BOB GARFIELD: For a lot of sports fans, ESPN's flagship show Sports Center with Stuart Scott is must-see TV on Sunday night. In fact, Scott's success has made him essential to ESPN which has tapped him to anchor its new Wednesday night NBA basketball broadcasts and its pre-game coverage of Monday night football on sister network ABC. He's best known for punctuating plays with "booyah" or "hallah" with the attitude of the Gen-Y athletes he covers, but to fans, Scott brings more to the job than his hip hop-tinged calls. OTM's Leon Wynter reports.
BOB GARFIELD: Here's how Stuart Scott called the highlight of a touchdown pass and a quarterback sack in a recent NFL game. [FOOTBALL MUSIC & SOUND EFFECTS UNDER]
STUART SCOTT: The very next play, Collins gets silly-nutty with Ron Dixon -- 8 yards. Dixon -- talk about nibboo! - Baryshnikov! - oh! Just getting both feet in -- 14-zip G-Men. Third quarter, 17-nothing Giants -- uh-oh - Michael Strahan about to put the beat-down clock down on Mark Brunell. Yeah, dog - we know that.
BOB GARFIELD: Stuart Scott brings the highlights with the language and rhythm of old school rap. But as he sees it, it's just being himself and writing that way too. [BACKGROUND CONVERSATION]
STUART SCOTT: Writing is better if it's kept simple. Every sentence doesn't need to have perfect noun/verb agreement. I've said "ain't" on the air. Because I sometimes use "ain't" when I'm talking. Cincinnati Bengals thought that they were going to go 12 and 4 this year -- man, they ain't going 12 and 4! I'll write that because I'm going to write like I talk.
BOB GARFIELD: It's election night, and Scott is tapping out his script for the 11 o'clock Sports Center. The theme -- spoofing the cliches of network news election coverage by grafting them on to the cliches of sports highlight coverage. He sits in the cubicle on an open floor crammed with desks in front of the glassed-in studio set. He's working it out.
STUART SCOTT: Thousands of great men who've lived and worked in our nation's capital and have shaped our nation's long and distinguished - Truman -Roosevelt-- Kennedy - LBJ - [SEGUES INTO BROADCAST CLIP] ...Roosevelt - [MUSIC - HAIL TO THE CHIEF - UNDER] Kennedy - Eisenhower - Agnew - Quayle-- Hm! All right - maybe not all of them -- but Lincoln - Jefferson - Jordan - Michael Jordan - former Governor of Illinois is now Speaker of the House - the legislation on the House floor a bill that would increase the Wizards' 40 percent shooting - Wizards in Minnesota to face the Timber Wolves - there is your Speaker of the House - Speak it, Mike! Speak, Mike!
BOB GARFIELD: Scott calls writing the most fun part of the job. Like many fables sportscasters before him, Scott has Southern roots, but his are a little different. He was born on Chicago's black South Side. His family moved to a mostly white neighborhood in Winston-Salem, North Carolina when he was 7.
STUART SCOTT: Most of our friends were white. In the South we experienced, you know, some black kids who gave us a hard time because - cause "you talk white." We didn't talk white. We talked fairly proper. Plus we had a Midwestern accent, so we didn't have a Southern accent either. So it wasn't really talking white; it was talking different.
BOB GARFIELD: Scott's difference from expectations -- white and black -- have made him a standout - even among ESPN's quirky anchor corps. It's also made him a target. [SOUNDS OF ANSWERING SYSTEM UNDER]
STUART SCOTT: I got this the other day--
WOMAN: To erase this message, press 7.
STUART SCOTT: -- just to hear--: [BEEP TONE]
MAN: You're such a douche bag, man. Why don't you stop being a "nigger" on the air, okay, brother? Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, yeah. West Coast calling you out, man. You're a punk. Later.
STUART SCOTT: Had a black guy call me one time -- he, he said, you know, he didn't appreciate, you know, all you're trying to do is drag our race down and using, you know, improper language and you know talking street slang, you know -you know, we're better than that. All right, man -- we're better than that. That's not going to make me change what I do and how I do it.
BOB GARFIELD: One of those things is an occasional homey tribute to an outstanding player that invokes a sense of black community as extended family. It sounds like: Awww, he' making his kinfolk so proud! -- you know, um, Ray-Ray and Pookie, Lucretia, Moeesha, Baby Daddy and all of them. And where did that come from?
STUART SCOTT: Life. That came from life. That came from--every cookout, every barbecue that you go to with extended family -- we all know somebody named Pookie -- we all know a Knuck-Knuck [sp?], we-- there's a Ray-Ray -- isn't there a Ray-Ray in your family somewhere? In, in your family or your neighborhood there's a Ray-Ray. When there's a big barbecue, Ray-Ray is there, Moeesha Baby Daddy -- we as black America know those people. And that won't -- look - that one's for us. That's just for us. That's not for white America.
BOB GARFIELD: After reflection, Scott admits that if you change Moeesha to Annie May, it can be any family barbecue in America. Scott grew up an avowed jock of all sports. He played club football through 4 years at the University of North Carolina where he majored in broadcast communications. Critics like veteran New York Sports Talk host Mike Francesa say Scott often seems to confuse his off screen identification with athletes with his on screen role as a sports journalist.
MIKE FRANCESA: I know Stuart Scott likes to be very chummy with the players which I think is very dangerous if you're going to cover them. I think that is dangerous. I do notice he -that he sometimes will -- after being around a player or being with a player -- you know, slap hands with him or have some little cute response with him or something that almost in some way hints at friendship as much as I'm here to cover you.
BOB GARFIELD: Scott answers that calling a player "dog" or slapping them five after an interview is not fawning. It's cultural fluency. Scott says he's not bound by anybody's journalistic conventions because he grew up following athletes, not broadcasters. Earlier this year, Scott nearly lost an eye when a football hurled from a machine hit him in the face. Scott was attending a day of pre-season training camp with the New York Jets. The injury knocked him off the air for several weeks, but it doesn't shake his belief that being the best flows from a singular conviction that you are the best at whatever you think you can do.
STUART SCOTT: You gotta know that you're better than anybody, cause to me, if you don't go in like that, you're gonna lose! They're gonna punk you out! On any stage, court, business venture, on the anchor desk -- whatever. You've got to go in believing I can do this better than anybody.
BOB GARFIELD: Stuart Scott says he is who he is, and in Scott-Speak, it ain't no act. For On the Media, I'm Leon Wynter.
STUART SCOTT: Dude, what's up with Kendall Gill's hair?
TIM LEGLER: I have no idea what he's trying to do?
MIKE FRANCESA: K-G got some mad-crazy dreads! Kindu Gill looks like Ricky Williams up in this mug, man. NBA tonight at midnight -- this man right here, Tim Legler [sp?], will be in the house. [SPORTS CENTER THEME MUSIC] And then tomorrow: NBA Wednesday! ESPN has NBA kickin' the flava -- live!