EDITOR'S NOTE: With the help of our readers -- THIS MEANS YOU! -- Page 2 intends to determine the winner in the Battle for the Soul of Sports by matching the seven deadly sports sins against the seven heavenly sports virtues in a series of head-to-head duels. Today, Patrick Hruby pits Sports Humility against Sports Pride. (Shouldn't take long to figure out which side has the edge in Patrick's opinion.)
Humility, the oft-praised, seldom-practiced sports virtue whose life was a Sisyphean struggle against lip service, irrelevance and Rickey Henderson, died yesterday at a hospital near John Wooden's house.
Humility's exact age was unknown. She was at least as old as the first mastodon hunter to turn down a commemorative cave painting and instead credit his fellow Neanderthals, never mind that they were a bunch of Neanderthals.
Ailing and bedridden with an autoimmune disorder -- sports stars speaking in the third person -- Humility died of artificial heart failure upon learning that Terrell Owens likened himself to Jesus and that NHL players believe they are worth $10 million per season.
At the time of her death, Humility was watching a group of sportswriters yell at each other on television. Doctors believe the scene fatally exacerbated a preexisting condition brought on by Howard Cosell.
A Gideon Bible and a copy of Keyshawn Johnson's "Just Give Me the Damn Ball!" were found on Humility's nightstand.
|Chat: Page 2's Soul of Sports!|
Join our writers in chat:
•Patrick Hruby wrap
•Dan Shanoff wrap
•Scoop Jackson wrap
•Jeff Merron wrap
• Tue: Kieran Darcy, 3 ET
Frail and sickly from birth, Humility nevertheless became one of the sports world's most enigmatic ingenues: blessed with otherworldly beauty, yet seldom drawing more than cursory glances from baffled athletic would-be suitors.
In the interest of favorable publicity, countless sports figures claimed a relationship with Humility. Some made a point of mentioning her in locker room speeches and postgame interviews; others, typically first-round draft picks about to receive generous signing bonuses, vowed lasting fidelity.
In reality, only a half-dozen sports figures -- at most -- ever knew Humility in a meaningful way.
"OK, so maybe I named my recording label after her," said Chris Webber, owner of Humility Records. "And maybe I told Dime Magazine that I make well-known beats under an alias. Fact is, I was just trying to get Humility in the sack. And she saw right through me."
"Not my kind of girl," added Deion Sanders.
Humility was shy and reclusive, seldom seen in the public sports sphere. During a 1998 appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show, however, she lamented the enduring, widespread popularity of her fraternal twin sister, Pride, whose amply documented, much-celebrated athletic liaisons put even those of Wilt Chamberlain to shame.
"My sister can walk into any stadium in this country and have 50,000 people in her back pocket, like that," Humility said, snapping her fingers for emphasis. "Athletes, coaches, fans, team owners. They can't get enough Pride. Especially Jerry Jones. Have you seen his face?"
By contrast, Humility's sports relationships were awkward, short and uniformly disastrous. The same overbearing self-confidence that made sports stars great blinded them to Humility's understated charms. She spent most of her life bouncing from one failed partnership to the next.
In 1977, Humility's short tête-à-tête with Reggie Jackson blew up in spectacular fashion when Jackson dropped to one knee, looked her in the eyes and proclaimed "the magnitude of me." The couple's subsequent split prompted tabloid headlines from coast to coast.
A later affair with Barry Bonds simply fizzled.
"Barry told me straight out that he never cared about me in the first place," Humility told a German publication in 1997. "I always respected him for that."
Three years ago, Humility gave the keynote speech at a charity event benefiting David Robinson's Carver Academy. Appearing gaunt, she made a stunning announcement: Just being around individuals such as Steve Spurrier made her physically ill.
"Whenever he talks about 'sunshine following the Gators,' I break out in a rash," she said with a hoarse rasp in her voice that night. "Every single time. And the Brian Bosworth era was like going through chemotherapy. Two years of sheer hell."
|Check out some of the most memorable examples of sports humility and sports pride. Then cast your vote on which wins out!|
Humility often said that for all of the athletic hosannas showered upon her, she always felt like an outsider.
"Frank Lloyd Wright once said that early in life, he had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility," she said. "He chose honest arrogance and saw no reason to change. That's how it is for most people in sports. And really, I can't blame them -- it takes more than a little self-regard to think you can hit a Randy Johnson fastball. The guy killed a bird, for crying out loud."
Humility's sense of sports alienation took root during a difficult childhood in ancient Greece. In theory, the classical Olympic Games were meant to honor the gods; in practice, they were an orgy of narcissistic posturing and athletic idolatry, true to Homer's proclamation that "there is no greater glory for any man alive than that which he wins by his hands and feet."
The Greeks competed naked, slathered in olive oil. They built life-sized bronze statues of Olympic winners. At the Games of 52 B.C., five-time wrestling champion Milo of Croton dressed as Hercules, complete with a lion's skin and club. He circled Olympic Stadium with a young bull atop his shoulders, ate the beast for dinner and entertained spectators by wrapping cords around his forehead, then holding his breath until his bulging veins made the cords break.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Humility entered young adulthood disillusioned and bitter.
