Where Integration Worked
Dr. Walter Greason
4 January 2015
Broadcast television dominated my early life. Sports highlights involved Warner Wolf shouting “Let’s go to the videotape!” Lawrence Taylor, Magic Johnson, and Bo Jackson were the athletes who inspired me. I never saw ESPN until I enrolled in college. Dan Patrick and Chris Berman were entertaining, but Stuart Scott and Rich Eisen made the network into appointment television.
It is hard to explain to people who didn’t live through it how different racial roles in the media were before 1994. In a world where the Dukes of Hazzard, Dallas, and Dynasty inscribed white wealth as the natural and unquestioned pinnacle of civilization, Eddie Murphy, Michael Jackson, Bill Cosby, Oprah Winfrey, and popular athletes were rare instances of racial inclusion. Hip hop broke that barrier down – first with Run D.M.C., Rakim, and Public Enemy, then with Nas, Wu-Tang,and the Notorious B.I.G. Stuart Scott brought hip hop’s intensity – a quieter rage than Spike Lee’s work in the same time period, but still a rage – to the anchors’ desk every night at 11pm.
He reshaped public authority for an audience mostly under the age of 35. Scott’s influence defined racial integration in a way no other public voice did. Beyond the countless broadcasters and journalists who owe their livelihoods to his artistry, the nation owes him for more than his professional excellence. His character and leadership in confronting the nation’s divisive racial history through humor, honesty, and honor are models for any voice in public discourse.
Easily the most obvious impact of Scott’s career was his nightly description of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls at the peak of their championship runs. What Nike did for Jordan visually, Scott did for him aurally. The unending chain of Bulls highlights elevated Jordan from global brand into the paragon athlete of the twentieth century. ESPN had begun its rise to prominence before Scott’s presentations, as had the NBA. Yet his broadcasts broadened each enterprise’s audiences on a global scale. Scott and Eisen used the classic trope of the “interracial buddies” (see “I Spy”, “Lethal Weapon”, and “Law and Order” for continuing variations on this theme) to unprecedented effect. Eisen’s understated commentary made Bud Abbott envious. Scott’s lyrical samples from Cypress Hill (“Boo-yeah”), Nas (“Representin”), Snoop Dogg (“You Better Recognize”), and Public Enemy (“Hear the Drummer Get Wicked”) were better than any beats by Dre. The combination integrated the United States more effectively than every President from Truman through Clinton.
Bernard Shaw opened the door for Scott with his classic broadcast journalism at CNN between 1981 and 2001. Entertainment broadcasting was still a developing field when Scott joined ESPN in 1993. In many ways, cable television is still negotiating the boundaries of balancing entertainment and analysis. Jon Stewart’s work on The Daily Show owes a significant debt to Stuart Scott’s skill in blending clear content, succinct analysis, and clever delivery in segments lasting less than three minutes. Media scholars have spent much of the last thirty years lamenting the loss of critical content in a world that consumes information in 10-second sound bytes. Entertainment broadcasters have followed Scott’s lead in attracting and holding audiences with complex content, organized powerfully in short encounters. Far beyond media scholars, political leaders, professors, teachers, lawyers, and executives should take note. Make your point powerfully, in the minimum amount of time, or you will lose your voters, students, juries, and investors.
Struggling advertising and marketing firms have reported the increasing fragmentation of both the American and global marketplaces as a result of the increasing outlets for consumers to find information. This fragmentation reflects a broader social alienation that analysts have documented in works like “Bowling Alone” and “Suburban Erasure.” This isolating range of media experiences combines with increasing patterns of racial hypersegregation, even in social media. Stuart Scott was a rare persona that bridged these divisions – or at least, he did so with more success than most celebrities. Sports like football, basketball, and baseball (at both the college and professional levels) have integrated more effectively than any other part of American society except, perhaps, the military. In this inclusive moment of mourning, hopefully all people can commit to advancing the most important aspect of Stuart Scott’s legacy – equality and excellence in every community, in every profession, in every personal decision. May his gift for communication live with all of us.
Dr. Walter Greason founded the International Center for Metropolitan Growth (ICMG_International Center for Metropolitan Growth) and is the author of the award-winning historical monograph, Suburban Erasure. He is also the primary instructor for the “Engines of Wealth” initiative at Monmouth University. His work is available on Twitter (@worldprofessor /@icmgrowth), Facebook, LinkedIn, and by email (firstname.lastname@example.org). For bookings (workshops and speaking engagements), contact NJ History (email@example.com).