On Stuart Scott’s Passing: VHS Tape Nostalgia and Filling the Silence

Posted: January 5, 2015 in Miscellaneous
Tags: , ,

Stuart Scott died on Sunday.  I’m sure you’re well aware of this by now.

It has been spoken to and he has been spoken of, and it has been written by, those far more qualified to do so than I; his colleagues and his friends, his people and his fans.  Many have taken to the various platforms of self-expression that allows us the privilege to share our thoughts with anyone willing to listen.

Stuart Scott died on Sunday, 5 months and 14 days before he turned fifty.  There are precious few unique ways to say that a man died far too soon.  You can hear it in the strain of the practiced voices of his ESPN colleagues.  See it in the faces of guys like me who cared just a little too much about bouncing balls and swishing nets.  You can see it in the 140-character candles being put in windows by a generation of fans who don’t have wax or wicks, but illuminated digital mediums by which to express their sadness.  In all the clangor of society today, the clattering of keys or clicking of mice, in all the noise that comes from televisions and radios and boldly proclaimed statements from bold men and women: when a man dies too soon, we still find ourselves left with a moment of silence.

The silence that found me, suddenly and shockingly emotional for reasons I still can’t quite put my finger on, when I looked at my phone and realized the coolest man at ESPN was no longer alive was longer than I thought it would be.

Image courtesy of: ambrosiaforheads.com

It’s strange when someone we “know” dies.  It’s funny how those quotations work.  They give us an imagined familiarity, a one-sided kinship that feels creepy if you spell it out in too much detail.  It can give us an emotional attachment to someone we’ve never breathed similar air with or stood next to, or has ever spoken a word to someone.  But those emotions aren’t in quotation marks.  The things we receive from those people, whether entirely real or utterly imagined, can stick with us in ways we never saw coming.

That’s what happened to me when I became suddenly sad about a man I’ve never known on any real, personal, level when I found out that he had died after battling cancer since 2007.  When I read that Stuart Scott had died – on my phone, as I’m so apt to do with any news events these days – it immediately took me back to the laminated kitchen counter in my parents’ home and Monday mornings.  Nostalgia, and a very real, very not-in-quotations sadness, mixed into my bloodstream in equal parts.

You see, Stuart Scott is part of the reason I love sports so much.  He’s part of the reason that I’m a die-hard.  A fanatic.  Part of the reason that I fall asleep to ESPN and wake up to check the stats on my sports blog posts.  He’s part of the reason that I can find such joy, and so much real-world metaphor, in something as trivial as what happens on weekends in so many major cities across our country.

When I was a young boy, my sports insanity still in its infancy, I used to be obsessed with ESPN’s “Plays of the Week” segment that would air on Sunday nights.  Faced with the dilemma: let your son stay up until 10:30 so he can watch guys dunk a basketball while someone shouts “booyah” into a boom mic, or actually make sure your kid gets some sleep so he can not pass out face down in his textbooks, my parents chose the latter.  But my Dad, ever my ally in my burgeoning sports obsession knew I had to get my fix.  In this pre-digital, pre-DVR age, that meant he would have to record the highlights for me on a VHS tape.

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When I saw on Sunday that Stuart Scott was dead, the first thing that flashed into my head was that VHS tape.  The one with the scribbled out title scrawled onto the white strip that protruded from the gaping maw of our ancient player.  Who knows what important even had once been recorded.  What had been on the tape before?  An Opera of Madam Butterfly for my Mom?  Didn’t matter.  One of the shows that my Dad had been the videographer for?  He didn’t care.  At that time and in those years: that tape was just for me.  “PLAYS OF THE WEEK” it read, sloppily written in all caps, in a style my Dad still uses to this day.  I would jam a pop tart into the toaster and bum rush the TV to try to get in all the action from the week before heading in for class for the day.

Stuart Scott narrated.  I watched.  And I grew.  And he kept narrating.  And I kept watching.

Now things have come full circle.  I have a son of my own.  A son who, at two and half, lustily boos the referees at basketball games we attend together and gleefully tackles me as I try to run from him in our basement with a mini-football in my hands.  He lays in my arms on our couch in the early mornings and we watch Sportscenter anchors breakdown the best feats of unbridled athleticism that the world had to offer the previous night.  No need for sharpie-covered VHS tapes, battered and worn.  We have DVRs and Twitter and 24-hours of highlights.

We have a father and a son and memories to be made of caring just a little too much about bouncing balls or swishing nets.

Until Sunday, Stuart Scott was still narrating.  For me.  For my father.  And for my son.

Now his voice is gone and I’m left to ponder the silence and what it means about youth and mortality and the insidiousness of a disease that takes people from our earth long before they deserve to go.  I’m left to type my own clattering, noisy piece and try not to get too emotional about a man who I knew-in-quotations.  I’m left to give thanks to a fighter and my prayers to those still fighting.  I’m left to hope that his words and his ways, and the wholly original, completely cool way he had of making sports matter just a little more to a kid who already cared a little too much, has shaped the way in which I interact with a little boy who has 6 basketballs in the basement of my own house at this very moment.

I don’t know if that’s an overstatement or a hyperbole.  All I know is that I’ll miss Stuart Scott.  And I’ll tell my son about him; how his voice narratted the pre-Pop Tart dawns of Monday’s in my old home and make sure that he understands what Scott came to embody at the end of his life as well as in the middle when our paths intersected via standard def cable.  I’ll make sure my son understands that fighting the good fight means living the good life means carpe-ing the hell out of the diem and sucking the marrow from the moment because sometimes a good man is taken too soon.  I’ll make sure that he fills that silence, that inevitable and gut-wrenching quiet, with his own voice, his own love, and his own memories.

FIN

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