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Eric Heiden, Charles Thomas and Branch Rickey

April 5, 2010

"Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful." - John Wooden

What has happened to being humble?

Why is it so hard for people to just do their best at what they do and leave it that?

This "look at me" attitude has long gotten old and is tiring.

I want more Eric Heiden's.

I want that guy who, 30 years after winning the impossible quintuple at the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Games, is still as humble as he was back then.

He won the 500-, 1,000-, 1,500-, 5,000-, and 10,000-meter speed skating events in nine days in February 1980.

"I still wonder sometimes how I did it - I really do," Heiden said. "Being in medicine and understanding physiology, it's rare for someone to compete at all those distances. But my coach (Jim Ochowicz) summed it up: I was a good 1,000-meter skater who had the ability to skate at 10,000. It was unusual to have that combination."

They say records are meant to be broken, but that record will never be broken.

Yep, never.

"But the sport has changed since I competed," Heiden said. "In the past, you had to do all the races. Now, in a World Cup format, a skater can be very successful at one or two. When I skated, on most weekends you were going all five distances - that was just the norm."

He grew up in a place and at a time when nobody ever told him, "You can't do that."

Heiden was born in Madison, Wis., not exactly a hotbed for speed skaters. Hockey is more the game in that neck of the nation.

"Looking back, I was lucky I came from a country where there wasn't a lot of heritage in the sport," said Heiden. "So I didn't have naysayers who said I couldn't do what seems impossible now. Where we came from, it was possible."

Heiden did completed his fete in an outdoor rink and without today's clap skates.

"That's like going from a three-speed bike to a 10-speed bike," said Heiden. "I would have loved to have a chance to give clap skates a shot, but by then the sport had passed me by."

"And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." - Philippians 2:8

Being humble hit me in the face Sunday morning sitting in church listening to our pastor, Randy Sells, talk about Jesus and his crucifixion and eventual resurrection.

He was the ultimate humble servant.

He went from town to town helping people without fanfare.

It was never about him.

Jesus died for us, not for himself.

He wasn't JaMarcus Russell arriving for a football game in his Bentley with a ton of bling on that could be seen from the next county.

He wasn't Barry Bonds who cared more about himself than any teammates or team.

He wasn't Pete Rose, who put himself above the game of baseball.

He wasn't Terrell Owens, who threw a handful of quarterbacks under the bus and is now looking for a job.

He wasn't Stephon Marbury, a talented basketball player who cared far more about himself than the NBA logo.

He wasn't Brett Favre, who has had more farewell tours than some aging rock band. "Should I stay or should I go?" Dude. Please go and get it over with.

"For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted." - Luke 14:11

I want more guys like John Stockton, Hank Aaron, Jackie Robinson, Peyton Manning, Derek Jeter, Kurt Warner, Tim Duncan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Albert Pujols, Barry Sanders, LaDainian Tomlinson, Byron Nelson, Rocco Mediate, Tim Tebow and Steve Nash, to name a few.

I want guys who can handle the truth and be humble about it.

I want guys like Jackie Robinson, who went through more heartache and pain you and I will ever see in a lifetime. But, he was put on this earth to do just that.

In 1903 Branch Rickey took his Ohio Wesleyan University baseball team to play Notre Dame. When the team arrived at the old Oliver Hotel to check in, the hotel manager said, according to the Rev. Bob Olmstead, a Methodist minister in Palo Alto, Calif., "I have rooms for all of you - except for him' - and he pointed to the team's catcher, Charley Thomas, who was black.

"Why don't you have a room for him?' Rickey asked.

"Because our policy is whites only."

"I'd like to have Charley stay in my room,"?Rickey responded. "Can you bring in a cot?"

After long deliberations, the innkeeper relented. Rickey sent the ball players to their rooms. But when he got to his room Charlie Thomas was sitting on a chair sobbing. Rickey recounted later, "Charlie was pulling frantically at his hands, pulling at his hands.

"He looked at me and said, 'It's my skin. If I could just tear it off, I'd be like everybody else. It's my skin, it's my skin, Mr. Rickey!'"

Years later those hands were the healing hands of a highly successful dentist, Dr. Charles Thomas.

He never forgot his coach and Branch Rickey never forgot that experience.

"You can't let praise or criticism get to you. It's a weakness to get caught up in either one." - John Wooden

Many years later, Thomas said, "From the very first day I entered Ohio Wesleyan University, Branch Rickey took special interest in my welfare. As the first Negro player on any of its teams, some of the fellows didn't welcome me too kindly, though there was no open opposition.

"But, I always felt that Mr. Rickey set them straight. During the three years that I was at Ohio Wesleyan, no man could have been treated better. When we went on trips, Mr. Rickey was the first one to see if I was welcome in the hotel where we were to stop. On several occasions, he talked the management into allowing me to occupy a double room with him and his roommate, Barney Russell."

Robinson later echoed Thomas, "When I heard that story, I gathered new hope. If 45 years ago Mr. Rickey believed that a man deserved fair treatment regardless of his race or color, there was no reason to believe he changed.

"The more I learned about Branch Rickey, the more pleased I was that I was playing ball for him, was a part of his organization, and I wanted to show him I was capable of handling any situation into which he might drop me. I had never known a man like him before.

"Like (Clyde) Sukeforth (a Dodgers scout), I found myself admiring him, glad to be around him, and ready to do whatever he wanted me to do."

"Better it is to be of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud." - Proverbs 16:19

It's not about you being the center of attention.

Can you name three of the five guys who will start for Butler tonight?

It's not about the lack of playing time for your seventh-grader.

It is about what is the best interest of the team.

Do not be proud.

Be humble.

(Mathison, a Weirton resident, is the sports editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times and can be contacted at

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