While the throat cancer he died of last week at 57 was in
remission in September, Jack Scott summoned the ridiculous
variety of people he'd touched or taught or cured or saved from
federal gunfire to a reunion at his house in Berkeley, Calif.,
and introduced us, amazed, to one another, over vegetarian
lasagna. So author and trainer Lynda Huey said Wilt Chamberlain
was packing to visit Scott when Wilt died. And so scholar
Richard Lapchick and Olympic champions Lee Evans and Tommie
Smith and bronze-star-winning Marine officer Judd Blakely
observed that Scott's greatest talent was filling his life with
equally heroic friends.
Scott grew up "a libertarian jock," in Scranton, Pa., sprinted
for Stanford, graduated from Syracuse in 1966, got his Ph.D. in
sports psychology from California and with his wife, Micki,
founded the Institute for the Study of Sport and Society. In his
books Athletics for Athletes and The Athletic Revolution, Scott
decried authoritarian coaching, ripped performance-enhancing
drugs and the commercialization of our games, and called for
including more women and minorities.
Labeled by some as a militant nihilist, Scott was about as
revolutionary as Abraham Lincoln. "I'm not trying to do anything
radical," he'd say. "I'm just trying to be fair." Of course,
nothing is more irksome than a fair man in a world that needs
some work on the issue.
In 1972 Oberlin College hired him to be athletic director. Scott
tripled funding for women's sports and brought in three black
head coaches, when few non-all-black colleges had even one. All
Scott's coaches won. The Oberlin faculty objected anyway, saying
Scott was causing divisions in the student body and the faculty.
Scott resigned after two years.
Back in Berkeley in 1974, Scott began writing a book about the
Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) radicals who'd kidnapped Patty
Hearst. After a shoot-out in L.A. that left six SLA members dead,
intermediaries took him blindfolded to meet Hearst and Bill and
Emily Harris, armed to the teeth, craving nothing but to die in a
blaze of glory. Scott said, "Maybe we can get you out safely."
A deal was struck: Hearst and the Harrises disarmed, and Jack and
Micki drove them across the country, eluding one of the biggest
manhunts in U.S. history, all the while urging the fugitives to
surrender. After two months the group split up. Hearst and the
Harrises were arrested and served their time. Scott was, rightly,
never charged with anything.
In 1975 he moved to Oregon and mastered the use of microcurrent
therapy, which increases circulation and promotes healing. Over
the years the world caught up to Jack. Title IX made women in
sports commonplace. Free agency and the Amateur Athletic Act
secured athletes' rights.
And so Scott could leave us, too soon, yet having savored the
fruit of his activism and the true, tested friends it won him.
"The secret of Jack is no secret at all," said Blakely. "He
learned to forgive the blows of being vilified and the equally
horrible blows of being idolized. He was always faithful. Semper
fidelis. Always faithful."