A Sense of Proportion As their fame and fortune grow ever larger, athletes tend to lose sight of how little that matters

December 25, 2000

DEAR SUPERSTAR ATHLETE:

Congratulations. Enclosed is your (circle one) Man of the
Year/League MVP/Humanitas Award. We enjoyed seeing you at the
ceremony. It is regrettable indeed that your Gulfstream V has
insufficient overhead space to accommodate this magnificent
trophy. But we were more than happy to ship the award, per your
instructions. As a world-famous "personality," you no doubt
receive many such prizes. Still, we thought you might benefit
from the following Owner's Manual.

Warning: Overinflation of the ego may result in a catastrophic
blowout. So...

FOR YOUR SAFETY: Remember that you are a human being. And that as
uniquely gifted as you are, there are six billion other uniquely
gifted humans on Earth. And that Earth is only one of nine
planets orbiting the sun. And that the sun is only one of several
billion stars in the Milky Way. And that the Milky Way is only
one of 30 galaxies in its local galaxy cluster. And that this
cluster is only one of many more in the inconceivably vast Virgo
Supercluster. And that the inconceivably vast Virgo Supercluster
is, well, it's scarcely anything at all: Just an infinitesimal
dust mite in an ever-expanding universe.

In short, we admire your many talents. But to say that you're
merely a subatomic quark on a single grain of sand lodged in the
navel of Dom DeLuise is, in fact, to overstate your significance.
You do, however, look swell in a tux.

TROUBLESHOOTING TIP NO. 1: Still believe the hype that engulfs
you? Then remind yourself that being "world famous" is, in the
cosmic sense, a ridiculous trifle. Don't even get us started on
"world champion."

TROUBLESHOOTING TIP NO. 2: Still not convinced of your
extraordinary ordinariness? Then take time to reflect on your
epic record of underachievement. It is truly appalling. You spend
a third of your life--25 years on average--asleep. In those
remaining hours awake, you use only a fraction of your brain. You
are, like the rest of us, an indolent dolt. What's more, your
athletic "achievements" are largely the product of some masterful
p.r. work. Consider the fact that almost all baseball hitters
fail more than two thirds of the time, or that Michael Jordan
lost out in seven out of 13 attempts to win an NBA championship.
One of humankind's more becoming qualities is that we choose to
dwell on what you've achieved. But the fact is, we could as
easily dwell on what you've failed to achieve. (Downside: Such a
world would be no fun. Upside: We would no longer have the
Heisman Trophy show. Result: Call it a wash.)

TROUBLESHOOTING TIP NO. 3: Still feeling full of yourself? Then
consider this: The enclosed trophy was almost certainly bestowed
on you by a vote of sports journalists--and we're even dumber than
you are. As a professional writer, I have 291,500 words at my
disposal in the Oxford English Dictionary. Yet my working
vocabulary consists of a mere 5,000 of them. Athletes are always
telling sportswriters that we don't know what we're talking
about, and they may have a point. But if so, then it stands to
reason that we were ignorant, as ever, when we named you the MVP
or the Cy Young or the Heisman winner. Right?

CARE AND MAINTENANCE: Never polish, wax or kiss your new trophy.
Never look at, think of or display your new trophy. In fact, if
you never remove it from its box, this trophy will give you a
lifetime of satisfaction. Because the trophies that do not
bling-bling in your trophy room, and the self-portraits that do
not hang in your billiard room, and the magazine covers that do
not grace your living room walls--these will be the ones we
remember you by.

"Humility, a sense of reverence before the sons of heaven--of
all the prizes that a mortal man might win, these, I say, are
the wisest. These are the best." That lesson, written by
Euripides 2,500 years ago, is truer today than ever. Just
because society enriches you beyond reason and accords you an
embarrassment of accolades doesn't mean, well, it doesn't mean
much of anything, really. Your valet still puts your pants on
one leg at a time, nearly the same as the rest of us.

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: DAN PICASSO

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)