Stuart Orlando Scott 87

2005 Distinguished Young Alumni Award

Stuart Orlando Scott ’87

It is tempting, when honoring Stuart Scott, to work in some of the catchphrases he’s made so famous as an ESPN sportscaster: “Boo-yah,” “cool as the other side of the pillow,” or, “He must be buttah ’cause he’s on a roll!” But you quickly realize that they don’t sound so suave coming out of your mouth.

That’s because they are his phrases, part of a personality distinctly his, and distinctive in a crowded field. Stuart Scott doesn’t sound like any other sports anchor on the air—though quite a few have looked foolish trying to sound like him. Stuart’s fans love him because he’s himself. He got famous not by contorting to fit the old stereotype of a sportscaster, but by blowing that stereotype to pieces, by interpreting sports for viewers through the lens of his own experience.

In his 2001 commencement address at Carolina, he said a colleague once questioned his on-air mention of Alphi Phi Alpha, his beloved fraternity here at Carolina, instead of using a standard Animal House reference.

“I gotta stand up and shout again,” Scott told those new Carolina graduates, “Your view of reality, your world, is not the world. People making a difference gotta understand this. Where you were raised, how you were raised, what shapes you, is only a small slice of the pie. You might not like—you might not understand all the other slices. But you at least have to accept that there are other slices of the pie than you’ve known.”

He learned by sampling unfamiliar tastes along the path to the big time, winning a press award for his feature on rodeo while working for an Orlando TV station, and diving into the pits at Darlington Raceway in an atmosphere devoid of black faces and teeming with Confederate flags.

Stuart wasn’t in the hinterlands for long. The call to Bristol, Connecticut came early in his career. He was one of the trail blazers for ESPN’s first spinoff, ESPN2. He was host material right out of the gate, and he held court for a weekly NFL preview show, a nightly NBA roundup, and a college football show. Just a decade in the business, Stuart was alongside the network’s lead anchors on its Sunday night NFL highlight program.

He might be found interviewing Michael Jordan ’86, Tiger Woods or Bill Clinton. It wasn’t long before he was recognized as someone who could infuse any assignment with insight and pizzazz, and a perspective on sports history and tradition way beyond his years.

Stuart majored in speech communications and radio, TV and motion pictures at Carolina. He worked at WXYC campus radio as a news and sports reporter. And what he talked, he also walked as a wide receiver and defensive back for Carolina’s club football team.

He is giving back to his alma mater in a way that few others can—name-dropping her on national TV whenever he gets the chance. And, busy as he is, he has returned to help light a fire under his fellow Tar Heels at the festivities for the opening night of basketball practice.

Stuart is at his best writing the drama that makes a piece of highlight film leap off the screen, then delivering it in a way that makes the room shake. He is never without a take, and when some people criticized his selection as commencement speaker, saying he was a lightweight journalist, he responded by delivering another side of who he is. He cares deeply about diversity issues in American society, and he made that the theme of his message. Some of those words are worth repeating.

“You all have probably had more diversity here than you will as you move forward,” he said. “I know all of you want to do more than just get a job, go to grad school. I know you want to make a difference. Keep this in mind as you do that: Remember the different walks of life that you’ve seen here, all the colors, races, religions, athletes, academic nuts, hippies, fraternity boys, sorority girls, different sexual makeups. Understand whatever is different from you is just that—it’s just different.

“If you want to make a difference,” he continued, “you have to understand whatever prejudices you have—and we all have them. Understand where they came from and then figure out, ‘All right, how do I check myself?’

“Given the way this world is changing, we cannot depend on stereotypical tendencies. If we do that, we’re going to lose money. We’re going to lose customers. We’re going to lose constituents. We’re going to lose the faith of a child. And more importantly, we’re going to have a child lose faith in us. Every time you speak for the rest of your life, you’ll be making someone else’s reality.”

In a profession mobbed with wannabes, every time Stuart Scott speaks, he sets himself apart.

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