Master of the Mojo: A Conversation with ESPN's Stuart Scott
Labeled "super" because of the wide range of state primaries contested and convention delegates awarded, last Tuesday witnessed the resounding victories of Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush and the subsequent demise of the insurgent candidates, McCain and Bradley.
However, Tuesday was also "super" because ESPN "Sportscenter" anchor Stuart Scott came to Harvard.
Scott, who is widely known for his catch phrases and colorful personality as one of ESPN's most dynamic and informative analysts, came to Harvard to speak to Sam Fulwood's Institute of Politics study group, "Race, Media and Politics." He was gracious enough to spend some time candidly discussing his life, his work and his ambitions.
The Harvard Crimson: As a host of ESPN's "Sportscenter," you're known for your unique style and inventive vocabulary. Some of my favorite sayings include "He's gotta be buttah, 'cause he's on a roll," "Mojo! BIG Mojo!" and the ubiquitous "Boo-yah!" What is your favorite catch phrase?
Stuart Scott: I don't think I have a personal favorite. My favorite thing I've ever said on the air, as far as catch phrases goes, involves my daughter. I have two daughters, one who is four months and one who is five years old. When my five-year-old was two, she would say "Daddy, can I have another one candy" when she would want some more candy. So, my favorite catch phrase--if someone hit two home runs in a game--I would say "another one home run, Daddy." It's my favorite because it involves my daughter, and it's nice when I can get her on TV.
THC: As many have observed, you tell sports stories with the language of urban America. What sort of feedback have you received, and do you think your current fame is a validation of the way you tell sports stories?
SS: I never felt like I needed to be validated. I knew that as long as I worked hard, wrote well, did my own research, busted my hump to look up facts and figures, no one could make me feel like I shouldn't be doing what it is I'm doing. Not that people haven't tried, but I don't validate myself based on what other people think. I don't do this because I try to be someone else.
What you see from everybody who does "Sportscenter" is some extension of their personality. The way I talk on TV is not the way I talk all the time. But off-camera, it is the way I talk a lot of the time. I feel there are times when it is appropriate to fall into a more comfortable usage of slang. If I'm hanging with my fellas or if we were sitting watching a game, drinking a beer, and Shaq starts doing what he did the other day--scoring 61 points [against the Clippers]--I'd say, "Shaq is killing them kids … he is just housing them. Come on man, come on Shaq, don't hurt 'em." That's part of who I am. That's part of the music I listen to.
THC: Would you say remaining true to yourself and embracing your off-camera personality is a necessary aspect of your job on TV?
SS: Definitely. Anyone who is successful at this job has to do that. Chris Berman on-camera is the same guys he is off-camera. Bob Costas on-camera is the same guy he is off-camera. But I'm not going to get on TV and be Bob Costas because that's not who I am. I think Bob Costas is one of the best in this business, but I'm not going to get on TV and act like Bob to try to be good because that is not my personality. In the same way, Bob can't get on NBC and start talking about somebody trying to playa-hate somebody because that's not who he is. I'm just down-to-earth in real life and that is what comes across on-camera.
THC: You grew up in Chicago and North Carolina and went to college at UNC. You must have been buffeted by sports as a child and a young adult. What are your fondest sports memories from your childhood and what do you view as defining sports moments of your youth?
SS: I have a few. I really remember my first baseball game. I was about five years old and my dad and his brother, my Uncle John, took me and my brother to a White Sox double-header against the Oakland A's. Vida Blue pitched the first game for the A's. I remember my dad and Uncle John talking about the A's trading Vida Blue to the White Sox in between games and that he would pitch the second game for the White Sox. I thought "Alright, it's going to be cool for the White Sox to get a black pitcher," and I couldn't wait to get to my seat and wait for Vida Blue. Of course they were kidding, but I really remember looking forward to Vida Blue.
Another memory I have--and I don't even know if you know this--was when the Super Bowl Champions played the College All-Stars. I was at the last game at Soldier Field in 1976. My grandfather took me and my brother and my two cousins. It rained so hard they cancelled the game. I had never seen a football game cancelled because of rain. I remember sprinting back to the car--the four kids and my granddad--and my granddad took a spill in the parking lot.
And, of course, I remember sitting around the TV with my brother and cousins the night of April 8th, 1974, when Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth's record. Those are the things I remember that happened. I also grew up playing sports, but if you ask about sports things I did, then we'd be here for two hours (laughing) 'cause I was All-World, All-Everything….
THC: That sounds interesting, but I don't want to keep you that long. Anyway, aside from being All-Everything in sports at UNC, you were also a good sports reporter for the local radio station. Being a sportswriter myself, I was wondering if you had any advice for current sports reporters on how to succeed and continue doing with what we love.
SS: You have to learn how to deal with "No." A lot. You'll hear more people tell you "No," you'll be turned down for more jobs, you might hear people insult you. A news director in college reduced me to tears on the phone because he told me I sucked and I would never make it in this business. A professor told me I wouldn't make it because I was too silly. If that's too much for you to handle, then choose something else.
If you know you want to do it and you can handle all of that, then go for it. This isn't to pat myself on the back because I think it applies to a lot of the people I work with, but I would not trade the years of shooting my own tape, editing my own tape and being the only person at night working on highlight clips for anything.
Also, always write your own stuff. Even at the level I'm at, it's not about the cameras, the makeup, the attention or the popularity. This job is all about writing, plain and simple. Can you write well? Creatively? Can you tell me a story in a short time to make me go "Wow, I didn't know that"? Can you find that information that no one else knows? My favorite thing I've ever said on "Sportscenter"...was when Homer Bush, who was playing for the Yankees at the time, hit a home run two years ago. I put together a list of the ten people named Homer to have played in the major leagues and reported that only three of them had ever hit homers...
I'll give you "Boo-yah!" and "Don't hate the playa, hate the game," but I will also give you more stats and information than anyone else who sits in that "Sportscenter" chair. I guarantee you that. In my mind, if I can continue to do that then I can say whatever is off-the-wall and crazy because I'm backing it up. I think this emphasis on stats and information and doing our own writing is what makes "Sportscenter" better than FOX and CNNSI. You will learn more watching "Sportscenter" than any other highlight show....
THC: To shift to a lighter topic, we've seen you in rap videos and other media. What are the chances we can expect a feature film starring Stuart Scott in the near future?
SS: I'd love it. I haven't been featured yet, but my voice was in "He Got Game" and I just did some work for Bruce Willis' upcoming film "The Kid." I've also done an episode of "The Hughley's" and "Arli$$." The problem is that I always play myself. I want to play somebody else.
THC: The new "Shaft" film is coming out soon. Would something of that caliber interest you?
SS: Yeah. Well, Sam [Jackson] is a buddy of mine. He's playing Shaft in the film. I was actually playing golf a couple weeks ago with him and Richard Roundtree, who is playing Shaft's father.
THC: If starring roles start coming your way, would you leave Sportscenter or do you see yourself staying on for twenty years like Berman?
SS: I'm not one of those guys who says, "In five years, I want to be here or there." I don't do that. What I want to continue to do is diversify myself. I want to do a lot of different things. It would be nice if I could do "Sportscenter" and a little of this and that. That would be my ideal situation.