The Best Thing A Man Will Ever Do

The Best Thing A Man Will Ever DoIf smooth had a persona it would be Stuart Scott. The twenty-year veteran of ESPN had the gift of language like my daughter has a gift for staring at the TV.

My love of sports has always been limited – football, that’s it. All else losses my attention before the first whistle. This means for half the year ESPN has the entertainment value of drying paint, unless Stuart is in the chair. He is perhaps the only person on the planet who could wring excitement out of curling, chess, Leviticus, or anything by Flannery O’Connor.

The year 2007 was a hard one for Stuart. A fifteen-year marriage ended leaving him a single father and he was diagnosed with a rare stomach cancer after complaining of abdominal pain before calling a Monday Night Football game between the Steelers and Dolphins.

Sunday his battle with that black death ended. Notice I didn’t say he ‘lost the battle’. He didn’t consider the final goodbye as losing anything.

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Besides his dominant presence in the sports world and his proficiency for turning a phrase, Stuart Scott will be remembered for the way he battled the disease during those final years and how he used that gift, like few ever will again, to encourage others in the same fight.

The Internet today mourns his passing. Nearly every game on Sunday had a moment of silence in tribute of their fallen hero. Many will talk about his courage, others his tenacity in the face of such odds, and each will look back to a signature speech as the essence of it all.

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The ESPY is an annual awards ceremony that, among other things, recognizes such meaninglessness as “Outstanding Performance by a Sports Personality in an Attempt to Break into Show Business” and “Showstopper of the Year Award”, but it also celebrates a few genuine accomplishments. The Jimmy V Perseverance Award is given to a deserving member of the sporting world who has overcome great obstacles through perseverance and determination. Stuart Scott was rightly bestowed that honor in July 2014.

When you die it does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live. – Stuart Scott

Amid his not soon forgotten acceptance speech on cancer, love, support, and courage, it was his ending that as a father and man I was equally inspired and ashamed. The speech will go down in ESPY history as the most memorable since the award’s namesake gave his 1993 “Don’t give up…don’t ever give up!”, which Stuart called “the most poignant seven words ever uttered”.

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Stuart was an unapologetic family man even after his divorce, and in the culture of athletics where masculinity and success are measured in touchdowns, contracts, and triple doubles that is profound affirmation. In that world fatherhood doesn’t make the highlight reels.

He led a life most men only dream of. A celebrity with a multi-million dollar salary, he talked sports for a living. He had many of the world’s greatest athletes on speed dial. He received VIP treatment to all of the most sacred sporting events and rubbed elbows with its most glorified players. It was a life of glamour, flashbulbs, shiny objects, and excessive temptation. I can’t think of another divorced dad steeped in so many seductions that would lead one to abandon his fatherly responsibilities.  It’s even more impressive when one considers that professional sports isn’t known for it’s commitment to familial integrity.

In all this I find overwhelming inspiration.

Even with the lucre, fame, and glitter of professional athletics, Stuart Scott still understood that the greatest gift God can bestow upon a man is to be a father.

“The best thing I’ve ever done, the best thing I will ever do, is be a dad.”

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Those daughters were the corner stone upon which he built the castle of courage and vigilance so many are admiring in the wake of his absence.

“I can’t ever give up, because I can’t leave my daughters…You two are my heartbeat, I am standing here on this stage tonight because of you.”

But in all this I also find overwhelming shame.

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Today there are fathers, many admitted sports fans, who have forsaken the only thing Stuart Scott, in the death grip of cancer, felt was worth fighting for – his children. His greatest hope, what drove him every day through seven long years of endless chemo, surgeries, and hospitals was the dream of one day being there to watch them graduate, walk them down the isle, and perhaps see the birth of his grandchildren.

As I listened to his message of conviction this irony fell like a hammer. Here was a dying father who wanted nothing else in this world than to spend every day  with his daughters, while sadly in homes across this country there are scores of children whose absent fathers live as if they were never born.

The shame and the irony of it lies in this – Stuart Scott wanted to be there for his children but couldn’t, while countless deadbeat fathers could be for theirs but won’t.

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I don’t know the type of person Stuart Scott was with the cameras off. I can’t say if he was a good father or loving man. But I do know this, he realized in the shimmer of the life he led and the shadow of that last goodbye  – what so many absent fathers fail to – that no salary, no prestige, no glitter, no career, and no amount of freedom ever comes close to the best thing a man will ever do – be a father who was there.

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