Cohn: A story about cancer, Stuart Scott’s ESPY speech and the power of sports

Like most people who watched the ESPYs this week, I was incredibly moved by the story and speech of ESPN anchor Stuart Scott, who received the Jim Valvano Perseverance Award for his strength and resilience in the face of a seven-year battle with cancer. Although I already knew of Scott’s brave fight prior to the ESPYs, the video detailing his struggle with his third bout of cancer, including scenes from a clinic room at Johns Hopkins Hospital, are a stirring reminder of the courageous struggle that he and millions of Americans wage every day. It was perspective on life for me, a reminder of the blessings that I am so privileged to enjoy each day.

In his remarks, Scott stated that legendary North Carolina State basketball coach Valvano’s words to the first ESPY audience 21 years ago to “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up” as Valvano was waging his own battle with cancer, were the “seven most poignant words ever uttered in any speech anywhere.”

I wholeheartedly agree with that assessment. Valvano’s words are poignant not simply because of his eloquence, but also because his words continue to serve as inspiration for an incredible organization (the V Foundation for Cancer Research) that continues to raise money for cancer research, and raise awareness of the battles of cancer patients across the country. As Scott pointed out, Valvano’s words, translated into action, have saved countless lives.

In turn, Scott’s speech also reminded us of the power of sports to serve as a tool for good. In addition to being an awards show, the ESPYs also serves as a fundraiser for the V Foundation. By bringing stars from around the sports world together to donate money to the fight against cancer, and broadcasting the show in front of a worldwide audience, ESPN not only continues to raise millions of dollars to support cancer research, but also uses its platform as the “Worldwide Leader in Sports” to broadcast Jimmy V’s powerful message to millions of people.

However, that is not the only way that sports can be a vehicle for good. In addition, sports can provide hope and an enjoyable distraction, regardless of the circumstances that we all may deal with in life.

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I have certainly been affected by cancer in my life, as I have seen people that I love and care about diagnosed with the terrible disease. It has become a passion of mine to use my platform in life to work toward a day in which cancer has been beaten. While I pursue this passion in the classroom as a biology major, I also indirectly pursue this passion with this platform here today. That is because I know the joy that my writing and KZSU sports radio work bring to my grandmother, who continues to win against leukemia, and win at life, every single day.

It certainly is daunting and very humbling to know that your written and spoken words can have such an impact on the happiness of other people, while serving as that “enjoyable distraction” for them despite the challenges that they face every single day. However, this is a pressure that I embrace, because I know that whatever pressure I feel so significantly pales in comparison to the realities that my grandmother and other people that I love face daily. Furthermore, I also know how blessed I am to have this job, and the ability to express my opinions about sports.

While there are countless times that I wish I could have done better with a piece or with a sports broadcast for my grandmother and for other people, I know one group of individuals that has always risen to the occasion, to the delight of my grandmother and others: the student-athletes that I cover every day.

I will always remember the magical run of the 2012 football team, from its stunning upset of No. 1 Oregon in Eugene to its historic win at the 99th Rose Bowl. All the while, I was able to share that story with my grandmother and my family through my KZSU work, and together that team gave all of us so much hope and happiness.

I am also reminded of the three softball teams that I have had the privilege to cover — from the 2012 squad’s 19-game winning streak, to the 2013 team’s home upset of No. 2 Arizona State and road sweep of Cal for the first time in program history, to the 2014 team’s road upset of No. 2 UCLA. For me, there was, and still is, nothing quite like getting a call from my grandmother immediately after a softball win that I have covered for KZSU and having her tell me, “Davy, you tell those girls when you see them how outstanding they were today, honey boy…” It is one of those special things that truly warms my heart, a series of special moments for me made possible by the tremendous ability of all of the softball players. It is why I feel sincerely grateful every day to be in this wonderful position.

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If you have not had a chance to see either Valvano’s speech or Scott’s speech, I highly recommend that you take a few minutes to watch them. They are two inspiring displays of eloquence from two men embodying tremendous bravery and courage in the face of cancer. Personally, I know that if I can display a small fraction of the resiliency that Valvano, Scott, my grandmother and other people that I love have shown, I can get through any situation or challenge in my life. I also will never forget how blessed I am to have my family, my friends, my positions at KZSU and The Daily, this tremendous university and my health; I know that I should never take anything for granted.

Contact David Cohn at dmcohn ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About David Cohn

David Cohn '15 is currently a Sports Desk Editor. He began his tenure at the Daily by serving as a senior staff writer for Stanford football and softball, and then rose to the position of assistant editor of staff development. He served as the Summer Managing Editor of Sports in 2014. David is a Biology major from Poway, California. In addition to his duties at the Daily, he serves as the lead play-by-play football and softball announcer for KZSU Live Stanford Radio 90.1 FM.
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