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Op-Ed: Taking on Cancer and Disparities in the Black Community

Op-Ed: Taking on Cancer and Disparities in the Black Community

I was born into a family of game changers – literally. My father took the field as West Point’s first Black football player. My parents were an interracial couple on the heels of the civil rights movement. And I built a career in a male-dominated sports broadcasting world. While those things have shaped me, they aren’t how I got through some difficult times. I am surrounded by family, friends and love. And that’s what I hung onto when I met cancer.

My dear friend and ESPN colleague Stuart Scott believed in me long before I believed in myself. He was a brother figure who protected me and inspired me. He changed the way we all viewed sports, and he changed my life for the better. He faced his cancer with courage and tenacity, like a fierce warrior in the ring, taking swing after swing.

Stuart asked me to accompany him at the 2014 ESPYs where he was to accept the “Jimmy V Award for Perseverance.” When I got there, I don’t think I fully realized the magnitude of that invite until I heard his acceptance speech – when Stuart began to speak, it hit me… this was his “goodbye.” He died six short months later. It rocked me. Cancer took a trailblazer, but more importantly, it took my friend.

Sage Steele poses with her father, Colonel Gary Steele.

In 2011 my dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer — a cancer that disproportionately affects Black men. He had surgery shortly after the diagnosis and was cancer free until it returned in 2013, having spread to his lower spine. Fortunately, it has “behaved” since then, but it was quickly placed on the back burner in 2017, when emergency surgery on my dad’s upper spine revealed an even more serious situation — a tumor that was multiple myeloma. Today, he continues to fight, and I know that my dad, my hero, will always keep fighting and keep the faith through it all. #SteeleStrong.

Today, six years after we lost Stuart, I focus on the good times, and I try to pay it forward. I told him I would “be there,” and I am here, now. We are not going to stop the fight.

I am a proud board member of the V Foundation for Cancer Research. This is me paying it forward. This is me being there. This is me continuing the fight. Without cutting-edge research, my father would not be here. With more of it, maybe Stuart still would.

The V Foundation funds the best research, and together with co-founder ESPN’s support, they launched the Stuart Scott Memorial Cancer Research Fund to address a critical unmet need in minority communities. The fund supports two types of research grants: one on the biological basis of cancer disparities, and the other for researchers from racial groups underrepresented in science.

ESPN’s dedication to Stuart’s fund has ensured more than $12 million has been funded to stop disparities in cancer and among researchers.

See Also

The V Foundation just announced eight new grants totaling $1.6 million to fund Black researchers, of whom seven are women, another underrepresented group in science. You can read about the work of the Stuart Scott Fund – and why it is so important – here.

I will continue on this path against cancer, and I will face it when it knocks again. But next time, I will have an even bigger army with me – an army comprised of ESPN, the V Foundation, researchers, cancer thrivers and survivors and you. Together, we will fight like hell and beat this disease.

Sage Steele is an anchor on ESPN’s SportCenter and a board member for the V Foundation for Cancer Research.

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