Stuart Scott never lived or worked in Washington, D.C., yet his death rated a front -page tribute in the Washington Post. Pretty incredible for someone who was best known for dishing street slang on ESPN.
The Post referred to Scott as a “trailblazing anchor.” He was that. When he joined the network in 1993, Scott quickly became known for sayings like, “cool as the other side of the pillow” and “just call him butter because he’s on a roll” and his best known – “booyah”. Nobody on TV had sounded like that before. He had a style that the traditional media wasn’t so sure about. To be honest, I was never a big fan of his shtick. But obviously I was in the minority, because he quickly became one of ESPN’s biggest stars and paved the way for many others with unique styles.
And while I completely understand the importance of Scott’s influence, I think it should be pointed out that he didn’t reinvent the wheel. What Stuart Scott was able to do, was thanks in large part to what others had done before him to pave HIS way.
Scott was able to successfully bring the way he interacted with his friends off the air to the television screen. And it worked incredibly well two ways. One – those who liked his style, loved him and two- the athletes he covered made a connection because he was unlike anybody else who walked into their locker rooms. Former colleague Bonnie Bernstein said he spoke the language of the black players. Redskins safety Ryan Clark wrote piece at SI.com where talked about Scott being his idol and that he was scared to talk to him during their first meeting – after Clark was already an established player and Super Bowl champion with Pittsburgh.
Not to take anything away from the life of Stuart Scott, which includes a brave seven-year battle with cancer that has been inspirational to many, the wheels for his arrival on the scene were set in motion many years before.
In fact, the year he was born, 1965, WTOP TV and radio (they were actually both owned by the Washington Post at the time) hired a young Washington native with the catchy name of Warner Wolf. In 1965, sports news was read on TV in the same manner as car wrecks, fires and shootings. Somebody, often a local sportswriter, read the scores and told about trades and firings and moved on. The new guy didn’t roll like that. Somewhere early on, Warner came to the conclusion that sports were fun and you should sound like you’re having fun talking about them. If things were going well, you cheered. If things weren’t working out, you booed. He figured if you can be a sports fan, why can’t you act like a sports fan on television?
Phrases like, “cmon, gimme a break” and “the boo of the week” became as popular locally as Scott’s “booyah” later became nationally. Warner was far and away the most popular sportscaster in town. By the mid-70’s he’d been scooped up by ABC to do the Olympics, Monday Night Baseball and the then-popular Wide World of Sports Show.
Funny thing, though, about being a trailblazer. Sometimes one is a bit too far ahead of his time. And 40 years ago, Warner was. While hosting a college football scoreboard show for ABC, Warner gave Alabama Coach Bear Bryant, the “boo of the week” for kicking a fourth quarter field goal in a 45-0 win over TCU. In the days before emails, texts and Twitter, ABC was flooded with thousands of letters demanding that this punk being taken off the air for daring to criticize the great Coach Bryant. That seemed to set in motion the removal of Warner from network television. The network executives didn’t feel comfortable knowing there was a segment of their audience who hated the guy they had on the air. Smarter people would have recognized that the perceived hate was really passion, and built on it. Instead they bailed.
Warner did return to local television with great success in New York. A return to channel 9 in the 90’s to replace the late Glenn Brenner didn’t work out, but he had another run back in New York on the CBS affiliate and continues to do radio work at the age of 77.
In the meantime, along came Brenner with his own style. Instinctively funny, he lost a job in Philadelphia for saying what everybody else was thinking. The set that he and the other anchors appeared on, looked like courtroom. At one point, Brenner stood up and said, “ Your honor I object to this newscast.” They laughed. The news director didn’t and Brenner wound up in Washington getting the last laugh. Replacing Warner a year after he left for ABC, Brenner became as popular as anyone in the history of D.C. television.
Brenner, George Michael, Dan Patrick, Keith Olberman and many others owe a great deal of their success to the game changing work of Warner Wolf.
Stuart Scott was different than anyone who had ever appeared on television before, but being different on television was a trail blazed long before he got there.