"The Olympics ran from 776 B.C. to 393 A.D., but after Milo started Hulking Up, my sister was out of there," recalled Pride. "Too bad. She missed a heck of a party."
Humility enjoyed better luck on July 4, 1939, when Lou Gehrig gave his farewell speech at Yankee Stadium in New York, heaping praise on former teammates, stadium groundskeepers and even his mother-in-law.
Some friends say Gehrig Appreciation Day was the happiest of Humility's life. Others claim the pinnacle came late in 1990, when Barry Sanders was 10 yards short of an NFL rushing title but declined additional carries in the waning moments of a meaningless Detroit Lions victory.
Last year, High Point University forward Danny Gathings was named the MVP of the Big South Tournament. Gathings claimed he didn't deserve the award and promptly gave it to Liberty guard Larry Blair.
For the first time in years, relatives recall, Humility managed a full smile.
Here's the fight card for Page 2's Battle for the Soul of Sports:
Round 1: Pride vs. Humility
Round 2: Envy vs. Love
Round 3: Anger vs. Kindness
Round 4: Sloth vs. Diligence
Round 5: Greed vs. Charity
Tuesday, Aug. 9: Sports Gluttony vs. Sports Temperance
"That Gathings kid tickled my sister pink," Pride said. "Still, I think Pat Tillman was probably Humility's last great love. He didn't want praise or attention. He just wanted to do what he thought was right.
"Of course, I made sure the media and the government gave him plenty of publicity, contrary to his wishes. By then, my sister was too sick to notice."
Indeed, Humility's later years were marked by declining health. She suffered her first stroke in 1930, shortly after Babe Ruth, when told he earned a greater salary than president Herbert Hoover, replied, "Why not? I had a better year than he did."
Following Joe Namath's guarantee of a victory in Super Bowl III, Humility spent three weeks in a hospital; when Carmelo Anthony thanked himself during his 2003 ESPY acceptance speech, Humility was flown to Tucson, Ariz., for emergency surgery in which she received an artificial heart.
Twelve years earlier, Henderson broke baseball's stolen base record, which had been held by Lou Brock. With Brock looking on from the stands, Henderson gave an on-field speech and stated, "Lou Brock was a great base stealer, but today, I am the greatest."
Humility fell into a near-fatal coma, only regaining consciousness after nine months.
"That nearly killed her," Pride recalled. "Well, that and Carl Lewis thinking he could sing the National Anthem just because he was fast."
As Humility's vitality waned, sports figures commonly confused her with her look-alike cousin, Humiliation. In the wake of particularly disappointing or unexpected defeats, athletes, coaches and commentators alike often spoke of "receiving a dose of" Humility.
According to Humiliation, that was a mistake.
"Look, I can see the resemblance, but I'm the only doctor in the family," Humiliation said. "My cousin was a sweet girl. But she didn't know the first thing about prescribing 50 milligrams of embarrassment to a guy like Kobe Bryant, let alone telling Larry Eustachy to take two tablets of shame before calling me in the morning."
Humiliation furrowed her brow.
"People like to say that minor-league baseball gave Michael Jordan a taste of Humility," she added. "Oh, really? Then why did he stop talking to Sports Illustrated when they put a picture of him striking out on the cover? Everyone knows he was fooling around with Pride."
Humility spent her final years in seclusion, making her last public appearance at Pete Sampras' 2003 retirement ceremony. By then, the end seemed near. Sports fans everywhere found her quaint at best, dull at worst. Athletes and coaches realized that feigning interest in Humility was both unnecessary and unprofitable.
Dismissed as an athletic anachronism, Humility suffered a series of deathbed indignities: Mike Krzyzewski proclaiming himself a leader of men while hawking credit cards; football players preening like synchronized swimmers following first downs; college basketball's jersey-popping epidemic; Maryland fans rioting after watching their team beat Duke in a regular-season game; the Laureus World Sports Awards (a made-for-television award show featuring fawned-over athletes fawning over each other); a youth T-ball coach taking his job so seriously that he paid one of his players to bean a mentally disabled teammate.
Never well-to-do, Humility died nearly penniless, supported by her increasingly wealthy sister. A memorial service will take place tomorrow, after which Humility will be buried in an unmarked grave in Drew Rosenhaus' back yard.
"It was bad enough for Muhammad Ali to call himself the greatest," Pride said. "But when Stephon Marbury said the same thing, well, it was just too much for my sister to bear. Humility always liked to joke that the graveyards are full of indispensable men. Now she'll be joining them. I'll miss her. She had a great run."
Pride let out a mournful sigh.
"Of course," she added, "Humility never would have wanted me to use the word 'great.'"
COMING WEDNESDAY: SPORTS ENVY VS. SPORTS LOVE
Patrick Hruby is a Page 2 columnist.