doubt any of that for a minute. He left behind two teenage daughters, and I'm very sorry for their loss.

But his legacy is not who he was off the camera.

It's who was when he was on it.

And that's a man that lowered the level of discourse, that added to the mistaken notion that Sports is about the wrapping and the tinsel, rather than the actual present of the Game inside.

And, well, the next guy that decides Scott is his role model, and that he should be just like him?

Will lower the discourse even more.

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