Sydni Scott forgot her shoes.
So, yes, she was barefoot when America met her on live national television 19 months ago, a 14-year-old summoned to give her father a hug, never mind the footwear.
But that sweet moment of innocence signaled a transition for her and her older sister, Taelor — from private citizens to public figures with public responsibilities.
“It honestly was a little crazy,” said Sydni, now 16, recalling the moment her father, Stuart, capped a memorable speech at the 2014 ESPY Awards by beckoning her to the stage.
“When you look out at the audience, you see a sea of people that I’ve never seen before from the perspective of being the person being viewed . . . That was the first time I had ever experienced anything like that.’’
She had grown up understanding her father was a public figure, but at a young age, paying visits to his job at ESPN usually meant being ordered to be quiet on the set. Now this.
“I didn’t grasp the entire concept,” she said. “So to stand on that stage and have this understanding that these are the people who see my dad, feel for my dad and have gone through the experience with my dad, it was really, really amazing to be able to see how many people he’s reached.”
The audience at Nokia Theatre was not the half of it. Scott’s battle with appendiceal cancer, which began in 2007 and ended with his death on Jan. 4, 2015, revealed a depth of feeling that surprised even his family and friends.
President Barack Obama issued a statement the day Scott died that began, simply, “I will miss Stuart Scott.”
“The fact that he did have this really, really amazing connection with so many people was honestly a shock,” Sydni said, “and as horrible an experience as that was, it sort of did open our eyes to the impact he had on so many people.”
Said Taelor, 21: “I think when it first happened, it was kind of jarring to see just how far the reaches of his influence went, to what corners of the globe it went.”
That was a function both of the visibility ESPN provides and Scott’s own outsized personality and pioneering role as a “SportsCenter” anchor willing to risk bringing different language and sensibility to the role.
The question posed by his death was where to go from there to build on his fame and impact.
Scott often made it clear, including in his autobiography, “Every Day I Fight,” what his daughters meant to him on a personal level. But he also made it a point during his illness not to ask for or discuss a prognosis, and in keeping with that, he did not talk to his daughters about a role in preserving his legacy.
They have taken one up anyway.
It began that night when Sydni took the stage in Los Angeles and has continued with public appearances, interviews and support for The V Foundation’s Stuart Scott Memorial Cancer Research Fund (jimmyv.org/stuartscott).
ESPN donated $100,000 to get the fund started. It since has surpassed the $2-million mark. The fund’s focus is to grant research money targeting cancers that particularly affect minorities and to minority doctors doing specified research.
“It was something my father was so passionate about; he did it every year, was adamant about it,” Taelor said of The V Foundation. “Now I get to see why, because they do something really special there.”
Taelor is a junior at Barnard and Sydni still is in high school in Connecticut. Balancing the personal aftershocks of their father’s death with their public roles while living their own lives has not been easy.
“There were definitely times at the beginning and there still are definitely times where I don’t really want to get up and make a public appearance,” Sydni said. “But I think to have something tangible, to say that this is something that, with my help, we have accomplished, something that’s really, really amazing, I was just completely awestruck.
“I think that’s one of the big things he instilled in us: To be able to get out of bed because I know that I’m going to be doing something that’s supporting so many other people.”
Said Taelor: “It was a difficult situation to step into because very quickly, while we were grieving, we realized we had a platform, and we felt with that platform came a responsibility to spread some messages that would have meant a lot to him. So it was difficult, but we felt that’s what we owed him.”
The journey has exposed them to people and experiences they would not otherwise have encountered, such as last May, when Turner’s Ernie Johnson handed them the Sports Emmy for best studio host that he had just been awarded.
“It’s a tragedy,” Taelor said, “but it also presented an opportunity to meet really exemplary people, for example Mr. Ernie Johnson, to become closer with him and build a friendship with a man who so embodies what a family man in this particular business can look like.”
Taelor also spoke of meeting the family of Lauren Hill, the Mount St. Joseph basketball player who died of brain cancer last April. In October, Taelor spoke to the crowd at the Dean Dome when North Carolina honored Scott, a devoted alumnus.
“I personally found it extremely difficult, and sometimes stressful, to prepare something to say,” she said. “I find it’s an interesting balance to get the sweet spot between telling the truth and also saying what’s appropriate. You don’t want to give people everything.”
Their mother, Kimberley Scott, who was divorced from Stuart, has helped her daughters navigate all this. She said when they pass up an event such as a school dance for an event or interview to support the cause, “those are times I feel his presence. That embodies, really, who he was.”
Taelor and Sydni always have been close, but the past 1½ years have brought them closer.
“Especially at these events where we’re sort of put on this platform, especially because my sister and I are so young compared to the people who are there,” Sydni said, “it has been a real comfort to be able to have her by my side and hold her hand.”
Said Taelor: “It’s good to be in it with my best friend, someone who I can speak to without any filters, who I can be free to be stupid with.”
Sydni said one of her most memorable moments was a visit to ESPN, where a wall immortalizes catchphrases, more than one of which belonged to Scott.
“As amazing as it is to hear the stories that people tell about my dad,” she said, “up on this bright red wall he had a bunch [of phrases] up there, and it was really cool to be able to have a sort of tangible representation of his impact.”
Said Taelor: “I wouldn’t even say his job is particularly important, but he made it important. He wanted it to be important and he wanted to make it even bigger and better. That was his personality.”
Sydni said the trade-off in losing anonymity while gaining a platform has been worth the price.
“He was completely devoted to cancer research before he was even diagnosed with cancer,” she said. “So I think that my sister’s and my ability to keep carrying that torch that he was carrying, I think that’s helped.
“It feels like there’s something that we can do that he would have wanted us to do and that he absolutely would have been proud of us for doing . . . I think he would be proud of the way my sister and I have handled it.”