EDITOR’S NOTE: SportsCenter reporter Shelley Smith takes Front Row inside her latest interaction with Bryan Stow, a San Francisco Giants fan who in 2011 suffered permanent brain damage after being attacked outside Dodger Stadium. The Stow family visited Smith, who has reported on this story in the years since, at ESPN’s Los Angeles Production Center (LAPC).
Last week, I got a text from Ann Stow saying she and her family were coming to Los Angeles for a wedding and could I have lunch. Once I heard they were staying downtown, I sent a text back asking if they’d like to see the SportsCenter offices, maybe get Bryan Stow to sit in the anchor chair.
A text came back.
“Just told Bryan…the look on his face!”
I had met the Stow family in April 2011, as Bryan lay clinging to life in a Los Angeles hospital after being attacked on Opening Day at Dodger Stadium. Producer Ken Field and I interviewed five of the family members (Mom Ann, Dad Dave, sisters Erin and Bonnie and a cousin, John) in an elaborate setup. They wanted to do it together.
– Bryan Stow, sitting on the LAPC set during his tour
Almost immediately I knew this family was a lot like my own because they were handling this unspeakable tragedy with humor, even as they weren’t sure Bryan would live or what his life would be like if he did.
They referred to themselves as “The Clampetts from Capitola, CA.” and Erin introduced us to Bonnie as, “This is my spinster sister Bonnie.” We did the interview, which, naturally was very sad.
I continued to cover the story as it unfolded. They eventually were able to move Bryan back to the Bay Area and eventually into their small home in, yes, Capitola, a beautiful little town on the coast where they have lived for 47 years.
We stayed in touch and they graciously allowed us to come and shoot them watching Game 1 of last year’s World Series with them. It was my first time to meet Bryan (with producer Shari Greenberg) and I remember walking into his room and being stunned by how alert and funny he was as we talked off camera.
We sat down with Bryan and put on his mic for the interview and from the back room, Ann yelled, “We’ve done so many interviews we should be on the cover of a Wheaties box.”
Without missing a beat, Bryan said, “A Fruit Loops box, maybe.”
We were there the entire game and bought sandwiches and sodas and even as the Giants took a huge lead 7-0, Bryan wouldn’t budge from the TV.
“I want 15 to nothing,” he said.
Ann and I stayed in contact because I had told her about my breast cancer, but mainly because she absolutely hates football and I would send her texts from whatever game I was at, or watching to see if she was watching, too. She said the closest she has ever come to watching a game in the last few years was the movie, “’Remember the Titans.’ Does that count?” she asked.
They came later that fall and went to Disneyland, which they absolutely love and try to visit at least once a year. We had dinner together with many of Bryan’s caregivers from Los Angeles, whom they hadn’t seen in some time. The Walt Disney Company hooked them up with the VIP treatment and showed them special rides he didn’t know he could go on because he was largely in a wheelchair. They were thrilled.
So now it was time for another visit. [Associate director, Production Operations] Veronica Gibeault, who knows more about the LAPC than I do (that wouldn’t be hard, actually!) agreed to give the Stows the VIP treatment.
I walked into the lobby of the office and amid many hugs, I was thrilled to see how much improvement Bryan had made. He walked with crutches, looked fit and strong and, of course, was funny as all get out.
“What do you want to see?” Veronica asked.
“Everything!” Bryan answered.
And we did see everything.
“It was obvious that he couldn’t wait to get to the SportsCenter set, so, of course, we went right to it, and the look on his face just spoke for itself,” Gibeault said. “And, he did not hesitate to take a seat at the anchor desk and enjoy his photo op. He is truly inspirational. All of us at the LAPC who had a chance to make the visit special for him were sincerely happy to be able to participate in his moment with us.”
“Never in a million years did I think I would be anchoring SportsCenter,” he said and cracked a huge smile. When I sat down in the other chair he said, “Look at us, we’re partners!”
Bryan speaks clearly and earnestly and tries always to remember a person’s name. He’s also quick to make fun of his dad – the banter between them is a language all their own – mainly while Ann rolls her eyes. She does that a lot. He sees his two children, Tyler and Tabitha, often and is ever present at his son’s high school football games, where Tyler plays quarterback. Oh, and even Ann makes an exception for those games.
“I just don’t want him to get hurt so I yell ‘get rid of the ball’ a lot,” she said, “And keep off of him. Why do they all have to pile on?”
In July 2014, a jury found the Dodgers negligent in Bryan’s beating and awarded him $18 million. All of that is tied up in litigation with insurance companies and lawyers and they have yet to receive even a dime. As they wait, they make do. The Giants have had several fundraisers and they received money from donations to their website. They are about to start the Bryan Stow Foundation to help prevent bullying. Already he has spoken to his nephew’s school and the family is adamant about making a difference for someone else.
“I’m the president,” Ann said proudly.
“Well, what I am then?” asked Dave.
“You’re the first husband.”
They also took time to visit San Bernardino Officer Gabriel Garcia, who also has a serious brain injury after being shot in the head. It was important to the Stows to show Garcia how much progress Bryan has made. Really, very few thought Bryan would be as good as he is. The Stows are grateful.
Compassion, laughter and humor makes this family truly amazing. They will always have to care for Bryan, but they do it with love and fun and it just works.
Oh, and the spinster sister, Bonnie, got married last spring. Bryan, with his crutches, danced with her to “Eye of the Tiger.”
“It’s a romantic song,” he said.
Makes me want to raise my arms Rocky style!