Stuart Scott’s Words at the ESPYS Hit Home

(originally published on More Than A Fan on July 20, 2014)

When used properly, words can be one of the most powerful tools we as humans possess. There have been many examples in the world of sports, with two of them coming from men who stood on the stage at the ESPYS during their battles with cancer.

In his 1993 speech at the ESPYS, Jim Valvano was awarded with the inaugural Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award. When the then-46-year-old he took the stage, he delivered what has now become one of the most famous speeches in sports history. While the entire speech was heart-wrenching as the coach would succumb to his cancer less than two months later, there were seven words that highlighted it all. When announcing the new “Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research,” Valvano said that the foundation’s motto would be “don’t give up, don’t ever give up.”

Mom hospitalThose seven simple yet profound words have been repeated numerous times in the last 21 years, and this year’s ESPYS were no exception, as they were the basis of how Stuart Scott began his speech when he was presented with the 2014 “Jimmy V Perseverance Award” named for Valvano.

“Every day I am reminded that our life’s journey is really about the people who touch us. When I first heard that I was going to be honored with this award, the very first thing I did was (opens mouth). I was speechless. Briefly. I have presented this award before. I have watched in awe as Kay Yow and Eric LeGrand and all these other great people graced this stage. And although intellectually, I get it – I am a public figure, I have a public job, I am fighting cancer, hopefully I am inspiring – at my gut level, I really didn’t think I belonged with those great people.

“I listened to what Jim Valvano said 21 years ago. The most poignant seven words ever in any speech anywhere – don’t give up, don’t ever give up. Those great people didn’t. Coach Valvano didn’t. So to be honored with this, I now have a responsibility to also not ever give up.”

A little while later, Scott gave what to me was the most important part of his speech. In a recorded piece, Scott had said that he was beating his cancer because he was still alive. But when he took the stage, he wanted to amend that statement.

“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. So live. Live. Fight like Hell. And when you get too tired to fight, lay down and rest and let somebody else fight for you.”

It was then that Scott told a story about the prior 10 days, when he was in the hospital battling complications from his cancer. He revealed that he had undergone four surgeries in his latest hospital stay and had suffered from liver and kidney failure. He wasn’t even sure if he would make it to the ESPYS to accept the award in person. But when he didn’t feel like he could fight anymore, there were plenty of people who stepped up and took part in the battle.

“I couldn’t fight. The doctors and nurses could. The people that I love – my friends and family – they could fight. My girlfriend who slept on a very uncomfortable hospital cot by my side every night – she could fight. The people that I love did last week did what they always do – they visited, they talked to me, they listened to me, they sat silent sometimes. They loved me.”

As I sat and listened to Scott’s speech, I did so with tears rolling down my face. Not just because the speech was so good and unbelievably moving, but because it reminded me of my mom fighting for years the way she did. We would be celebrating my mom’s 65th birthday next week had she not passed away in February 2011. While my mom didn’t pass away from cancer, she did pass away after a long battle with hepatic , and the same principles that Scott laid out in his speech applied in her situation as well.

Scott spoke for a little over seven minutes, with each and every word so perfectly thought out, so eloquently expressed. But it was those few passages that stuck with me because of my mom. She never stopped fighting, even when it was painfully obvious that the fight was almost over. And when the fight was finally over, I felt as if she had come out as the winner, even if the battle took her life.

My mom had a stubborn side, and this fight only brought that out even more. When she left the hospital in January of 2013 after having a diagnosis of COPD added to her cirrhosis and she left the hospital only with the aid of oxygen, her stubbornness shone through like never before. She was determined not to let this get her down, and she succeeded. When we would talk, it was never “IF I get off this oxygen,” rather it was always “WHEN I get off this oxygen.”

She hated that she needed to let me take care of things for her such as going to the store or cooking dinner or cleaning up around the house. While I know she had always complained about such menial tasks, she would have done anything at that time to do them again. But she knew that she had to let me help her fight. Doing unnecessary tasks would only wear her out and slow down her battle, which would make the process even longer and more infuriating.

When what became her final hospital visit turned into a trip from Akron General Medical Center to the Cleveland Clinic, the fight was nearing an end. But that never deterred her from thinking she was going to beat this and get back to living her normal life. She underwent a surgery at the Cleveland Clinic that we were told would take several hours and could be life-threatening depending on how her body reacted. When I saw them rolling her back from surgery 90 minutes later, I feared the worst. The surgery had not lasted long enough to have worked, I thought. However, I was told that she came through the surgery successfully.

I went to see her and while she wasn’t responsive, I told her she was a champion. I told her that WHEN we left the hospital and got her home, I was going to go to the party store and get her a gold medal to wear because she deserved it. I knew that the outlook still wasn’t good and that there would be a long battle ahead to get her home, but I couldn’t let her hear me have doubts. After all, I have that same stubborn side that she did. Unfortunately, she never made it back home.

When my mom was laying in the ICU at the Cleveland Clinic and I had to make the decision to take her off the ventilator and allow her to pass away, I talked to her about the fight. Even though she was non-responsive at the time, I will always believe that she was able to hear the words I was telling her as I held her hand. I told her that I was so proud of the way she fought, how she never gave up even in the darkest moments. I told her that she had kicked cirrhosis’ butt, even if in the end it would be the reason she would no longer be with us. I told her that she could stop fighting now because I was calling the fight. But I also told her something that sounded just like what Scott said at the ESPYS. I told her that just because I was calling the fight didn’t mean she lost. In fact, I told her that I was calling the fight and that she had won by a unanimous decision. She was the champion.

Stuart Scott was right – just because you die doesn’t mean that you have lost the fight. My mom didn’t lose, and Stuart Scott will never lose. No matter what happens from here on out, Scott is and will be a winner. Anyone who didn’t think so before certainly knows it after that ESPYS speech.

Keep fighting Stuart – you have plenty of people fighting with you.

Comments? Questions? You can leave them here or email Ryan at ryanisley23@gmail.com. You can also connect with him on Twitter @isley23.

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