Not to get dramatic here to open, but when 9/11 happened, I was living in DC (college) although I’m originally from New York. Obviously 9/11 was a f’n terrible event and it doesn’t take much to contextualize exactly how bad it was, but when you’d meet someone from Iowa or Oregon or Texas (ironically, where I live now) and you’d talk to them about some of the underscored lessons of 9/11, a lot of it came back to this: New York City is big and fun and vibrant and dynamic and cultural, yes, but it’s also an intricate patchwork of neighborhoods and relationships where people grow individually, grow families, and build bonds. 9/11 straight-up ripped the heart out of some neighborhoods; here’s some data by way of The New York Times back in 2002. So yes, you can look at it as terrorism or planes hitting buildings or whatever other images you want to remember from that day, and those are all extremely valid — but at the end of the day, families lost people, communities lost people, and bonds were broken.
9/11 is a much more horrific and larger event than the passing of a famed sportscaster, but those are still some of the terms I think about it all in.
I worked for ESPN for six — close to seven — years. You can read about some of my experiences here. In short, I loved it, I hated it, I was respected, I was almost fired. That’s a job. That’s honestly life. You have ebbs and flows.
The No. 1 thing that always sticks with me about ESPN, especially the Bristol side (was there 2005-2007), is that it’s essentially a family. There is churn, sure, just like any organization. But so many of the main producers have been there for years, and so many of the main anchors have been there for years, and so many people live in the same towns — Bristol, Southington, Farmington, West Hartford, Avon, etc. — and have the same weird off-days that it becomes like a family. In some respects, your ESPN people might be closer than some parts of your actual family. Think about this: NBA happens on Christmas. NFL happens on Thanksgiving. Bowls happen on New Year’s Day. MLB happens on July 4th. You will work all those days. I did. Everyone I know there has and some continue to do so. Those are conventionally days for family, right? ESPN becomes your family.
My entire Facebook News Feed and a good portion of my other social media timelines, right now, are about Stuart Scott. Obviously there’s this, which had me bawling:
There’s so many moments and sharing — Tim Legler appeared in my feed, as did a handful of producers (Stuart Scott worked on almost every sport). I wasn’t that close to Stuart Scott. I worked on shows with him, but only a handful of times; maybe 10-12 at most. I can share two quick ones then make a final point.
1. One of the first times I worked with him, when he probably had absolutely no idea who I was (nor should he have), I had to do one of those “Coors Light Six Cold Hard Facts” segments about Week Something-Or-Other (probably 10, 11) in the NFL. It’s basically just a bunch of b-roll video of different things happening that weekend, but I was probably under a year or so in the job and I had no idea what to do. I went to talk to him and I was a bit nervous; I had seen him be gruff with PAs from time to time. He looked over the big games that weekend and basically said, “Do whatever you think is good. We’ll figure out a way to introduce the topics/narrate it.” Cooler than the other side of the pillow.
2. Like everyone in Bristol, I worked a ton of Saturday nights. One Saturday night I was working the 1am SportsCenter, and the newsroom was pretty dead — that’s the last show of the night, and some people were starting to go home. I was basically sitting there waiting to print out scripts for the anchors (Scott was one of them), and that evening in question, Saturday Night Live did a SportsCenter parody. I remember all the producers and the anchors (Scott and whoever, maybe Steve Levy) running over to watch it. Some of the producers were a lil’ pissed, but Scott — who had been parodied in the SNL segment — just smiled and said “Aw man, that’s funny.” He then went back to his work.
It struck me weird right then — bunch of adults working at 12am on a Saturday night, being parodied by another major American TV show, and nothing about that moment even seemed remotely odd. Looking back, I realize how special it was to be part of those moments.
In the same vein, consider this:
You basically, right there, have the President of the United States saying that SportsCenter represents a second family to him when he travels. Think about that. That’s kind of intense. Most guys on the road for work, when they get back to the hotel — what do they flip on? What’s on at most airport bars? People like Stuart Scott are the ringmasters and the faces for things that keep you consistent and keep you grounded even as you’re away from your real family.
A lot of times, people will leave ESPN because the work you do isn’t necessarily massively important, or the Lord’s work, or anything like that. I know when I ultimately justified my departure, that had a lot to do with it. (The next job I took was basically a non-profit, actually.) It’s true — sports is sports. It’s the board game aisle of life in some respects.
But look at how many people are connected to this passing, from Bristol to far reaches of the world. Look at how many athletes you remember and recognize were affected in some small way by this.
To me, that all starts with the ESPN family — I’m sure anyone that’s ever worked there has been asked a million and five times what it’s like to work there, and what the anchors are like, and all that (I definitely have). For me, the hardest thing to explain is always the nature of the place: the weird hours, the weird bonds, the relationships that develop over seemingly the most random shit imaginable. I sometimes hate calling work “a family,” but in this case it does make sense.
In short, what ESPN does is important. What Stuart Scott did/does/will always live on is also important. And it all roots from that family of disparate individuals in Bristol and elsewhere, all no doubt reflecting and grieving today.